Was St. Patrick a Real Person?

photo of a plaque marking the location of a well where St. Patrick baptized Irish pagans

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History confirms that Patrick, born Maewyn Succat, was a real person who lived most of his life in the fifth century CE. 

Two primary sources—written by the man himself and meticulously preserved thereafter—confirm his existence. These are his Confession (Confessio), an autobiography of sorts he wrote to dispel rumors being spread about him, and his Letter to Coroticus (Epistola), in which he scathingly rebukes the actions of the British warlord Coroticus (later identified as Ceretic Guletic) and his soldiers who raided Ireland, killing and kidnapping Irish Christians. 

Dublin-based historian and archaeologist Terry O’Hagan confirms Patrick’s historicity:

“Patrick is historical. He really existed. The writings he left behind are the earliest documents known to have been written in Ireland and provide us with our only historical evidence for the entire fifth century.”

source: “Will the Real St. Patrick Please Stand Up” (JSTOR Daily)

However, and this is a big “however,” everything you probably know about St. Patrick is wrong. So, an important clarification is in order: While St. Patrick was a real person, the green-clad, staff-bearing St. Patrick of our popular imaginations was not. To quote O’Hagan:

“He was, and is, a metaphorical, literary, and religious conceit. He was, and is, a product of ecclesiastical primacy, the poster boy for an early medieval monastic federation who used him to champion their claims of being Chief Executive Officers of an emerging corporation—the medieval Irish Church hierarchy. Practically everything that has come down to us concerning St. Patrick comes from the quills of people who were originally writing with such terms in mind almost two centuries after he lived. Traditional Irish ‘fake lore,’ not folklore. Thanks for visiting. Stop by the gift shop on the way out. Fifty percent off all Blarney Sweaters.”

source: “Will the Real St. Patrick Please Stand Up” (JSTOR Daily)

Want to learn more about Saint Patrick? Check out…

Saint Patrick in Your Pocket

Separate man from myth, fact from folklore, in this small but mighty pocket guide dedicated to uncovering lesser-known facts about Ireland’s most beloved patron saint. Armed with answers to these 20 tantalizing questions, you’ll be the smartest reveler in the room at your next Saint Patrick’s Day party. Learn more…

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