The Scholiast practically admits St. Patrick’s birth in Armorica

Rev. William Fleming
The Scholiast practically admits St. Patrick’s birth in Armorica

The Scholiast, who annotated St. Fiacc’s “Metrical Life of St. Patrick,” flourished in the eleventh century, according to Professor Bury.

The scholia of the Scholiast, however, should be received with great caution, as Lanigan points out:

“The scholia of the Scholiast,” he remarks, “are not the composition of one person. For instance, in scholion 5, the Letha mentioned in the hymn is properly explained by Armorica, or the maritime tract on the North-West of Gaul; while in scholion 11 it is interpreted of Latium, in Italy. In scholion 9 we read that on a certain occasion St. Patrick said, ‘Dar mo dhe broth,’ which is explained, ‘God is able to do this if He choose’; and yet immediately after it is added that ‘Dar mo dhe broth’ was a sort of asseveration familiar to St. Patrick, signifying ‘By my God, Judge, or judgment.’ On the whole, it is evident that the scholia, as we have them at present, are a compilation of observations, some more, some less ancient, extracted from various writers” (“Eccl. Hist. of Ireland,” vol. i., c. iii., p. 81).

The scholion (1) on St. Fiacc’s opening words: “Natus est Patritius Nemturri”—“St. Patrick was born at Nemthur”—is as follows:

“Nemthur is a city in the Northern parts of Britain, viz. Alcluid (nempe Alcluida).”

By comparing this scholion with the scholion given later on (c. iii.), it will be seen that the same pen has not written both scholia.

The scholion referred to is this:

“The cause of St. Patrick’s captivity was this: His father, Calphurnius, and his mother, Conchessa, and his five sisters, Lupita, Tigris, Liemania, and Darerca, Cinnena was the name of the fifth, and his brother deacon, Senanus, all together travelled from Britain Alcluid southwards over the Sea of Ictium to Armorican Lethania, or Britannia Lethania, both on business and because a certain relative of theirs dwelt there, and the mother of the above-named children, namely Conchessa, was of the Franks, and a near relative of St. Martin. At that time, however, seven sons of Fachmad, King of the Britons, broke loose from Britain and plundered Armorican Britain in the territory of Letha, where St. Patrick happened to be living with his family. They slew Calphurnius there, and carried off St. Patrick and his sister Lupita captives to Ireland. They sold Lupita ‘in Connallia Murthemnensi’ [a territory in Ulster], and Patrick in the northern parts of the territory of the Dal-aradia.”

The contradictory nature of the accounts given by the Scholiast as to St. Patrick’s supposed birth in Alcluid, or Dumbarton, and his capture in Armorica will be seen by comparing them with the statement made by the Saint himself in his “Confession”:

“I, Patrick, a sinner and the most uncultured and humblest of all the faithful, had a father named Calphurnius, a deacon, the son of Potitus, a priest, who hailed from the suburban district of Bonaven Taberniæ, for he possessed a little country seat close by from whence I was led captive.”

This statement of the Saint disproves the assertion of the Scholiast that Calphurnius and his family were on a friendly visit to Armorica when all the calamities befell them, for the Saint distinctly states that his father hailed from Bonaven Taberniæ, and that he himself was actually residing at his father’s little country seat in the suburbs of that town at the time when he was forced into captivity.

It is evident, therefore, from the Scholiast that Bonaven Taberniæ was situated in Armorican Britain; and from St. Patrick’s “Confession,” that the town from which he was led captive was his own native town.

The Apostle of Ireland could not, therefore, as the Scholiast suggests, have been born at Alcluid, or Dumbarton.

It is curious to observe how unconsciously the Scholiast connects Calphurnius and his family with Boulogne.

Calphurnius and his family are made to sail from Dumbarton, over the Sea of Itius or Ictius, to Armorica.

Hersart de la Villemarque has already identified Bonaven under its various names as Bononia or Boulogne.

It was called Itius or Ictius by Cæsar, Bononia by the Romans, and Bonauen Armorik by the Gaulish Celts.

The Scholiast, therefore, when he directs the course of Calphurnius and his family across the Sea of Ictius, seems to be steering their ship directly to Boulogne.

Nemthur cannot possibly be the name of the town near which St. Patrick was born, simply because the Saint gives the name of Bonaven, or Bononia, as the city of his birth.

St. Fiacc does not name Nemthur as a town; he simply tells us that St. Patrick was born at Nemthur, which, as has been proved, was both the name of the Caligula’s tower and of the district in which that tower stood in the suburbs of Bonaven.

The Scholiast is the first to call Nemthur a town, and evidently puts it down as the ancient name of Alcluid, or Dumbarton.

This is the obvious meaning of the scholion:

“Nemthur est civitas in septentrionali Britanni nempe Alcluida.” Nemthur is a city in northern Britain, namely Alcluid.

The “nempe Alcluida” looks very much like an interpolation, and if an interpolation, the statement of the Scholiast that Nemthur is a city in northern Britain, without the addition “nempe Alcluida,” might easily refer to Northern Britain in Gaul where, however, Nemthur was not the name of a city, but the name both of a tower and of the district of the city where St. Patrick was born.

Neither the Scholiast, nor those who have adopted his views as to the Saint’s birth at Dumbarton, have ever answered Lanigan’s challenge, who boldly states that the name Nemthur is not to be found in Nennius’s “List of British Towns,” which Usher himself had illustrated, nor in any of the old “Itineraries,” or in Ricardus Corinensis, or in Camden, or Horsley, &c. (vol. i., b. 3, p. 91).

The learned Cardinal Moran, in the March number of the Dublin Review, 1880, endeavoured to take up the gauntlet and answer Lanigan’s challenge by quoting one of Taliessin’s poems from the “Black Book of Carmarthen,” which represents a Welsh hero sailing away with an army to Scotland and recovering his lost inheritance in a battle fought and won at Nevthur in Clydesdale.

Besides the fact that no small stretch of imagination is required to believe that Nevthur and Nemthur are one and the same, nearly all the poems attributed to Taliessin are regarded as spurious by learned critics, as Chamber’s “Encyclopædia,” under the heading Welsh Literature, evidently points out.

“Mr. Nash, the author of ‘Taliessin and the Bards and Druids of Wales,’ enables us to form an independent judgment on this point, for he translates some fifty of the poems, and we find that, instead of their exhibiting an antique Welsh character, they abound in allusions to mediæval theology, and frequently employ mediæval Latin terms. It is certainly unfortunate for the reputation of the ‘Chief of Bards’ that the specimens of his poems, which are considered genuine, possess exceedingly small merit. The life of this famous but over-rated genius is, of course, enveloped in legend.”

Lanigan’s challenge, therefore, still remains unanswered, and a town named Nemthur is not to be found in any ancient history, geography, or map.

The error, therefore, of the Scholiast consisted in stating that Alcluid and Nemthur were identical, but his statement that St. Patrick was captured in Armorica is historically true.

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