Snakes on a Plain & the Story of St. Patrick
As St. Patrick’s Day approaches this March, we’re taking a look at the story that made St. Patrick famous: his conquering of snakes.
The well-known famous Catholic patron Saint of Ireland, St. Patrick is known mainly for the holiday that was named in his honour. Having lived in the 400’s CE, St. Patrick was born in Britain, captured by the Irish and then enslaved in Ireland where he lived for many years.
He escaped from his Irish captors, returned to Britain and studied to become a church leader. He later returned to Ireland as a missionary and is attributed as the one who brought Christianity to Ireland.
St. Patrick and Snakes on a Plain!
St. Patrick’s famous story goes like this.
Years after his return to Britain, St. Patrick returned to Ireland a second time as a missionary to the Christians already living in Ireland and to convert others to Christianity.
One day, St. Patrick went to the top of a large hill mountain. He stood at its peak and looked out over Ireland – staff in hand and arm held out. As he stood and observed the green plains and rolling hills of Ireland, he stretched out his arms and banished all the snakes from Ireland.
The image takes after several biblical figures, like Moses, David or Jesus who were all depicted as shepherds with wooden staffs and who would stretch out their arms to enable a divine act.
During the Israelite battle against the Amalekites, the Israelits continued to win the battle as long as Moses, their leader, kept his arms outstretched and raised towards heaven. At any time his arms fell, the advantage went to the Amalekites.
Many statues depicting St. Patrick today take after this image. The hill or mountain on which St. Patrick is said to have stood is called Croagh Patrick and is a large pilgrimage site today.
No Snakes in Ireland
No snakes have lived in Ireland since the Ice Age! So what’s the deal with this snakey story?
The allusion of “snakes” as told in this story is said to have been a metaphor for the pagan traditions of Ireland. St. Patrick’s banishment of pagan religions and the spread of Christianity in Ireland in its place is what this story refers to.
200 years after St. Patrick’s arrival, Ireland became completely Christianized.
From us at tripatlas.com/new to you: Have a Happy and Safe St. Patrick’s Day!
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