How Did Saint Patrick's Day Develop?
Saint Patrick's day is celebrate as an important Catholic feast day in Ireland. It also has important religious significance in other places that recognize the importance of Saint Patrick in bringing Christianity to Ireland. While the story of Saint Patrick does relate to the bringing of Christianity to Ireland, many of the stories and celebrations have other influences and reasons that have shaped the celebratory day.
Saint Patrick's day only became a recognized feast day in the early 17th century. However, it's development and traditions took various forms of influence. Outside of knowledge of Saint Patrick as being perhaps the most important person in bringing Christianity to Ireland, little else is known. He probably was a British-Roman missionary who migrated from Britain in the 5th century CE, perhaps in the 430s when Rome's grip on Britain had faded. The work, Declaration , dated to this period, may have been written by him and provides the most detail on his life. It is not even clear if Patrick was his name, as other possibilities have been suggested such as Magnus. There is also the tradition of Palladius being the first bishop of Ireland, recorded to be around 431. He may have been a figure conflated with Patrick in later traditions, where Palladius and Patrick were combined into one figure.
Tradition holds he was taken captive as a teenager by Irish pirates from his native Britain. He eventually escaped but after some time he saw a vision and came back to Ireland to be a missionary. When he came back, he became active in baptizing and spreading Christianity. Interestingly, an early 7th century letter written by Columbanus, an Irish missionary, states that Christianity came to Ireland via Palladius. Works by Tírechán, writing later in the 7th century, then begin to attribute Christianity brought to Ireland via Patrick. The writer refers to Book of Ultán, which could be a missing or lost source regarding Patrick, as this work no longer survives. Many of the conversion stories mimic other conversion stories found in the late Roman Empire, suggesting that many of the stories were borrowed and attributed to Patrick or even that the stories were combined in relation to Patrick. It may have not been until the 7th century, long after Patrick, that churches and monasteries began to spread across Ireland.
The main tradition that continues to have connection to Saint Patrick is the use of the shamrock to teach about the Holy Trinity. However, that tradition was only written down in the 1700s, far later than any of the early Medieval writings about Saint Patrick. Nevertheless, the story could be much older and may reflect at least Medieval beliefs. Other stories, such as snakes being banished from Ireland by Patrick, reflect the fact that there have not been snakes in Ireland since the last ice age. The selection of March 17th as Saint Patrick's day relates to the purported date of Patrick, but there is no certainty of that from sources.
In the 9th and 10th centuries, Saint Patrick's day was being celebrated widely throughout Ireland. By the Medieval period, Patrick became the undisputed Patron Saint of Ireland. By the 17th century, green had increasingly been associated with Ireland. As the color became associated with the country and people, naturally Saint Patrick, the patron saint, began to also be associated with this color, leading to this color being the primary color worn on the feast day. In the 17th century, Luke Wadding, an important Franciscan friar from Ireland, placed Saint Patrick as part of the official important feast days in the Catholic calendar.