Monday, March 13, 2006

To Whom Belongs Patrick?

So my copy of my paper arrived earlier today, and in it this time-appropriate piece about divisions between Protestants and Catholics over who gets to claim the patron of Ireland.

As there were no Protestants in, you know, 460AD, I'm led to wonder why or how this could happen... then again, I just love the holiday -- I don't get into fights about the man it commemorates:
Eight years ago, the Belfast sculptor Annette Hennessy designed an 8ft-high bronze depiction of St Patrick as a shaven-headed warrior, clad in a skirt and carrying a staff topped with antlers. The radical creation outraged purists who raised such a hue and cry that the authorities backed down and what was prematurely called “the homo on the hill” was never cast, nor installed on its planned site at the Hill of Tara in Co. Meath, a site conventionally associated with Ireland’s national saint.

Traditionalists much prefer the long-established image of St Patrick as a Catholic bishop, clad in a mitre, chasuble and carrying a crosier, the way he is portrayed in another landmark statue at Saul, Co. Down. This year, as they have done every St Patrick’s day since Cardinal McRory unveiled the work in 1938, many of the faithful will make the customary pilgrimage there and to his reputed grave at nearby Downpatrick to pay homage to his memory.

But the concept of Patrick as an exclusively Catholic icon is undergoing a far more serious redefinition than any at the hands of an imaginative creative artist. The Protestant majority community in Northern Ireland is staking out as never before a claim to a share of the Patrician heritage. However, the result of this bid for diversity is, ironically, that perceptions of St Patrick are fundamentally changing and the religious dimension of his legacy is being weakened. Steadily his life is being unravelled and re-interpreted, and his reputation as a pastor and harbinger of Catholicism or Christianity in Ireland is being re-assessed. The entire character of St Patrick’s Day is increasingly secular....

In Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, where the Catholic and Irish-Anglican primates minister from twin hill-top cathedrals, the local-council-organised parade is being freshened up with a series of cameos depicting the seven ages of St Patrick, one of which focuses on the customs of the Roman baths from his time in Wales. Such innovation is in line with the council’s view that “St Patrick is for everyone and we want everyone involved.”
Yep, thank God, he even takes in Italians.