Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Saint Patrick story you didn't know about?

Today is Saint Patrick's day. It is mostly a day on which people will wear green, drink lots of beer and make claims to dubious Irish descent. 

But in the church it is a day when we remember one of the the greatest missionaries of the age. The story of Patrick begins when he was taken to Ireland as a slave. 

He eventually escaped he captors but returned later to preach the gospel to them. Legend claims that he used the clover to explain the trinity and drove all of the snakes out of Ireland.

But a new study from Cambridge University stands the story on its head. The study suggests the Patrick fled to Ireland to escape being made a Roman tax collector and that he sold some of the family's slaves to get there. Here is some of the story from CNN.

Now a new study from Cambridge University based on his writings suggests Saint Patrick was not brought to Ireland as a slave, as the legend has it, but that in fact he may actually have sold slaves his family owned to pay his way to Ireland -- in order to avoid a job as a tax collector for the Roman empire. 
The new study, based on Patrick's own writings in their historical context, argues that Patrick actually ended up in Ireland in order to avoid becoming a "Decurion," or Roman tax collector -- a role in city government that had become undesirable and dangerous in Patrick's time.
"In the troubled era in which Patrick lived, which saw the demise and eventual collapse of Roman government in Britain in 410, discharging the obligations of a Decurion, especially tax-collecting, would not only have been difficult but also very risky," said Dr. Roy Flechner, from the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge University.
In order to get to Ireland, which lacked a monetary system at the time, Patrick would have needed to sell commodities to finance the trip. According to his writings, Patrick's family owned several slaves -- a high value and easily transportable commodity -- and Flechner says in the historical context it makes sense that Patrick would convert his family wealth into slaves he could sell in order to pay his way.
But Philip Freeman, author of the biography "St. Patrick of Ireland," says while it is almost certain that Patrick's family owned slaves, as many members of the Roman nobility did at the time, experts' claims that Patrick himself was a slave trader is reading too far into the sources.
"It's almost certain that Patrick grew up surrounded by slaves, but there's no good reason for thinking he was a slave trader," Freeman told CNN.
"The only sources we have about Patrick that are really reliable are the two letters he wrote when he was an old man," he said. "And both of those tell the story of a young man who grew up in the young Roman nobility in Britain, but was kidnapped when he was 16 years old."

Read the whole story here

Of course the story was timed to come out for Saint Patrick's Day. I am not a Patrick expert, but this seems like a stretch since we have very little direct information about him. I think I will stick with the original. I like it better. :) Happy Saint Patrick's Day. 

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