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The Legend of St. Patrick

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is one of Christianity's most widely known figures. But for all his celebrity, his life remains somewhat of a mystery. Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are false, the products of hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling, St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. When he was sixteen, St. Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family estate. They transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity. During this time St. Patrick worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian. After six years, St. Patrick escaped, listening to a voice he believed was God's telling him it was time to leave Ireland. St. Patrick eventually reached Britain and had another dream where an angel told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. St. Patrick began his religious training, a course of study lasting over fifteen years. After his ordination as a priest, he was sent to Ireland with a duel mission: to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish. Familiar with the Irish language and culture, St. Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons with Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. Although there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion. The Irish culture centered around a rich tradition of oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it is no surprise that the story of Patrick's life became exaggerated over the centuries-spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life.