The Art of Symbol and Storytelling
Fifteen centuries ago a young Roman boy named Maewyn was born in Britain and was being raised by Christian parents until, in his mid-teens, he was kidnapped by pirates and forced into slavery in Ireland. However, Maewyn wrote that it was in and through his captivity (the many hours in the countryside as he worked as a shepherd) that his relationship with God was strengthened. His long days left alone to ponder life and pray ultimately opened his eyes to see how the “Lord had mercy on his youth and ignorance, and afforded him the opportunity to be forgiven his sins and convert to Christianity.”*
Though he had now gained spiritual freedom, his natural desire to be free from physical bondage and a belief he would return home one day continued. When he was 22, he was finally able to escape his master and travel a long distance to an ocean port, where he managed to hitch a ride with a ship. This is where his journey gets murky. He was either recaptured and held for an additional 60 days in France (where he received a vision—more on that later) or disembarked on a lonely British shore and traveled with his fellow shipmates for weeks in a type of "wilderness," where they gained respect for Maewyn’s faith in God to provide sustenance for them. He eventually arrived back home to his, I assume, overjoyed parents, Calpernius and Conchessa.
Regardless of which path he took, he then began to study Christianity. This, and this vision mentioned earlier, prompted him to return to Ireland and share the good news of Christ there: “I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: ‘The Voice of the Irish’. As I began the letter, I imagined at that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near [a] wood…which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’”*
I imagine that this could be around the time he began referring to himself as Patricius (Latin meaning “having a noble father”). In any case, this is the name that stuck, as we have come to know him as Saint Patrick. Though he was not always welcomed with open arms in Ireland—for example, receiving ridicule by the Druids, insults from soldiers, disrespect by most of the Irish elite, and was even robbed and left destitute at one point—his early captivity provided him with fluency in the Irish language and understanding of the culture. And his passion for the lost drove him to dedicate the remainder of his life to share the true freedom he found for his own soul through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His influence and work led to 100,000 baptisms and the early establishment of 300 churches.
Although he may not have been the original presence of Christianity in Ireland, Patrick may very well have used the three-in-one leaf of their common Kelly green Shamrock adorning the rolling hills to explain the unity of God’s three-in-one personhood (the loving Father, the sacrificial Son, and the guiding Holy Spirit) to the Celtic polytheists.
In closing, I think it is worth mentioning that, as with other holidays, there are ironic folklore counterparts: St. Patty’s Day is chock-full of cranky Leprechauns greedily protecting fabled buried treasures throughout the country (believed to have been hidden by the Irish from the threat of marauding Vikings); luck is in the form of a four-leafed clover; the role of the rainbow is an elusive hopefulness for wealth; drunkenness is associated with happiness.
What Patrick modeled out was selflessness, receiving the free treasures of abiding inner joy, forgiveness, and eternal life, accepting the confident assurance (true Hope) available through the Triune God.
Drawing near rainbows
like man's hope: fades, vanishes
Elusive and vain.
The Light Source shines True:
colours clearly reflected.
I hope you enjoyed my fresh retelling of the beloved St. Patrick. Also featured here is the small 5" x 7" acrylic on canvas I've decided to entitle "Playful Shamrock." I painted it near St. Patrick's day a few years ago and display it each Spring to focus on the Trinity of God and to appreciate the the creative use of symbols in my life.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day — and Cheers!
*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick. Other info also found at history.ca and in the Bible