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One of the West’s most popular saints and the patron of the Irish, St. Patrick is a great witness to spiritual power and triumph over adversity. This icon contains traditional imagery associated with him done in an Eastern style. St. Patrick is called Enlightener (or apostle), because he was the greatest missionary to Ireland. A must have for those with Celtic ancestry, or for anyone with zeal for spreading the Gospel.
Icon holy cards are 3" x 5", a convenient size for use as gifts or bookmarks. The backs are blank except for a faint colophon at the bottom, leaving plenty of room for custom imprinting with your own message.
St. Patrick, the great apostle to the Irish, is among the most beloved saints. Along with St. Nicholas and St. Valentine he is known even in secular society. Patrick was born around 385 in Scotland, probably Kilpatrick. His Roman parents, Calpurnius and Conchessa, were living in Britain in charge of the colonies. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest for in the early Latin Church the custom of celibacy was not yet mandatory.
When he was just fourteen, Patrick was captured during a raiding party and taken as a slave to Ireland. It was then a land of Druids and pagans; he learned the language and practices of the people who held him prisoner. His work was herding and tending sheep. Alone with the flocks he spent many hours in intense prayer and grew in holiness. Patrick's captivity lasted until he was twenty. He escaped after having a vision in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast. A group of sailors took him back to Britain, where he reunited with his family.
He had another dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him, "We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more." He responded to this calling by beginning to study for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre. After Patrick was raised to the order of bishop, he was commissioned to take the Gospel to Ireland. He arrived at Slane on March 25, 433.
Despite popular ideas, Patrick did not convert all of Ireland to Christianity, which would have been impossible. Nor was he the first bishop of Ireland; Palladius was the first. His evangelization, however, was significant. After establishing his episcopal see at Armagh, Patrick began preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland. He and his disciples converted thousands to the faith and began building churches all over the country. Kings, their families, and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity upon hearing Patrick's message. His mission in the Emerald Isle lasted for forty years. During this time he established a solid foundation for Christianity in Ireland. He died March 17, 461 at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland where he had built his first Irish church.
In art, St. Patrick is traditionally shown dressed as a bishop holding a crosier and/or a shamrock. He treads upon snakes and stands in front of a fire. While this icon employs some traditional imagery, it is done in an Eastern style. St. Patrick is called the Enlightener of Ireland, (more often said, apostle) because he was the great missionary who brought the gospel to Ireland with the most success; he enlightened the Celts of Ireland with faith in Christ.
The face of the saint is intense and indicates a man of great faith—one who fought an uphill battle against setbacks and even death. The long, gray beard and the wrinkled brow indicate a man of maturity and wisdom. The obvious Eastern look of his features reminds us that despite our familiarity with St. Patrick in art, this is a sacred image meant for veneration.
St. Patrick is dressed in the bishop’s vestments of the Latin church, not those of an Orthodox bishop. While these garments are immediately recognizable to us, it is important to note that this style did not appear until the thirteenth century. He would, however, have worn something similar. He more than likely carried a crosier (shepherd’s staff), which often serves as a symbol of a bishop. Jesus was the Good Shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep to look for the lost one; likewise a bishop tends the flock of his diocese. That Patrick actually was a shepherd in his youth simply adds to his legend. The mitre he wears is another bishop’s symbol; this hat was borrowed from Roman civil officials of the time. It was “baptized” in much the same way that civil or private buildings became basilicas in the history of church architecture. Patrick’s vestments are green, since Ireland is known for is rolling, emerald green hills. The Celtic cross on his stole is probably Egyptian in origin and actually dates from a time after St. Patrick, although it’s strongly associated with Irish culture today.
The rocks in the image are signs of stability, but also of the Holy Spirit who led Patrick by the spirit to this land. Water is seen at his left to remind the viewer of his travels to the island. The water also coincides with the imagery of the snakes at the feet of St. Patrick. He is trampling them, although given the flat, weightless style of icons, he appears to hover calmly above them. The legend of St. Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland is one of his most popular. The story’s symbolism originates with the serpent in the Garden of Eden from Genesis, chapter three. St. Patrick drove paganism and evil out of Ireland as depicted in the form of these snakes.
The other great symbol in this icon is the shamrock, seen in the right hand of St. Patrick. According to legend, St. Patrick once explained the mystery of the Trinity to a group of people using the small, three-leafed plant. He picked it up and showed that while it was made up of three individual parts, the three were still one. Patrick’s hand also reveals a blessing form in iconography; the two fingers up and two down denote the two natures of Christ. Contemplate this icon to realize that all Christians are called to be evangelists. St. Patrick was able to rise above great opposition through his prayer and perseverance. Today we seek the intercession of this great missionary to instill in us the same virtues of Christ that saved so many souls.