Was St. Patrick Really a Saint?

stained glass window showing St. Patrick flanked by St. Brigid and St. Columba

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This is one of those pieces of trivia you’ll hear spouted from the mouths of those truth-obsessed writers who make it their mission to uncover little-known facts about popular topics. (Wait, why are you looking at me like that? I’m not… I mean, I am, but… Moving on…) This particular and now oft-quoted factoid goes something like this: “St. Patrick isn’t a real saint because he was never formally canonized by a pope.”

Like any good piece of trivia intended to rankle, there is a kernel of truth here: St. Patrick was not formally canonized by Pope Celestine. There’s no doubt about it. It never happened. But here’s a crucial piece of information missing from this observation: The Pope didn’t canonize St. Patrick because that’s not something popes did during the era St. Patrick lived in. As noted in the Encyclopedia Britannica:

The first saint canonized by a pope was Ulrich, bishop of Augsburg, who died in 973 and was canonized by Pope John XV at the Lateran Council of 993. Pope Alexander III (1159–81) began to reserve the cases of canonization to the Holy See, and this became general law under Gregory IX (1227–41).

source: “Canonization” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

It wasn’t until 1234 CE that Pope Gregory IX put the official papal procedures in place for investigating the lives of potential saints and their alleged miracles. Prior to that, there was a different, more localized procedure for canonization, and as noted by Mike McCormack of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, that procedure was indeed followed when it came to venerating St. Patrick:

“On  June 9, 1186, no less than 15 Bishops, many abbots and high dignitaries and a great gathering of clergy and laity witnessed the official Solemn Translation of the relics of St. Patrick, St. Columcille, and St. Brigid, at Downpatrick… some of the relics were enshrined and placed on the high Altar and some were brought back to Rome… Documented evidence exists in many authentic sources that Saint Patrick was indeed formally canonized by the official ritual established by the Roman Catholic Church at the time!”

source: “St. Patrick IS a Saint!” (Ancient Order of Hibernians)

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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