Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick was a Britt

the View from the Podium

St. Patrick was a Britt
On this high-holy day for Irishmen and honorary Irishmen and pretend Irishmen, I fear that I, Ex- Prof, must be the bearer of bad news: St. Patrick was an effin'-Britt.  From Britain.  And not at all Irish.  And he never drove the snakes out of Ireland.  And he probably preferred wine to beer, as he was educated in France. And he only went to Ireland in the first place because he was kidnapped.  And he might have been two separate people. Really.

Me and another pretend Irishman
on St. Patrick's Day.  Ah, but who is whom?
The real St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain in a place called Banna Venta Berniae, a place that nobody knows where exactly it was, but probably was in Cumbria.  His dad was a deacon, and his grandfather was a Christian priest, so you could say that he went into the family business.

About the time he turned 16, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish Pirates --they're the ones with chickens instead of parrots on their shoulders --and dragged back to Ireland, where he was forced to tend his kidnapper's sheep.  Patrick had found his first Irish followers: the sheep!  Somehow, he managed to escape, get a boat back to Britain and to his family, and leave the otherwise promising trade of slave-shepherd behind him.  

Here's where things get interesting.  According to Patrick, he had a dream one night where he heard the voice of the miserable Irish he had recently left in the rear-view mirror of his life, and this is what they said:

"We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us."

Actually, in his dream, Patrick was reading a bunch of letters brought to him by a man named Victorious, and he imagined that he heard these voices, but hey, it was enough to convince Patrick to leave his comfy digs in Britain and hit the road for Jesus.
St. Paddy was an effin' WHAT??
Patrick then went to France, got religious instruction from a couple of famous French clerics, and went back to Ireland.  Once  there, he had a tough row to hoe, as the current religious establishment, a.k.a. Druids, had a bad attitude towards Christians.  Here's one of their prophecies concerning proselytizing Christians:

Across the sea will come Adze-head, crazed in the head, his cloak with hole for the head, his stick bent in the head.  He will chant impieties from a table in the front of his house; all his people will answer: "so be it, so be it."

...and after the human sacrifice, let's set a
bunch of random people on fire! It'll be fun!
And Patrick didn't do much in the way of winning friends and influencing people.  You see, Pagan-Ireland of the mid-400's was really big on gift-giving and gift-receiving as a way to get in tight with all the petty kings who ruled Ireland back then.  Since Patrick didn't accept any gifts from these Pagan VIP's, this essentially put him on the outside of the society he was hoping to bring to Christ.  And boy, did the Irish really, REALLY need Christianity in the 400's!

You see, the Druids practiced human sacrifice --individually and in groups.  One lucky (?) kid who was recently discovered preserved in a bog got to be sacrificed to THREE gods at once; he was therefore garroted, knifed and had his skull bashed-in, although not necessarily in that order.  The Romans, who just plain hated the Druids, wrote accounts of a bit of fun the Druids called "Wicker-Men."  This was the climax of the Celts' fire-festival: a bunch of random people would be caged inside of these giant-sized man-shaped wicker monsters, that were then set on fire.  Hey, it was a fire-festival, wasn't it? Fun.

Things get tricky at this point.  Supposedly, Patrick then sets about converting tons of people and building churches and performing miracles, like driving the snakes out of Ireland.  Unfortunately, Ireland never had any snakes to begin with, so that's kind of a non-miracle miracle.

I am  s-s-SO Irish!  Hey, I'm green and everything!  Hello?!?
In fact, Patrick is credited with doing so much cool stuff that historians believe that he was actually two apostles-to-the-Irish.  The other guy who may have "helped" Patrick convert the entire Irish nation was named St. Palladius, who was actually Bishop of Ireland before  St. Patrick's return-trip.  Prosper of Aquitaine knew Palladius well enough to stick his name in a book he, Prosper, was writing --which was a big deal back then, because every book was written by hand, not easily printed, xeroxed or scanned.

Gutenberg can just suck it.
Palladius was ordained by Pope Celestine and sent to Ireland in 431, tramping around the kingdom of Leinster, and Clonard in County Meath.  Word has it, he really sucked at his job and quit.  According to Muirchu who wrote about Palladius 200 years later in the Book of Armagh,

 God hindered him...and neither did those fierce and cruel men [the Irish] receive his doctrine readily, nor did he himself wish to spend time in a strange land, but returned to him who sent him.

After his Irish ordeal, Palladius left for Scotland --BIG improvement there! --leaving his pals Solinus, Sylvester and Tweety (ok, not Tweety) behind to fight the good fight-for-Jesus, right about the time that Patrick was just getting his feet stuck into Irish bog-water.  When Palladius died, apparently a lot of people thought he was Patrick.  I mean hey, how many Roman Catholic missionaries whose names began with P were running around during the 400's?  Two.  So some of the stuff Palladius was able to accomplish just might have been credited to Patrick.  But so what?  Who really cares who did what for whom and when, just as long as those crummy Irish Pagans stopped sacrificing humans and started being nice to each other, a tradition that continues to this very day, unless you count the hideous acts committed on both sides of the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland.
It came.  People died.  Happy?
I, for one, am a big fan of Saint Patrick, because if he didn't convert the Irish, they would have done nothing to stop Christianity from disappearing from Europe entirely after the collapse of the Roman empire.  And even though the Roman Catholic Church has some control-freak issues, it was sure better than whatever gods the Franks, Vikings and Burgundians worshiped, who probably thought it was ok to butcher women, kids and little guys just for giggles and grins.  And Patrick really worked hard and really suffered while he was there, spending some of his time in chains, awaiting execution. His biggest coup was in converting the High King at the Rock of Cashel, explaining the mystery of the Trinity by using the humble Irish shamrock as a symbol: three (leaves) out of one (stem).  At least that part of his legend isn't in all that much dispute.

So, Happy Saint Patrick's Day, you ex-shepherd, effing-Romanized-Britt, shadowy, voice-hallucinating, old dead dude. Thanks to you, the world has a great excuse to get drunk, act stupid and listen to the Drop Kick Murphys, at least one day in the year.

Yerra, Drop-shite Murphys!  Luv ya, boy-os!  Fuck, where's me feckin' beer?

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