Just how did St. Patrick become the "Apostle of Ireland"? As a young man of 16 years old, he was taken from his home in England to Ireland by raiders, where he lived as a slave for six years before having a vision that told him he would return home. After a second vision that told him his ship was ready, he escaped, walking 200 miles to reach the ship at the coast, and returned home. Sometime after returning home, St. Patrick became a priest. He wrote of another vision:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us."1
Around 432, he returned to Ireland and began preaching the Gospel. He converted many people, and founded churches and monasteries across Ireland. His was no easy task, however. As a foreigner and former slave, he faced much hostility. St. Patrick wrote an autobiography, Confession, in which he tells of the many trials he endured. It is generally accepted that he died on March 17, 460 (although there is some debate about the year).
There are a few symbols and legends associated with St. Patrick. Most well known is the shamrock, which St. Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity. The shamrock represents the one God, and each leaf represents one person of the Trinity. The cross pattée, a symbol of Ecclesiastical heraldry on bishops' mitres, is often associated with St. Patrick as the founding bishop of the Irish church.
One legend tells of St. Patrick banishing all snakes from Ireland. After being attacked by snakes during a 40-day fast, he chased them into the sea. Modern scientists are quick to dismiss this legend, citing a lack of evidence that snakes ever lived in Ireland. When taken metaphorically, the meaning of the legend becomes clear and makes perfect sense. The Druids, spiritual advisors to Celtic kings, wore snake tattoos on their arms. While there were Christians in Ireland before St. Patrick's mission, he was a major instrument in the proliferation of Christianity, which supplanted the Druids (the snakes in our legend) in Ireland. (Here's a fun link for adults about St. Patrick and the snakes.)
One final legend for today tells of how St. Patrick's walking stick grew into a tree. During his evangelizing journey, he carried with him an ash wood walking stick, which he thrust into the ground wherever he was evangelizing. At the place now known as Aspatria (ash of Patrick), it took so long to convert the people that the stick had taken root by the time he was ready to move on.
Now that you have a brief life, symbols, and legends to share with your children, (if you didn't already know them, as was partly my situation), let's make a craft to help tell the story. We are going to make a "stained-glass shamrock" with icons of the Trinity and St. Patrick.
9x11" Hot Laminating Sheet & Laminator
or Self-laminating Sheet
Green tissue paper, cut into small pieces (any shape or size will work, so the kids can do this)
*I have chosen one of St. Patrick that illustrates some of the legends and symbols. There are many others online if you prefer a simpler one.
Scissors or Paper Cutter
String or yarn
1. Cut out the shamrock and trace it onto both sides of the laminating sheet. For self-laminating method, only trace shamrock on one sheet.
2. Cut out the icons.
3. Open the sheet up (for self-laminating method, peel the backing off one sheet and place it face up), and place one icon face down in the center. Add pieces of green tissue paper to fill the shamrock. It's okay if these lay beyond the lines.
4. Place the second icon face up in the center, and close the laminating sheet.
4a. For self-laminating method, cut out the shamrock with tissue paper. Peel back off of second sheet. Place backing on work surface, and place shamrock paper side up on top of backing. Add second icon face up. Place second sheet over shamrock, and smooth out wrinkles.
5. If using a hot laminator, run the sheet through the laminator (We ran them through ours twice just to be sure).
6. Cut out the shamrock (for self-laminating, use the first shamrock sheet as template to cut out second sheet). Leave a little space outside of the top lines to punch a hole.
7. Run yarn through the hole and tie it to make a hanger.
Hang it in a window to see the stain-glass effect. However, I recommend only hanging it in direct light during the week of the feast. If you leave it long-term, the tissue paper will begin to fade from the sunlight.
Special Thanks to Fr. Luke Dingman for providing the St. Patrick icon.
1 De Paor, Liam (1993), Saint Patrick's World: The Christian Culture of Ireland's Apostolic Age, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 100.