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  • St. Patrick Is a Paesano
    It turns out that the patron saint of Ireland has some Italian ties
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    March 17 is the feast day of St. Patrick, known to Italians as San Patrizio. Although Patrizio's celebration is overshadowed - in Italy at least - by that of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph) on March 19, Patrizio has his own ties to Italy. His parents were Romans.

    Who knew? The patron saint of Ireland, whose feast day has long been represented by shamrocks and green beer, is a paesano. Apparently, his father Calpurnius and his mother Conchessa were Romans living in England and presiding over the colonies, according to the Italian Connection. For a while, Patrick and family lived a luxurious life in a Roman city in England. In 400 AD, a tribal king attacked England and took slaves, including young Patrick.

    The story goes that after years as a slave, Patrick escaped by walking 200 miles to the coast, thanks to directions God delivered to him in a dream, and returned to England to reunite with his family, according to History.com, and learn that nothing was left of his old life. He made his way to Rome to learn that the Roman Empire was long gone, too. He studied religion in France for 10 years before he was named Bishop Patricius and traveled to Ireland in the hope of bringing Christianity to the people, according to the Italian Connection. In fact, he used the three-leaf clover to represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    For 40 years, Patrick traveled Ireland working to convert the people. He was not without his hardships. One legend says, according to Catholic.org, that a tribal chieftain, Dichu, tried to kill him at the start of his journey. Dichu, unable to move his arm until he befriended Patrick, was then convinced of his message and converted to Christianity, which began the conversion of Ireland.

    The first church Patrick built was at Saul, which is also where he died on March 17, 461, according to Catholic.org. He made Christianity more palatable to the Irish by incorporating some of their beliefs into religious traditions. For instance, Patrick had the Irish celebrate Easter with fires because that is how they honored their pagan holidays, and he created a cross with the sun, which is now known as the Celtic cross, because the sun was worshipped in Ireland, according to History.com.

    Despite all his successes and the legend about him banishing all snakes from Ireland, San Patrizio is not one of those popular saints in Italy. Of course, those with the names Patrizio and Patrizia celebrate their name day on March 17, which in southern Italy is as big a deal as one's birthday. And there are a few feasts honoring San Patrizio, especially in the north. The About.com Guide to Italy Travel reports that Florence “hosts several days of live music and dancing,” whereas in Rome visitors can attend the Irish Celtic Ball.

    Of course, Italians travel both to Ireland and places, such as the United States where many Irish live (and celebrate), to enjoy the festivities commonly associated with St. Patrick's Day. Last year, my husband Antonio, a native Italian, and his Italian friend Agostino took to the streets in Manhattan and tried to make like Irish Americans. They wore shamrock pins and sipped green beer, which they thought was tasteless.

    They caught a glimpse of the traffic caused by the parade and lit candles in St. Patrick's Cathedral. (At least they were a little holy.) Shocked by the number of people who were drunk at 10 a.m., they paced themselves and didn't start drinking until the evening.

    They stayed in Manhattan until the wee hours of the morning. As a result, they ended up having to take an out-of-the-way bus back to New Jersey. Then, they had to walk a few blocks to get home. Still, my husband says it was worth it. His Italian heart has a newfound devotion to San Patrizio. He's looking forward to celebrating with the Irish again in 2011. While everyone, even my Antonio, is Irish on March 17, St. Patrick is just a little bit Italian all the time.

    Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com, and you can read about her work and life on the Two Worlds Web site.


    Article Published 2/18/11

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