Which is more surprising, that St. Patrick was born in the Roman Empire or that the first recorded occurrence of a St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in St. Augustine, Florida?
Although we take writing so much for granted as to forget that it is a technology, writing is in a way the most drastic of the three technologies of the word. It initiated what printing and electronics only continued, the physical reduction of dynamic sound to quiescent space, the separation of the word from the living present, where alone real, spoken words exist.
He eventually escaped Ireland, returned to the British Isles and studied to become a priest. He “reported that…an angel in a dream [told] him to return to Ireland as a missionary.” His family protested, but he studied for many years in Gaul (France) before being ordained as a bishop in Auxerre.
The Church sent Patrick to Ireland “with a dual mission: to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish.”
Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.
We know him as the patron saint of Ireland, but the Catholic Church did not actually make him a saint; the Church had no formal process in the first millennium. His popularity probably led to his being acclaimed as a saint.
Patrick preached a way of life that re-ordered social boundaries, particularly regarding women and those on the lower end of the social order…
The new social order often upset elites who benefited from the old order…
The Irish church saved Christian ideas and practices that were being lost in the crumbling Empire. Later, a wave of Irish missions swept across Europe and renewed the remnants, what Thomas Cahill champions in How the Irish Saved Civilization
The Irish began celebrating the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick in the ninth or 10th century (~400-500 years after his death).
But the first known St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in the Spanish colony we now know as Florida.
And we know this because of writing, in this case “pages of Spanish colonial records from the late 16th and early 17th centuries.”
J. Michael Francis, a history professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, studies “what happened when the Spanish arrived in the New World.” He visits Spain to study old documents, including receipts for material sent across the Atlantic. Material like chalices for churches as well as gun powder.
As he read about canons fired in 1600 in honor of the city’s patron, San Augustin, his eyes almost skipped over the mention of another saint, out of place in Colonial America. San Patricio, a.k.a. Saint Patrick…
“So here you have this Irish saint who becomes the patron protector of a New World crop, corn, in a Spanish garrison settlement,” Francis said.
In December 2017, Francis wrote this for PBS:
Among the celebrations commemorated in [1600 and 1601] was a spring festivity to honor the feast day of San Patricio, or St. Patrick. In March of 1601, St. Augustine’s residents gathered together and processed through the city’s streets in honor of an Irish saint, who appears to have assumed a privileged place in the Spanish garrison town. Indeed, during these same years, St. Patrick was identified as the official “protector” of the city’s maize fields.
How did this happen?
Padre Ricardo Artur (Richard Arthur) was an Irish soldier who “had joined military campaigns in Malta, Italy and Flanders.” In 1597, he became the priest in St. Augustine.
Francis credits Artur because when his name “disappears from the historical records, so to do the references to the Irish saint, and soon thereafter, the memory of the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and processions began to fade from public memory.”
It is here, with memory failing to maintain those celebrations or their history, that we should spare a moment to consider the ephemeral nature of this technology: words appearing on an impermanent display device that relies on ever-changing computer code. (Have you tried to read 30 year old emails?)
The storage medium (hard drives and their ilk) is susceptible to heat, cold, moisture and (eeek) magnets. Our computers, networks and anything electrical are susceptible to EMP blasts.
As Scarlett might say, that worry is for another day.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day: the wearing of green, drinking of Guinness and sharing the joy of the Irish should be top of mind! And, perhaps, a recognition of St. Patrick himself, who seems to have taken the teachings of Christ to heart.