Did St. Patrick Bring Christianity to Ireland?

stained glass window showing St. Patrick preaching to Irish kings

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There’s no doubt that St. Patrick popularized Christianity in Ireland, helping it become the dominant religion, but the claim that he single-handedly brought the religion to Ireland is spurious.

For starters, there’s our old pal Palladius, the first bishop of the Christians of Ireland (i.e., the bishop originally dispatched to Ireland by Pope Celestine). While he did not have the staying power of Patrick, and was allegedly banished from Ireland by the king of Leinster (source: Lives of the Saints), the argument could be made that Palladius had to crawl so Patrick could walk.

But Palladius aside, pockets of Christianity existed prior to either man’s arrival. As Juilene Osborne-McKnight explains:

“Most Americans believe that Christianity came to Ireland with St. Patrick. Why else would we dress up and drink green beer on March 17? In truth, however, by the time St. Patrick go to Ireland, somewhere around 431 [CE] or so, Christianity already existed in scattered pockets throughout the country. Historians are not sure how it arrived, but there was certainly extensive trading with Rome. Slavery, which was the norm at the time, may have been profoundly influential in spreading Christianity throughout Ireland.”

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

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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