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.

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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