Saint Patrick is a man who is usually credited with the Christianization of Ireland in the fifth century. Despite the fact that Patrick is revered by many Christians including Roman Catholics and followers of the Orthodox Church, he has not actually been formally canonized as a saint. Until around the 10th century, many people were simply declared “saints” by the communities in which they lived and worked, with no official recognition from the Church, and Patrick is an example of such a saint.
Although Saint Patrick is famous in many regions of the world, surprisingly little is known about him. He is associated with Ireland, but he was actually born in Scotland as Maewyn Succat, and appears to have been Roman by ancestry, with the Latin name Magonus Succetus. At 16, he was captured by slave traders and brought to Ireland, later escaping and vowing to take a life in the Church. He ended up becoming a missionary in Ireland, but almost no records can be found documenting his life and work in Ireland, and even his burial site is a subject of dispute.
Two written documents believed to have been written by Saint Patrick have survived, and much of our information about his life and works comes from these documents. These letters seem to suggest that Patrick was not well treated in Ireland, meeting considerable opposition from the locals and being treated largely as a stranger, despite devoting his life to the Irish people. His fellow Christians also turned on him, accusing him of improprieties and suggesting that he earned his bishopric in Ireland through questionable tactics.
One of the enduring myths about Saint Patrick is that he chased the snakes out of Ireland. This myth has lost something in the translation over the centuries, as the myth refers to his attempts to stamp out the Druid tradition, not literal snakes. Druids were known as “snakes” in the British Isles, and many Druid communities had adopted snakes as their personal symbols, reflecting long-standing associations with wisdom and cunning.
Although Saint Patrick is not an official saint, he does have a Saint's Day, on 17 March. Many people celebrate Saint Patrick's Day with parades and celebrations of Irish culture, although the widespread commemoration of the day only dates to the 1700s. Luke Waddington, an Irish friar, is often given credit for popularizing Saint Patrick's Day and insisting that it be celebrated in Ireland.