Who is Saint Patrick? A Slave Named Maewyn Succat
The green associated with him is most likely from Spring Equinox celebrations
As the green beer flows once again for St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it be worth a quick visit through his own written accounts of who he was and the time he lived.
The spectacular hagiographies of St Patrick’s life are all over the place including his role as a dragonslayer. His own written accounts, however, found in the Confessio and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus paint a less-than-green picture of the lauded saint.
St Patrick was born Maewyn Succat in or around 380 A D near Bannavem in Somerset County, England. Maewyn was educated in the Roman tradition which would suggest high social status for his family; however he was not of the Christian faith. At the age, of sixteen, Maewyn was captured by Irish marauders who sold him into slavery in Ireland. As a slave to an Irish chieftain, he toiled as a shepherd on the “Emerald Isle” for six years.
At the age of twenty-two, Maewyn escaped slavery and returned to his native England. Soon after, he experienced a series of dreams and revelations. Once when struggling with evil, Maewyn reports in the Confessio that he saw Jesus as the sun in the sky. He called out “Helias!”. Interestingly, Helios is Latin for the sun, but there is no technical “Helias” in the Latin but could be a diminutive of the sun, aka “son of the sun”.
As a result of these spiritual revelations, Maewyn, studied in France and became a Catholic Deacon. He later asked to return to Ireland. He felt compelled to liberate the Irish people from the oppression of slavery and evil. Pope Celestine granted Maewyn his aspiration and named him Patritius (Patrick), “father of his people”.
From his writings, little is known of the hardships the future saint endured in Ireland. His methodologies were not written down. He did not seem to want to elevate himself as a hero. While the details are vague, there were times when he was abused and bound in chains. He wrote that he endured these hardships for the good of others.
The green of St Patrick’s is often associated with possible folklore in which Maewyn used the three-leafed clover, or Shamrock, as a tool to demonstrate the Trinity. However, there is no written record of this from Maewyn. The wearing of green could easily have stemmed from the ancient Celtic practice of wearing green garments during the Spring Equinox, Beltane, to celebrate the rebirth of the Earth.
It is a popular myth that the Celtic Christian cross was introduced by St Patrick during his time. While no written record, it is believed that St Patrick combined the symbol of Christianity with the sun-cross, to give pagan followers an idea of the importance of the cross by linking it with the idea of the life-giving properties of the sun.
Maewyn Succat or St Patrick is believed to have died on March 17, 461 AD. The hagiographies claim that in just forty years, he “liberated” Ireland and converted her people to Catholicism. Many villages and towns, including Somerset, England claim to be the resting place of his body.
Catholicism officially entered the United Kingdom in 597 A D, 200 years after the birth of Maewyn,when the Gregorian Mission arrived with Augustine with forty monks under the direction of the Holy See in Rome.