Of the Celtic languages I only know Welsh but I’m sure no translation from Erse is required to tell you that the title of this post means ‘Happy Saint Patrick’s day’, today being the 17th of March, the date of the Saint’s death.
Together with Saint Brigit and Saint Columba, Saint Patrick forms part of the emerald island’s trilogy of patron saints. Saint Patrick himself was fond of the mystical number three and used the Irish national plant, the shamrock, to describe the Holy Trinity to the then pagan Irish.
Despite a thorough search in our garden this morning the nearest equivalent I could find was this!
The Lucchesia, too, has at least three important connections with Ireland and, indeed, with Saint Patrick.
First, is the magnificent basilica of San Frediano. The basilica was built by an Irish prince: Fridianus was the son of King Ultach of Ulster and his remains are beneath the high altar.
As a result of a pilgrimage to Rome he became, first, a hermit on the Pisan Mountain separating Lucca from Pisa and then was appointed bishop of Lucca in the 6th century. Among his miracles was that of diverting the Serchio River (running through the Garfagnana and Mediavalle, joined by our own river Lima at Bagni and then skirting Lucca to reach the sea near Marina di Vecchiano) and saving Lucca from flooding by merely using a rake which the waters followed without harming him. A fresco on a side chapel wall in the left aisle of the basilica illustrates this story:
Actually, San Fridianus would be sorely needed today since the Serchio has caused grievous damage to industries and farmland by breaking through its banks in 2009 and 2010 and yet again creating serious concerns only last November. Perhaps hydraulic engineers and those silly enough to build on flood-plains should adopt him as their patron saint.
Second, is San Pellegrino who is described as a Scottish prince but is actually Irish since the term ‘Scotus’ was once used to describe all the Celtic populations from Ireland to Scotland. (At one point, anyway, Ireland is only twelve miles across the sea from Scotland). If you want to know more about the ecstatic place where you’ll find San Pellegrino’s shrine high above in the Apennines (indeed higher even than Ben Nevis) you can read about him (Peregrine in English) in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/praise-to-the-holiest-in-the-height/). Again, we have another Irish saint buried in the Lucchesia – or rather not buried this time since he lies mummified, for all devotees to see and pray to, in his regal clothes and next to his companion, San Bianco.
Third is, amazingly, Saint Patrick. Yes, Saint Patrick knew San Pellegrino when they were studying at the college in Auxerre, France, under the great scholar Germanus! They spent two years together there. The big problem in Britain at that time was the spread of Pelagianism. Without getting too bogged down in theological arguments, Pelagianism meant that Man is born without original sin and that, therefore, did not need to be baptised to enter into the realm of God (for that is what baptism is all about – the absolution, temporary clearly for most of us, from original sin. Drawn to its logical conclusion, therefore, Pelagianism meant that one did not need God’s grace to help distinguish between good and evil).
Anyway, Saint Patrick, who was born in Roman Britain in 387, made a good job of dispersing the Pelagian heresy after an adventurous interlude when he was captured by pirates. Saint Patrick then returned to Ireland where he became popular as a preacher and eventually became synonymous with the Irish nation itself.
Saint Patrick died in and is buried at Downpatrick where there is a cathedral and centre dedicated to his life and works.
One of the most wonderful Christian poems is attributed to Saint Patrick. It’s a true comfort like no other to recite it to oneself in times of difficulty. It’s called Saint Patrick’s Breastplate:
“Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
So again I wish you all Naomh sásta lá Pádraig wherever you may be. And if you are fortunate enough to be in Lucca you could drop into the Irish Pub next to the railway station for a celebratory tipple of uisce beatha and a well-built-up pint of Guinness (yes they still use pints there!)
Finally, I must remember that it’s my wife’s onomastico or partly name-day today , for one of her middle names is Patrizia. So happy name-day to all Patrizie and Patricias everywhere too…