Someone told me a while back that people die twice. Once when they physically expire and again when their name is spoken for the last time. St Patrick has been dead for centuries and there’s little danger that he’ll ever be forgotten. St Patrick’s Day itself has become a global phenomenon that seems to gather strength each year and shows little sign of abating.
Being Irish, as I admitted earlier this week, doesn’t make you an expert on the man or his life. And this is particularly true in my case. It was only in December that I visited his grave for the first time – and what a shock it was to see that he’s not buried alone.
He lies in the grounds of the magnificent Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, a Church of Ireland cathedral built in 1183 on the site of a Benedictine Monastery. When I realised it wasn’t a Catholic Cathedral I had to stop and question my belief that St Patrick was Catholic… just because he’s a saint.
Some say he wasn’t. but proving it, according to James Aiken in his article Was St Patrick Catholic ‘[…] is an impossible task, as Patrick was a Latin-speaking Roman noble, grandson of a Catholic priest, son of a minor official of the Roman empire, who had repeated private revelations, practiced penance, spent two decades as a monk, was ordained a priest and sent to serve on the papal mission to Ireland, was then ordained bishop by a papal representative, and had his fidelity to Catholic teaching specially confirmed by Pope Leo the Great (of whom the fathers of the Council of Chalcedon cried “Peter has spoken through Leo!”). He described himself as a Catholic, and a list of canons he drew up for the Irish church orders that any dispute not resolved on a local level was to be forwarded to Rome for decision.’ Enough said.
The reason I questioned it is that I’ve grown up hearing how St Patrick converted Ireland to Christianity – not that he made Catholics of us all. And I’m still none the wiser.
But back to him not being buried alone. Apparently there was a prophecy that he’d be buried with St Brigid and St Colomcille, a prophecy which, according the engraving, John De Courcy fulfilled in the twelfth century. Given that he supposedly died back in the fifth century, I’m left wondering where he was in the meantime. In fact, the more I read, the more confused I get. There is even a theory of two Patricks!
Whoever he was or wasn’t, whatever he did or didn’t do, what St Patrick is doing today is what’s important for me. There an immense pride to be taken in being Irish (or there was, before the progeny of the Celtic Tiger years began to worry the threads of the Irish reputation abroad). For me, to see Irishness celebrated around the world is an amazing thing. I used to think it was cheesy and a little naff, but since coming to Budapest and being involved in the revelry and seeing the genuine affinity Hungarians have for all things Irish, it’s nearly enough to bring a tear to this occasionally jaundiced eye.