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Saint Patrick, Shamrocks & Serpents

Saint Patrick's life, mission in Ireland and writings certainly occurred during the middle of the fifth century. There are many holy wells and sites which claim association with Patrick and these are not all easily proven. However, there are some legends connected to Patrick which everyone in Ireland knows and believes. These are not recorded in annals nor accounts of Patrick's life but are repeated even today.

One legend has it that Patrick, when he escaped from his youthful slavery in Ireland went straight to France. Deciding to visit his uncle in Tours, he had to cross the River Loire. He had no obvious means of doing so, but he found that his cape made an admirable raft. On reaching the other side, he hung his cape out to dry upon a hawthorn bush. Despite it being the middle of winter, the bush immediately burst into bloom. Fact: to this day, the hawthorn blooms in winter in the Loire Valley and St. Patrick has two feast days there - one on March 17 and the other on Christmas Day.

Patrick, despite his saintliness, was not averse to bouts of temper, it seems. After a greedy man once denied him the use of a field to rest and grazes his oxen, Patrick is said to have cursed the field, prophesying that nothing would grow on it from then on. Sure enough, that very day, the field was overrun by the sea and remained sandy and barren for evermore.

A blind man once came to Patrick seeking a cure. As he approached, he stumbled several times and fell over and was duly laughed at by one of Patrick’s companions. The blind man was cured. The companion, however, was blinded.

Before he died, an angel told Patrick that he should have two untamed oxen yoked to his funeral cart and that they should be left to decide where he should be buried. With great political foresight, the oxen chose Downpatrick. On the day that Patrick died, night never fell in Ulster nor did it for a further twelve days.

Snakes

Saint Patrick is given credit for banishing the snakes from Ireland, sending the broods into the sea. To this day, there aren't any native snakes in Ireland. The banishment of snakes is probably an allegorical explanation for Patrick confronting and defeating paganism. As depicted in medieval art, pagans often worshipped snakes. The absence of snakes is more likely to be caused by the remoteness of the island. Fortunately, Ireland was inaccessible for snakes to reach.

Shamrocks & the Trinity

The shamrock is popularly identified with Ireland. That custom owes its origins to St. Patrick.

The shamrock is a form of clover -Trifolium repens, Trifolium pratense or more likely Trifolium dubium, to give its botanical pedigree - and only looks different from what one might expect because it is picked so early in spring.

When Patrick challenged King Laoghaire's authority at Tara, he encountered mocking questions about the Christian faith. Patrick plucked a three-leaf shamrock and used it to demonstrate the core Christian belief in the Trinity. He explained that the shamrock represented one God and comprised three Divine persons, a leaf each for the Divine Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

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