Did St. Patrick Dress in Green?

photo of a stained glass window showing st. patrick in green

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It’s the color most closely associated with his adoptive country as well as his eponymous holiday, but did St. Patrick actually wear green?

While modern images of Patrick almost always show him in a flowing emerald robe or cassock, the very first image of him we have on record (see above), which dates back to the thirteenth century, shows him cloaked in blue as he meets with a High King of Ireland at Tara. The color blue was so closely associated with Patrick, in fact, that he even had his own shade of blue. In 1783, when George III created a new order of chivalry for Ireland (then under British rule), the order’s official color was a variant of sky blue called St. Patrick’s Blue.

image of st. patrick in blue cassock
The earliest known image of St. Patrick (circa the 13th century) (source: Smithsonian)

Patrick’s strong association with blue makes more sense when you consider that blue had—up until recently—been the color most closely associated with Ireland. As Irish journalist Gavan Reilly explains:

“Ireland’s history with the colour blue is largely related to its colonial history, but there are older associations too – Flaitheas Éireann, the embodiment of Irish sovereignty in mythological times (a sort of Irish answer to Uncle Sam or Jack Bull), wore blue. The crest for the older Kingdom of Meath, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, showed the image of a ruler sitting on a green throne with a blue background.”

source: “So you know Ireland’s national colour might not be green, right?” (TheJournal.ie)

Later, when Henry VIII declared himself King of Ireland in 1541, and a coat of arms was created for the kingdom, the imagery chosen was that of a golden harp on a blue background, marking the first formal use of blue to represent Ireland.

It’s unclear how, exactly, green came to replace blue as the dominant color of both Irish identity and St. Patrick’s identity, but it’s possible that Ireland’s verdant landscape—and perhaps even the legend of St. Patrick preaching with the help of a particular green, three-leafed plant—contributed to the change. As Irish nationalism swelled in the nineteenth century, the adoption of green also helped Ireland distinguish itself from England, Scotland, Wales, all of which were represented primarily by blues and reds at the time.

But to return to our original question: Did St. Patrick actually wear green? Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say. As is the case with Patrick’s shamrock-wielding, it’s certainly plausible, but there’s no historical evidence to back it up.


Editor’s note: this article is an excerpt from “20 Questions With St. Patrick: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the ‘Apostle of Ireland’”


Further Reading

How the Irish Saved Civilization

by Thomas Cahill

Per the publisher: “Every year millions of Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but they may not be aware of how great an influence St. Patrick was on the subsequent history of civilization. Not only did he bring Christianity to Ireland, he instilled a sense of literacy and learning that would create the conditions that allowed Ireland to become ‘the isle of saints and scholars’ — and thus preserve Western culture while Europe was being overrun by barbarians.” Learn more…


The Story We Carry in Our Bones: Irish History for Americans

by Juilene Osborne-McKnight

Per the publisher: “Many Irish-Americans today know little about Ireland and their ancestry. Historian Juilene Osborne-McKnight presents Irish-American history in a compelling narrative form, accented with photographs, illustrations, and original, literary interludes. Osborne-McKnight pays homage to her ancestry in this chronicle of the Irish from ancient times to contemporary America.” Learn more…


The Story of the Irish Race: A Popular History of Ireland

by Seumas MacManus

Per the publisher: “A classic history of the Irish people from their prehistoric origins to their fight for independence in twentieth century. It provides fascinating insight into the origins of their culture, religion, laws, arts, antiquities, folklore, trade, literature, heroes, and more. MacManus sketches brilliant overviews of a number of the most famous figures from the country’s past, some of whom, like St. Patrick, allowed the Irish to flourish, whilst others, like Oliver Cromwell, persecuted them. ” Learn more…


St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography

by Philip Freeman

Per the publisher: “Ireland’s patron saint has long been shrouded in legend, but the true story of St. Patrick is far more inspiring than the myths. In St. Patrick of Ireland, Philip Freeman brings the historic Patrick and his world vividly to life. Patrick speaks in his own voice in two remarkable letters he wrote about himself and his beliefs, new translations of which are included here and which are still astonishing for their passion and eloquence.” Learn more…


Patrick

by Stephen Lawhead

Per the publisher: “Set in an era of brutal conflict and turmoil, this epic adventure is the first novel to tell the full story of the slave who became a saint, of the man who rose to the challenge of his time and changed the course of history. In the summer of 405AD, Irish raiders attack the western coast of Wales, carving a fiery swathe through the peaceful countryside. Among the survivors who are rounded up and taken back to Ireland is Succat: an impulsive sixteen-year-old son of a powerful Roman family.” Learn more…


Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland

by Tomie dePaola

Per the publisher: “An illustrated tribute to the Irish patron saint from the best-selling author of Quiet, Strega Nona, and many others. This timeless picture book, available in large-format paperback or as the board book Saint Patrick, is a perfect introduction to important Irish legends and an ideal St. Patrick’s day gift. Beloved children’s book author-illustrator Tomie dePaola recounts the life of Saint Patrick—from his noble birth in Britain, to his captivity in Ireland, to the visions which led him to return and found the first Christian church in Ireland.” Learn more…


Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Fantasy

by multiple authors

A collection of 17 short stories, NEON DRUID mixes urban fantasy and Celtic mythology, creating a universe where lecherous leprechauns and debaucherous druids inhabit the local pubs, and where shapeshifting water spirits from Scotland and sword-wielding warriors from Ireland lurk in the alleyways. Stories range from tales of supernatural horror, to street-level fantasy adventures, to farcical, whiskey-drenched fairytales. Learn more…


More book ideas:


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