1 with many of the earlier traditions, originally concerning Palladius, later becoming attached to Saint Patrick. Recent research disputes the traditional dates, suggesting Patrick may have lived a generation or so later.
The situation is not helped by the Book of Armagh which states that Palladius "was also called Patrick". Palladius was the first bishop to the Irish Christians in 431 and was active in Leinster, particularly in the area around Clonard, wheras Patrick's mission was largely confined to Ulster and Connacht.
Patrick provides no dates in his writings that have survived, although they have been interpreted as suggesting that his ecclesiastical conversion did not take place before the early 5th century. Two Latin letters, the Confessio and the Epistola, have been authenticated as being written by Patrick.
In the Confessio Patrick provides a brief account of his early life, writing that he was born in Roman Britain at`Bannavem Taberniae', and that his father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest. At the age of 16 he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland, remaining a captive for six years where he worked as a herdsman. After his escape he later returned to Ireland as a missionary and is usually credited with founding Ireland's first Christian church at Armagh.
`Bannavem Taberniae' is said to be improbable Latin and is usually amended to 'Bannaventa Berniae'; an unknown location often claimed to be in the north of Britain. To the east of Carlisle we find a possible location towards the western end of Hadrian's Wall in the Roman Fort of 'Banna', now known as Birdoswald. Others locate the place of Patrick's birth at Ravenglass in Cumbria; the similarity of the Roman name 'Glannaventa' needing no further explanation.
However, these suggestions do not stand up to scrutiny; the western coasts of southern Scotland and northern England would offer little attraction to an Irish raider seeking quick access to loot and slaves. Further, there was a Roman town called 'Bannaventa' one mile northeast of the village of Norton in Northamptonshire, situated on the Roman road of Watling Street, but this is considered unlikely being too deep in land.
Bannaventa Berniae is probably a Latinisation of a Celtic placename where 'Banna' is Latin for spur or promontory of rock, and 'Venta' is the name used by the Romans as a prefix for three civitas capitals: Venta Icenorum (Caistor St. Edmund, Norfolk); Venta Belgarum (Winchester); Venta Silurum (Caerwent, Gwent). Venta has a disputed meaning, it is argued that its is derived from the Brittonic *uentā, meaning something like ‘field’ or ‘market’. The Latin word 'Vendo' means 'to sell', as in the modern word vendor (seller) and the late Latin word 'vendito' means 'market sale.' Therefore, it is usually accepted that Venta means a 'market place, or meeting place'. Thus, the names of the three civitas capitals mean the market towns of the the Iceni, the Belgae and the Silures respectively.
An origin in South Wales or the south western peninsula of England has been argued as these areas were subject to incursions by Irish raiders in Patrick's time. Somerset was highly Romanised, offering a plausible location for Patrick's family estate, unlike some of the more remote locations suggested above. A more likely candidate for Bannaventa Berniae is the late Roman settlement near the village of Banwell, five miles east of Weston-super-Mare, on the North Somerset Levels. 2 A mid-13th century story, the earliest written legend of Glastonbury Tor, tells us that after Patrick escaped from Ireland he led a group of hermits on the Tor. Reinforcing the Somerset connection is the tradition that Patrick was Abbot of Glastonbury in his later days and was buried in the Lady Chapel.
There is evidence for a medieval tradition that Patrick died in 493, which agrees with the Annals of Ulster. Yet, historians still can't make up their minds about Patrick and the latest wisdom declares that he died on 17 March 461. He is said to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down, alongside St. Brigid and St. Columba.
It is said that when Saint Patrick died his body was wrapped in a shroud and placed on a cart, drawn by two unrestrained white oxen. The oxen wandered to Downpatrick where it is claimed he is buried. A granite boulder marked with a cross and simply inscribed 'PATRIC' marks his grave.
Legend states that on the day Saint Patrick died the sun did not set, but shone for twelve consecutive days and nights.
1. In 1942 T. F. O'Rahilly published a lecture entitled “The Two Patricks”. At the time the work caused enormous controversy by proposing that there had actually been two "Patricks"; Palladius and Patrick. The lecture claimed that what we now know of St. Patrick was in fact in part a conscious effort to blend the two into one hagiographic personality. Following years of discussion it is now generally agreed that Patrick was most likely to have been active in the latter half of the fifth century and Palladius the earlier part of the century. Prior to this it was common belief that Patrick died in 420 and thus had lived in the first half of the 5th century.
2. Harry Jelley, Saint Patrick's Somerset Birthplace: A Serious Study into the Birthplace of Saint Patrick in the Fifth Century, Cary Valley Historical Publications, 1998.
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