Saint Patrick and Liber Pater, a brilliant coincidene

On this day, the 17th March, around the world, the feast day of Saint Patrick is celebrated. Saint Patrick is the legendary Saint of Ireland, who came here a slave, learned the language and customs of Ireland, escaped and returned bringing Christianity to Ireland.

He’s surrounded in legend, like banishing all the snakes from Ireland amongst other great deeds.

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But did you know, that Saint Patrick shares his feast day with an ancient Roman God? It’s a true story. It is of course the Roman God known as Liber-Pater or Liber.

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Now Liber-Pater is interesting. As wikipedia states “In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Liber /ˈlbər/ (“the free one”; Latin: Līber [ˈliːbɛr]), also known as Liber Pater(“the free Father”) was a god of viticulture and wine, fertility and freedom. He was a patron deity of Rome’s plebeians and was part of their Aventine Triad. His festival of Liberalia (March 17) became associated with free speech and the rights attached to coming of age.”

The correlation of the feast day is an interesting coincidence and indeed the celebration of Saint Patricks day is synonymous with free flowing drinking, shenanigans and a reprieve in your Lenten fast for the one day of this feast. And the God of Liberty, Patrick was very much associated with Irish freedom and Irish identity.

Is this a happy coincidence, or irony playing out in the universe? It may well be. Although one should look a little deeper under the hood and you’ll find an even more fascinating story. So who decided the feast day of Saint Patrick?

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Let me introduce you to Luke Wadding. Wadding, a Co. Waterford native born in October 1558, was a Franciscan priest ordained in 1607 and sent as chaplain to Rome in 1618. He was a fierce Irish Nationalist and stirred up anti English sentiment in his Irish College, which he setup in Rome. He was a powerful cleric in Rome and supported the Irish Catholic Rising of 1641, even sending soldiers and Arms to Ireland. After that failed and Cromwell committed his genocide, he lobbied the papacy to create a feast day for the patron Saint of Ireland. And he got it. I wonder, with his love of liberty and him being in Rome whether he intentionally picked March 17th after learning about the Ancient god of liberty.

We’ll never be sure, but thanks to Luke Wadding, we got one of the most famous saints in the world as our patron saint and Apostle to God. And the fact that this was done by an Irish nationalist Franciscan who tied the saints day to a Pagan god of liberty feast day, makes me smile.

Just something I had to share.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh ! 

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