St. Patrick’s flight to Marmoutier, described by Probus

Rev. William Fleming
St. Patrick’s flight to Marmoutier, described by Probus

In the XIVth section of the “Vita Quinta” Probus narrates St. Patrick’s arrival in Brotgalum, then his journey to Trajectus, from whence he hastened to Marmoutier to join St. Martin, Bishop of Tours, with whom he remained for four years.

Colgan, in his annotations (14), identifies Brotgalum as Burdigalum, or Bordeaux. So, too, does Professor Bury, who tells us that Brodgal was the Irish for Bordeaux, and that “Bordeaux was a regular port for travellers from Ireland to South Gaul” (“Life of St. Patrick,” Appendix, p. 341).

Trajectus, according to the old maps, was situated on the river Dordogne, about sixty miles from Tours. From Trajectus St. Patrick had to walk a distance of about two hundred miles through a desert before reaching Tours.

“A glance at the map of ancient Gaul,” writes Father Bullen Morris, “will show that in St. Patrick’s time a great part of the country between Trajectus and Tours well deserved the name of a desert. The network of rivers, tributaries of the Loire, and now known as La Vienne, La Claire, La Gartempe, &c., must have exposed the country to periodical inundations in those days. So from Tours in the north to Limonum, Alerea, and Legora in the south, east and west, we find some 5,000 square miles, which, as far as the ancient map is concerned, give no signs of possession by man. Travellers entangled amidst these rivers and morasses must have advanced very slowly, and thus it appears that both places and time fit in with St. Patrick’s narrative. Nature has changed her face along the line of St. Patrick’s journey, and there is little now to remind us of its primeval desolation, save that the rivers still preserve some of their old habits, and now and then combine with the inundations of the giant Loire in setting man at defiance.

“Time, however, with its alternative gifts and ravages, has left untouched the traditions regarding St. Patrick’s journey. There is something more than antiquarian interest in the feelings of the Christian traveller who visits the spot on the banks of the Loire, where immemorial tradition and an ancient monument mark the place at which the Saint crossed the river on his way to Marmoutier. At about twenty miles from Tours the railway between that city and Angers stops at the station of St. Patrice; the commune is also named after the Saint, and, as we shall see, there is historical evidence that it has been thus designated for at least nine hundred years.”

“The first witness whose evidence we shall take on the subject of the Saint’s arrival at St. Patrice is one which many believe to have survived since his time, but on this point the reader must form his own opinion. Above the station, on the side of the hill which rises from the banks of the Loire, we find the famous tree which bears ‘the flowers of St. Patrice.’ For ages past it has been an object of religious veneration with the people of Touraine, and now in our time it is particularly interesting to find that this devotion was shared by that eminent servant of God, Léon Dupont, the Thaumaturgus of Tours. Monsignor C. Chevalier, President of the Archæological Society, has published a very full account of the tree and of the traditions connected with it, the subtance of which we subjoin, together with the result of personal investigations made on the spot in August, 1881. At this season the tree was covered with foliage so luxuriant, from the ground upwards, that it was impossible to distinguish the stem, and in every respect it presented the appearance of a tree in its prime, without a sign of decay. It belongs to the botanical class Prunus Spinosa, or blackthorn, and it was covered with berries at the time of our visit. These, however, were the evidence of a second efflorescence in the spring. The celebrity of the tree arises from the fact that every year at Christmas time it is seen covered with flowers, and the tradition at St. Patrice, handed down from father to son, affirms that for fifteen hundred years this phenomenon has been repeated at the same sacred season. It matters not how intense the cold of any particular winter; while the ground beneath and the country around lie covered in their white shroud, the “flowers of St. Patrice” unfold their blossoms and bid defiance to the fierce north winds which sweep the valley of the Loire.”

The next witness is the old parish church, dedicated to St. Patrick, which stands about thirty yards from the tree. Its old charters and records show that it dates back from the beginning of the tenth century. One old charter, bearing the date of 1035, contains a deed of gift of some lands adjoining the church of St. Patrick. The church stood on the Roman road between Anjou and Tours. “Thus,” concludes Father Bullen Morris, “ancient records and immemorial traditions complete our story, and set St. Patrick on the high road to St. Martin at Marmoutier” (“Ireland and St. Patrick,” pp. 35–40).

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