Thursday, March 17, 2016
On this day in 461, Saint Patrick died & in 1761 people gathered in a New York public garden to celebrate
On this day in 461 A.D., Saint Patrick, Christian missionary, bishop and apostle of Ireland, died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland.
Much of what is known about Patrick’s legendary life comes from the Confessio, a book he wrote during his last years. Born in Great Britain, probably in Scotland, to a well-to-do Christian family of Roman citizenship, Patrick was captured & enslaved at age 16 by Irish marauders. For the next 6 years, he worked as a herder in Ireland, turning to a deepening religious faith for comfort. He wrote that following the counsel of a voice he heard in a dream one night, he escaped & found passage on a ship to Britain, where he was eventually reunited with his family.
According to the Confessio, in Britain Patrick had another dream, in which an individual named Victoricus gave him a letter, entitled “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read it, Patrick seemed to hear the voices of Irishmen pleading him to return to their country & walk among them once more. After studying for the priesthood, Patrick was ordained a bishop. He arrived in Ireland in 433 & began preaching the Gospel, converting many thousands of Irish & building churches around the country. After 40 years of living in poverty, teaching, traveling & working tirelessly, Patrick died on March 17, 461 in Saul, where he had built his first church.
Since that time, countless legends have grown up around Patrick. Made the patron saint of Ireland, he is said to have baptized hundreds of people on a single day, & to have used a three-leaf clover–the famous shamrock–to describe the Holy Trinity. In art, he is often portrayed trampling on snakes, in accordance with the belief that he drove those reptiles out of Ireland. For thousands of years, the Irish have observed the day of Saint Patrick’s death as a religious holiday, attending church in the morning & celebrating with food & drink in the afternoon.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade, though, took place not in Ireland, but the United States, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City in 1762. A year earlier, in 1761, public pleasure garden guests feasted the anniversary of St. Patrick at Bowling Green Garden. Traditional processions--the forerunners of New York City's modern St. Partrick's Day Parade--often accompanied the revelry.