Every country has its own unique symbols. They can be places, things, and even people that represent the country. Patron saints are in many ways an extension of this symbolism, each an important figure not only for Christianity but specifically for the country which he patronizes, his history and lore tied to the land and its culture. The countries of the British Isles each have their own patron saint who acts as advocate and protector over England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales and we’re going to take you on a journey to discover each one and his importance to each land in Great Britain and Ireland.
St. David (Wales)
Not too much is known about St. David and his early life aside from that which was chronicled by Rhygyfarch, the son of the Bishop of St. David’s. David was born the descendant of Welsh royalty, and during his life, he founded twelve monasteries (including Glastonbury and Minevia), traveled to the Holy Land, was consecrated a bishop, and ultimately became the Archbishop of Wales in 550 AD. Pope Callistus II canonized David in 1120 and subsequently became the patron saint of Wales. David died on March 1, 589 and that date is reserved for his feast day. On an interesting note, St. David is said to have been a strict vegetarian and would sometimes stand in water up to his neck and recite scripture as penance.
St David’s Day is March 1st
St. Andrew (Scotland)
Unlike David, Andrew is the first saint in this article who wasn’t from the country he patronizes. Andrew, along with his brother Simon Peter, was a fisherman who gave up his livelihood to become one of Jesus Christ’s original twelve disciples. Following Christ’s death, Andrew traveled far spreading the word of Christ and died in Patras, executed on an X-shaped cross (now known as St. Andrew’s Cross) because he felt he was not worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. Legend has that his travels brought him as far as Scotland, where he founded a church at Fife. His feast day has been celebrated in Scotland as far back as 1000 AD, and he became the patron saint of Scotland in 1320 with the Declaration of Arbroath when the country announced its independence.
St Andrew’s Day is November 30
St. George (England)
Perhaps the most legendary figure among Great Britain’s patron saints, Saint George is the one on this list about whom we know the least. It is believed he was once a high-ranking Roman soldier in the 4th Century and the Emperor Diocletian tortured him in an attempt to get George to renounce his Christian faith. George’s resiliency and the strength of his faith led to stories of his courage spreading throughout the Christian world, including the legend of him fighting a dragon (dragons also represented Satan in serpent form during the Middle Ages). Despite never having visited England, English Crusaders began to evoke his name, and King Edward III made him the patron saint of England in 1350 when Edward founded the Order of the Garter.
St George’s Day is April 23
St. Patrick (Ireland)
Arguably the most famous amongst the four, St. Patrick’s celebrity is owed in part to his feast day being as much a representation of all things Irish as it is his ministry to the island of Ireland. Patrick grew up in lowland Scotland or possibly Wales, the son of a Roman officer and deacon. Young Patrick had little interest in Christianity until he was kidnapped at the age of sixteen and sold into slavery in Ireland. He considered these events a punishment from God for his lack of faith and became increasingly more religious. Patrick eventually had a vision that aided in his escape back to Britain and after studying to become a priest, had another vision that led him back to Ireland as a missionary. For twenty years he traveled throughout the island baptizing believers and constructing churches and monasteries. Several legends sprung up about Patrick in the wake of his death including that his walking stick transformed into a living tree and that he banished all snakes from Ireland. While not the first missionary to Ireland, he was by far the most successful and as a result became the country’s patron saint.
St Patrick’s Day is March 17