On March 17, the feast of St. Patrick celebrates Ireland’s patron saint, but the many Irish who emigrated to other countries have helped make St. Patrick’s Day a secular holiday celebrating all things Irish.
In this Lively Lesson, students create illuminated letters that represent St. Patrick. For more ideas and digital resources, explore the St. Patrick’s Day Content Collection.
Luck o’ the English: St. Patrick wasn’t Irish, and he wasn’t born in Ireland. Patrick’s parents were Roman citizens living in modern-day England, where he was born in 385 AD.
Patrick’s Color was Blue: The original color associated with St. Patrick is blue, not green. However, green became the dominant color of St Patrick’s Day over time as the holiday was used to highlight Irish nationalism against British rule in the 1790s.
Saint Maewyn’s Day: According to Irish legend, St. Patrick wasn’t originally called Patrick. His birth name was Maewyn Succat, but he changed his name to Patricius after becoming a priest.
Instructional Idea: Students create illuminated letters that represent St. Patrick.
What is an Illuminated Manuscript?
An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented with decoration, such as initials, borders, and miniature illustrations. The earliest surviving illuminated manuscripts are from AD 400 to 600, around the time St. Patrick was alive. The video segment The Middle Ages: Illuminated Manuscripts describes adding beautiful and complex designs to these initial letters. When colors were added, especially gold, the effect was to brighten up the letter or page, to illuminate it.
One of the most beautiful, famous, and historically important illuminated manuscripts is the Book of Kells from ca. 800, and is displayed in Dublin, Ireland. Another 9th Century Irish illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Armagh or the Canon of Patrick contains important early texts related to St. Patrick.
Create Your Own Illuminated Manuscript
Watch the video Medieval Manuscripts to build background knowledge about bookmaking in the medieval era.
Discuss with students, “Why were books such precious objects in the Middle Ages?” and “How were illustrations used to enhance the meaning of the text?”
Then, watch The Origins of St. Patrick’s Day, and have students write and share three details about St. Patrick’s life that they find most interesting, including reasoning for their suggestions.
Draw or find a calligraphed image of the letter “P.” Distribute to students and have students draw a symbol that represents a scene that they found interesting from St. Patrick’s story. Use metallic markers, crayons, and more to illustrate the scene and other symbols, such as Celtic-style borders.