St. Patrick was not born in Great Britain

Rev. William Fleming
St. Patrick was not born in Great Britain | start of chapter

Ignoring altogether both the Scotch and Welsh theories as to the birthplace of St. Patrick, Professor Bury, in his Life of the Saint, holds that Ireland’s Apostle was born in a village named Bannaventa; not, however, Bannaventa now known as Daventry in Northamptonshire, seeing that that town would be too far “from the Western sea,” but another Bannaventa somewhere on the sea coast, and “perhaps in the region of the Severn” (chap, ii., p. 17, and Appendix, 323).

The whole of Professor Bury’s new theory rests on a very faint similarity between Bonaven or Bannaven—the name which the Saint gives to the town of his birth—and Bannaventa; and on an entirely gratuitous assumption that there must have been a town named Bannaventa “in the regions of the lower Severn.”

Professor Bury is recognised as a very able historian by the literary world; his Appendix alone to the “Life of St. Patrick” affords ample proof of his learning and genius. Nevertheless, he occasionally indulges in some obiter dicta without historical proof, and at times lays himself open to the charge of want of historical accuracy. For instance, he ascribes the origin of the Papal power to a decree of the Emperor Valintinian III., issued in a.d. 445 at the instance of Pope Leo, which is supposed to have conferred “on the Bishop of Rome sovran authority in the Western provinces which were under the imperial sway.”

Before that period, he tells us, “the Roman See was recognised by imperial decrees of Valintinian I. and Gratian as a Court to which the clergy might appeal from the decisions of Provincial Councils in any part of the Western portion of the Empire”; that “the answers to such were called Decretals”; that there were no Decretals before those of Damasus (366, 384); “that those who consulted the Roman Pontiff were not bound in any way to accept his ruling”; and that when Pope Zosimus endeavoured to enforce his Decretals “he was smitten on one cheek by the Synods of Africa; he was smitten on the other by the Gallic Bishops at the Council of Turin.”

“By tact and adroitness,” Pope Leo induced the Emperor Valintinian III. to issue an edict which established the Papal power over the Western provinces of the Roman Empire.

The Professor explains how Ireland, on account of its geographical position, was drawn into the Roman Confederation; and it is on that account that he admits the genuineness of the decree of a Synod held by St. Patrick, to the effect that in cases of ecclesiastical difficulties, which the Irish Bishops could not solve themselves, the Sovereign Pontiff should be asked to give a decision (“Life of St. Patrick,” pp. 59–66).

The Professor’s perversion of ecclesiastical history is a blot on his otherwise excellent “Life of St. Patrick.”

How can he reconcile these statements with St. Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians, which Eusebius admits to be genuine, or with Pope Stephen’s exercise of pontifical authority in the case of St. Cyprian and the question of validity of baptism conferred by heretics; or with the celebrated declaration of St. Irenæus on the authority of the Church of Rome, which is as follows:

“It is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful of all nations”? (“Irenæus contra Hereses,” vol. i., lib. iii., cap. iii., sect. 2, translated by Rev. A. Roberts, Edinburgh, 1868).

Now St. Clement lived in Apostolic times, St. Cyprian from 200 to 258, and St. Irenæus flourished between a.d. 150 to 202, while the Roman Emperors were persecuting the Church.

Leaving the well-defined path of history, the Professor indulges in speculations which will seem to most people to be without warrant.

St. Patrick’s home, he tells us, was in “a village named Bannaventa, but we cannot with any certainty identify its locality. The only Bannaventa that we know lays near Daventry; but this position does not agree with an ancient indication that the village of Calphurnius was close to the Western sea. As the two elements of the name Bannaventa were probably not uncommon in British geographical nomenclature, it is not rash to suppose that there were other small places so called besides the only Bannaventa that happens to appear in Roman geographical sources, and we may be inclined to look for the Bannaventa of Calphurnius in South-Western Britain, perhaps in the regions of the lower Severn. The village must have been in the neighbourhood of a town in possession of a municipal council of decurions” (chap. ii., pp. 16, 17).

The Professor quietly assumes without proof that Bonaven and Bannaventa are one and the same; that “vicus” is used in its secondary meaning of “a village,” and not in its primary signification, “a district or quarter of a town,” in the “Confession”; and while admitting that there was no other town in Britain named Bannaventa except Bannaventa in Northampton, as far as can be gathered from “Roman sources of information,” and passing over the fact that Camden’s “Britannia,” which gives the history of every old town in the kingdom, and Horsley’s “Britannia Romana,” which performs the same task, make no mention of any other Bannaventa, whilst old maps and itineraries are equally silent, the Professor seemingly rests satisfied with his own mere conjecture, that there may have been another Bannaventa, which was probably situated in the regions of the lower Severn. Surely a speculation of this kind may well be called unwarranted.

Boulogne-sur-Mer: St. Patrick's Native Town - Paperback Edition

Boulogne-sur-Mer: St. Patrick's Native Town - Kindle Edition

St. Patrick’s Birthplace: A Summary of Proofs that the Apostle of Ireland was a Native of Boulogne-sur-Mer, France - Paperback Edition

St. Patrick’s Birthplace: A Summary of Proofs that the Apostle of Ireland was a Native of Boulogne-sur-Mer, France - Kindle Edition

The Epistles and Hymn of Saint Patrick, with the Poem of Secundinus, translated into English - Paperback Edition

The Epistles and Hymn of Saint Patrick, with the Poem of Secundinus, translated into English - Kindle Edition