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Saturday, March 31, 2012

When the Saints come "March"-ing in.....

we know what month it must be: March! All punning aside, this time of year is replete with some real heavies on the calendar of holy-rollers, including the Patron Saint of Wales and the Patron Saint of Ireland. Take a look:


St. David 
   
    According to legend, St. David came into being when a 6th century Irish missionary nun named Non was raped by a local chieftain in the Welsh fields. In spite of the violence of the act, two white stone were said to appear in the earth, one at Non's head, and the other at her feet, indicating the unalienable worth and future holiness of the child she had just conceived. Nine months later, Non went out to the top of a cliff to deliver her baby.

     Unfortunately, another local ruler had been informed by his soothsayers that a nun would bare a child who would one day have power over the entire region. This did not please the chieftain in the least, and he sent out an armed man to slay the infant. When the man arrived at the spot where Non lay in labor, a tremendous storm blew up, and he was forced to run for cover. However, the spot where Non lay remained bathed in sunlight. The stones she grasped in her pain were said to have been imprinted with the marks of her hands and split open.

     Non delivered her child successfully and named him David (or Dewi, in Welsh). When he was old enough, she sent him to an island to study with St. Paulinus, where the young David is credited with restoring his teacher's sight. In time, the studious young man became a priest and founded a great monastery at Mynyw in southwestern Wales. David's rule for his monks was strict and laborious. He required them to do hard manual work, including tilling the soil without the use of a plow, and declared that they should eat only vegetarian fare. He also forbade idle speech and alcohol, earning him the nickname "the waterman".

     Despite his rigorous lifestyle, David was physically fit and proved to be an inspiring preacher. One legend says that he raised the level of a hill in order to be better heard by the crowds who had flocked to hear him preach. Soon after this miracle, David was made an Archbishop. Another legend depicts David on a battlefield, instructing the Christian Celts to put leeks in their bonnets so that they would be identified amidst the hoards of Pagan Saxons they were fighting. From that time to this, the leek has been considered the national symbol of Wales. Other famous legends involving the saint include that he blessed the waters in Bath, England, giving them healing powers, and that he was the nephew of the famous Celtic warrior, Arthur.

     It is claimed that David lived to be 100 years old. He died surrounded by his followers, who he taught a final lesson before he gave up his spirit: "Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us." The Feast of St. David, Patron Saint of Wales, is celebrated on March 1st and serves as a day of national pride for the Welsh.


St. Patrick

     Although it is difficult to separate fact from fiction, it seems likely that Patrick was born of a Roman family somewhere in Britain in the 5th century. His father was a wealthy tax collector, and Patrick lived a privileged life, spurning religion and getting caught up in the pleasures of the world. All that changed when the 16 year old boy was captured by Irish raiders and sold as a slave in Ireland. He was purchased by a petty chieftain in Antrim and forced to tend sheep and swine on Slemish Mountain in Co. Antrim for six years.

     It was during this period that Patrick experienced a spiritual awakening and became intimate in his prayers to God. He was told in a dream to escape his captivity and assured that a boat would be waiting for him at a designated place. He obeyed the heavenly prompting and returned safely to his family in Britain. However, the comfortable life he had been used to as a boy held little appeal for him now. He was haunted by dreams of the Irish people, pleading with his to return to Ireland and spread the Christian Gospel. Spurred on by what he now believed to be his calling, Patrick studied to become a priest in France. Several years after his ordination, he was made a bishop.

     Patrick chose to return to land of his captivity in Ireland. After sailing up Strangford Lough and landing at the River Slaney, he made his first Christian convert in Saul, Co. Down, who gave him a barn to use for his first church. Patrick traveled the length and breadth of Ireland, through Armagh, Tipperary, Mayo, Meath, and Dublin. His superiors in Britain were often skeptical of his methods of blending Pagan tradition with Christian doctrine, and they threatened to undermine his mission. He also had many clashes with the local Irish chieftains and their Druid advisors who tried to thwart his best efforts. Nevertheless, his evangelizing endeavors made many converts and bore limitless fruit.

     The most famous incident that has passed into the Patrician Legend occurred on Easter Eve, when Patrick lit a paschal fire on the Hill of Slane, in direct defiance of the orders of the High King who commanded no other fire to be lit until the Druids enkindled one the Hill of Tara for a ceremonial ritual. The pagan priests in the King's court panicked, saying that if the Christian fire was not put out immediately, it would burn forever in the hearts of the Irish people. The King sent his men to arrest Patrick and his companions, but when the guards arrived at Slane, they miraculously saw nothing but a herd of grazing deer. Ironically, the High King's son would later convert to Christianity and serve as Patrick's protector during his journeys through Ireland.
    
    Other famous legends about Patrick include that he taught the Celts the concept of the Trinity by using a three-leaved-clover, a plant traditionally used in Druidic ceremonies. Whether or not this is accurate, it is true that Patrick was adept at using Druid symbolism to help his listeners understand Christian concepts. Also, he has been credited in folklore with driving the snakes from the Emerald Isle. Although this is clearly a fictional embellishment (Ireland was snake-free to begin with!), it can be properly seen as an allegory for his driving away the darkness of paganism.
    
    Patrick established the Seat of Armagh as the center of Christianity in Ireland, defying the Druid authorities at Navan Fort, the ancient capital of Ulster. Armagh became one of the most important towns in Ireland, and there was a time when only clergymen who had been taught in the abbey in Armagh were allowed to spread the Christian faith in the land.

    One interesting legend involving Armagh tells us that Patrick and one of his companions were walking through the woods when they came upon a fawn in a thicket. The companion, being rather impulsive and hungry, suggested cooking the little creature for a hot supper. But Patrick wouldn't hear of it. He picked up the fawn, put him over his shoulders, and carried him to safety. The place where Patrick found the fawn is said to be the location of the Protestant Cathedral in Armagh, while the place where he took the fawn is said to be the location of the Catholic Cathedral in Armagh.

     Several years prior to his death, Patrick wrote his famous spiritual biography, now known as The Confession of St. Patrick. In it, he attributed all his successes to God: “It was not by my grace, but God who put this earnest care into my heart….” He died in 493, and it was said that for 12 days and nights during the mourning period, the sun refused to set. There are many places throughout Ireland that claim to have possession of his remains. One of the more likely candidates is Downpatrick, at the grounds of Down Cathedral. Feast of St. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland, is celebrated on March 17th. The famous poem attributed to him called St. Patrick’s Breastplate, runs as follows:

Christ beside me, Christ before me
Christ behind me, Christ within me
Christ under me, Christ over me
Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me
Christ in lying down, Christ in sitting, Christ in rising up
Christ in the heart of every person who may think of me
Christ in the mouth of every person who may speak of me
Christ in every eye that may look on me
Christ in every ear that may hear me

     More Saints of March to come.....

St. David of Wales



St. Patrick of Ireland




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