St Patrick was born Maewyn Succat in or around 380 A D. 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.
Interestingly, the works of Maewyn Succat, the Confessio and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus provide two of the less than half a dozen eye-witness written accounts of what we now call the “Dark Ages” in Britain (incl. Wales and Scotland) and Ireland. For the full translated texts in English (as they were written originally in Latin) simply click the title hyperlinks above.
Historians refer to these specific Dark Ages as the Sub Roman Period (400 A D – 600 A D ) when there was tremendous unrest and battling from inside and outside forces including Saxons, and Barbarians. Indeed if King Arthur and Merlin lived at all, they would have been historical contemporaries of Maewyn Succat.
Maewyn Succat was born near Bannavem which may have been Somerset County, Britain as the son of a “Deacon” who had been trained in Rome. Catholicism officially entered the United Kingdom in 597 A D, 200 years after the birth of Maewyn,when the Gregorian Mission arrived with Augustine and forty monks under the direction of the Holy See in Rome.
In 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 in Britain 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!”, “Helias!” to this Sun-Jesus. 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 revelations, Maewyn became a Christian and was compelled to return to Ireland to liberate the Irish people from the oppression of evil. Before he did, he studied in France and became a Catholic Deacon. He later asked to return to Ireland. Pope Celestine granted Maewyn his request and named him Patritius (Patrick), “father of his people”.
Maewyn became known as “The Liberator”, liberating Ireland from its bondage of darkness. From his writings, little is known of the hardships endured in Ireland. He did not seem to want to elevate himself as a hero. The details are left vague but 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 green garments during the Spring Equinox to celebrate the rebirth of the Earth.
Still, the sidebar of St Patrick calling out to Jesus as “son of the sun” holds import. This incident is from his Confessio, written shortly before his death. The Confessio has been studied and debated endlessly by historians and scholars.
Most ancient cultures worshipped the sun as god. Without the sun, life could be not be sustained. The Celtic world, hunters and farmers, were no different – their sun-god was Bel. It’s fascinating to conjecture that instead of the shamrock, St Patrick, might have used the sun as a tool to bring Jesus, the “Helias”, the son of the sun, into the world of Celtic culture.
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/ St Patrick is believed to have died on March 17, 461 AD. The legend claims that in just forty years, the Liberator converted all of Ireland to Catholicism. Many villages and towns, including Somerset, England claim to be the resting place of his body.