The Fifth “Life,” by Probus, proves that St. Patrick was born in Bononia

Rev. William Fleming
The Fifth “Life,” by Probus, proves that St. Patrick was born in Bononia

The Fifth “Life,” written by Probus, an Irish monk, who died at Meyence in the year 859, is regarded as the best of the old Latin “Lives” of St. Patrick; it is considered to be an amended edition of the “Book of Armagh,” written by Muirchu Macc-Mactheni, so truly that the blank left by the missing folio in that famous book can be filled in by copying the “History of Probus.” (Canon O’Hanlon’s “Lives of the Irish Saints,” March 17th.)

The “Life of St. Patrick,” by Probus, commences as follows:—

“Cap. I.—St. Patrick, who was also called Suchet, was a Briton by nationality. … He was born in Britain [in Britanniis], being the son of Calphurnius, a deacon, who was the son of Potitus, a priest, and his mother was named Conchessa, in a district within the region of Bannaue Tiburniæ, not far from the Western Sea, which district, as we have discovered beyond doubt, was situated in the province of Nentria, where the giants are said to have formerly dwelt.”

“XII.—When he was in his own country with his father Calphurnius and his mother Conchessa, in their own seaside city [city Arimuric] there was a great outbreak of hostilities in these parts. The sons of King Rithmit, coming from Britain, laid Arimuric and the surrounding country waste. They massacred Calphurnius and his wife Conchessa; but their children, Patrick and his brother Ruchti, together with their sister Mila, they took captives to Ireland. They sold Patrick to Prince Milcho, but his brother Ruchti and his sister Mila to another Prince.”

Colgan, in his annotations, substitutes Neutria for Nentria (4), and Armorica for Arimuric. Cæsar testifies that all the towns on the sea coast of Armorica were called Armoricæ (Britannia, vol i. p. 13). “In his own city Armuric” has therefore been rendered “in his own seaside city.”

When Probus wrote his history there was no province in existence called either Nentria or Neutria; but there was a province called Neustria, which embraced Armorica or the northern sea coast of Gaul, where St. Patrick was residing in his own native country (in patria) with his parents, when he was made captive.

It follows, likewise, that St. Patrick’s native town, “Bannaue Tiburniæ,” according to Probus, was the seaside city in Armorica referred to.

The Bannaue Tiburniæ of Probus and the Bonaven Taberniæ of St. Patrick are evidently one and the same as Bononia, where the Romans were encamped, which, as it has already been proved, was called Bonauen Armorik by the Gaulish Celts.

If any other proof were needed, the description of the province given by Probus as the country formerly inhabited by giants can leave no doubt on the subject.

Sammes, in his “Antiquities of Ancient Britain,” published in 1676, narrates that the Scythians, or Cymri, were called the offspring of Magog by Josephus. Pouring out in mighty hordes from Scythia, they sacked Rome and plundered the Temple of Apollo in Greece. Some of them settled down in Sarmatia, Germany, and Northern Gaul, generally adopting the name of the lands in which they settled. Strabo is quoted as saying “that the very youths (of the Cymri) were half a foot taller than the tallest men,” and Manlius for declaring “that the Cymri were a race so exceedingly tall that other nations seemed nothing in their eyes.”

The same authority narrates that “when one of the Cymri stood in the ranks he seemed of the same proportion as the others, but when he stepped out a few paces, and came near to the Romans, they all began to be amazed at the sight.”

On that account the Roman soldiers, as Cæsar admits, were filled with consternation at the giants they were called upon to encounter when he marched against their leader, Ariovistus.

The Cymri were also remarkable for their exceeding swiftness. Cæsar witnessed that they “could lay their hands on the manes of horses and keep pace with them in the race.”

Tully testifies that it was “their joy and delight to die on the battlefield, and that nothing so tormented them as to die idly in their beds.” “No wonder,” says Sammes, “that they conquered many nations; distressed the Romans themselves, and were a constant thorn in the side of the Gauls” (“Antiquities of Ancient Britain,” cap. 2).

Dr. Smith, in his “History of France,” narrates that the Cymri “acquired permanent possession of an extensive territory north of the Loire, including the peninsula of Armorica” (p. 13).

Bononia, or Boulogne, St. Patrick’s native town, was, therefore, situated in Belgic Gaul during the days of Julius Cæsar; but, later on, when the descendants of the Cymri, the Belgic Gauls, were almost annihilated in their fierce contests with the Romans, the same province came to be called Armorica.

Sulpicius Severus, as we shall see presently, named the same country Britannia at the time of the Council of Ariminium in the year 359—just fourteen years before St. Patrick was born.

In the year 597 Armorica, or Britannia, became absorbed in the province of Neustria, when the kingdom of the Franks was sub-divided into three separate kingdoms, as Dr. Smith relates:

“Sigebert became King of Austrasia (in the Frankish tongue, Oster-rike), or the kingdom of the Eastern Franks; Chilperic was recognised as King Neustria (Ne-oster-rike), the land of the Western Franks. The limits of the two kingdoms are somewhat uncertain; but the river Meuse and the Forest of Ardennes may be taken generally as the line of demarcation. Austrasia extended from the Meuse to the Rhine; Neustria extended from the Meuse to the ocean. Gouthran ruled over the division of Gaul which now acquired the name of Burgundy” (“History of France,” p. 42).

Neustria, extending from the Meuse to the ocean, necessarily embraced the whole province of Britannia, or Armorica. That province still retained the name of Neustria when Probus, in the tenth century, wrote the “History of St. Patrick.”

The change of the name Armorica to Britannia, and from Britannia to Neustria, together with the fact that the name Britannia, or Brittany, as applied to that particular province in Gaul was forgotten for centuries before any of the old Latin “Lives” of St. Patrick, except the first, were written, must have induced some old biographers of the Saint to interpret the name Britain, mentioned in the “Lives” and in the “Confession,” as referring only to the Island of Britain.

With the exception of Probus, who had travelled abroad, the old biographers of St. Patrick, on account of their very limited sources of information, had very little knowledge of the histories of foreign countries, and it is not surprising to find them erroneously supposing that St. Patrick was born in Great Britain, because he mentioned in his “Confession” that he was born in Britain, and had relatives among the Britons.

St. Patrick, according to Probus, was one of the Gaulish Britons, being born at Bonaven, or Boulogne-sur-Mer. Although the Saint, according to Canon O’Hanlon, was a little man, he was descended from a race of giants—the bold Cymri, or Celts. That fact established a relationship of race between the Saint and the nation which he converted.

Camden and Keating narrate that King Milesius and his bold Scots, who successfully invaded Ireland, were descended from the Cymri; and it is remarkable that a fierce battle was fought between the Irish Scots and the Tautha de Danans at Mount Slemish, not far from Tralee, in Kerry, which is identical in name with Mount Slemish, in Antrim—the scene of the Saint’s captivity (“Britannia,” vol. ii., p. 123; “History of Ireland,” vol. i., p. 123).

Eochaid O’Flin, a poet quoted by Keating, has left a record of this historical battle:

“The stout Gadalians first the courage try

At Sliabh-mis, and rout the enemy:

Where heroes pierced with many a deadly wound,

Choked in their blood, lay gasping on the ground:

Heroes whose brave exploits may justly claim

Triumphant laurels and immortal fame.”

Scota, the relict of King Milesius and mother of Heber and Heremon, Kings of Ireland, was slain while fighting in this battle, and buried in the valley at the foot of Mount Sleabh-mis, which after her interment was called Glean Scoithin, or the Valley of Scota. From her the Irish Scots derived their name. The same old bard has sung a lamentation over her grave:—

“Beneath, the vale its bosom doth display,

With meadows green, with flowers profusely gay,

Where Scota lies, unfortunately slain,

And with her royal tomb gives honour to the plain.

Mixed with the first the fair virago fought,

Sustained the toil of arms and danger sought:

From her the fruitful valley hath the name

O Glean Scoith, and we may trust to fame.”

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