The patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick is known for his pivotal role in bringing Christianity to the Emerald Isle. Kidnapped and sold as a slave at the age of 16, he was forced to work for six years as a shepherd before escaping back to his family. After studying to become a priest, he felt God calling him back to Ireland to minister to the Irish people, who were largely unreached by Christianity at the time. During his lifetime, he baptized thousands and ordained hundreds, establishing a strong foundation for Catholicism in Ireland.
As we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Patrick on March 17, we invite you to explore four places where you can find him portrayed in the Basilica.
The Founder’s Chapel
The Founder of the Basilica, Bishop Thomas Shahan, had a rich Irish heritage, and appropriately, St. Patrick is featured in the chapel honoring him. On the left of the marble Celtic crucifix, St. Patrick is the first in a procession of Irish saints, with his name inscribed in Latin underneath: Patraic. Under the life-size sarcophagus in chapel’s center lie the remains of Bishop Shahan, who is the only individual buried in the Basilica.
Mary, Queen of Ireland Oratory
St. Patrick is also found in the Mary, Queen of Ireland Oratory, etched in gold in the green marble wall, near a map of Ireland with its four modern regions. It also shows the “Crough” or mountain of Patrick, where he traditionally fasted for 40 days and nights. In the center of the chapel, a statue of Our Lady and the Holy Child sits upon a hexagonal rock formation, which is representative of the Giant’s Causeway – the basalt columns that jut out of the sea along the north coast of Northern Ireland.
St. Brigid of Ireland Chapel
The Basilica also honors various aspects of Irish Catholic heritage in the Chapel of Saint Brigid, dedicated to Ireland’s “fiery sunbeam of love.” Among the Irish symbols featured in the chapel, such as the Cross of Cong used in the altar crucifix, St. Patrick is portrayed in a vibrant red and green stained glass lunette window above the chapel mosaic.
Gifted to the Basilica by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Brigid of Ireland Chapel was dedicated by Bishop Shahan on September 24, 1927.
The North Façade Exterior
You can see St. Patrick portrayed not only inside the Basilica, but outside too! On the North Façade, St. Patrick is one of sixteen saints featured in the Basilica’s exterior walls. In this portrayal, Patrick is depicted with various symbols associated with Ireland and lore surrounding his life.
Butler’s Lives of the Saints (ed. by Bernard Bangley)
Cowan’s The Way of Saints
Light a Candle at the Basilica
In honor of Mary, Queen of Ireland, we invite you to light a candle today at the National Shrine. Vigil candles burn in the chapels throughout the Great Upper church and lower crypt level of the National Shrine. Each candle represents the faith of the supplicants and their fervent prayers entrusted to the loving intercession of the Blessed Mother.