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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

It would be an interesting question to try to ascertain what was St. Patrick’s mother tongue. We may assume it as certain that all the five languages mentioned by Bede as prevalent in his own time in Britain were spoken, even so early as 373, on the shores of the Forth and Clyde. For the Picts certainly dwelt in the mountains to the north, and spoke their own language, of which very few traces now survive. The Scots, although they had not yet founded their kingdom of Scottish Dalriada, or Argyle, were hovering round the coast, and had undoubtedly established themselves, either as guests or masters, here and there on the western islands and headlands. The Saxons had lately arrived on the eastern shores, and their tongue might be heard at any point of the coast from Berwick to the Roman Wall abutting on the Forth. The British or Welsh tongue was, of course, spoken by the Britons of the Province of Valencia, especially in the hilly and rural districts. The Latin was spoken by all the educated classes; and was the usual language in the Roman stations along the Wall, and in all the towns under the Roman influence. It would certainly be the official language of the Roman municipality of Alclyde; and the decurions or senators, most of whom were doubtless old Roman officers or soldiers, would naturally use it, not only in their debates in the curia, but also in their own homes. It held precisely the same situation along the Clyde, as the English tongue did in the towns of the Pale in Ireland up to the seventeenth century. So we must assume that although St. Patrick and his family were Britons, still they were, as he tells us, Roman Britons of the upper class in a Roman town, and would naturally use the Roman language in their household, as the Saint implies when, apologising for the rudeness of his Latinity, he declares that his speech—that is his mother tongue—was changed into a foreign tongue by reason of his captivity in Ireland, “as any one may easily infer from the flavour of my discourse.”

But although the father of St. Patrick was a Briton, there is every reason to believe that his mother was a native of Gaul. Her name in its Irish form, as given in the Tripartite, is Concess, and sometimes Conchess, but in Latin it is usually written Conchessa, and she is said by some of the older authorities to have been a niece, and by others a sister, of the great St. Martin of Tours. It is safer to say that she was merely a kinswoman, for the word siur used in the Tripartite may designate either a sister or any near relation. Jocelyn, in the Sixth Life, tells a romantic story, to explain how it was that the Gallic maiden came to find a British husband on the banks of the Clyde. Conchessa was, he says, a maiden of striking beauty and, elegant manners, who, with her elder sister, was carried off a captive to the northern extremities of Britain, and there sold as a slave to the father of Calpurnius. That youth, fascinated by her beauty, and, at the same time, admiring her devoted service and virtuous life, took the slave girl to be his wedded wife. Her sister, about the same time, married another citizen of Nemthor or Dunbarton, and so it came to pass that Patrick was born of one French maiden, and, as we are told, was nurtured by another—that is, by his mother’s sister. This is an ancient, and by no means improbable, story. Some other, but later, writers suppose that Calpurnius served in France during his youth as a Roman soldier, and there met with Conchessa, whom he carried home to his native city on the banks of the Clyde, when his term of foreign service had expired.

A recent writer tells us a still more romantic story—but, we feel bound to add, one that is purely imaginary—of how Conchessa was carried off a captive by the Franks beyond the Rhine, and there ‘the high-born Gallic maiden’ was married to one of the rude barbarians, Calpurnius by name, who afterwards became, mainly through her influence, the Christian father of a sainted family! There is much that is romantic, though not always historical, in the life of St. Patrick; but if we are to have romance at all, let us keep to the old romance of bard and sage, which is consistent with the facts narrated in the ancient Lives of our Saint, and let us not devise new stories, wholly inconsistent with what Patrick tells us himself of his country and his family. Now, one thing he says distinctly is that he inherited his nobility—he was by birth ‘ingenuus,’ and therefore his father must have been ‘noble,’ either by birth or by official position.

It is clear also that the family of St. Patrick must have been not only ‘noble’ in the official sense, but also possessed of considerable wealth, for his father had slaves and handmaidens in his household, when the Irish raiders swooped down upon it, and carried off into captivity all those whom they did not slay. The Tripartite and the Scholiast on Fiacc assert that this raid, in which St. Patrick was carried off, took place in Armorica, and that the raiders were exiled Britons. But this is clearly a mistake, for St. Patrick himself in the Letter to Coroticus clearly implies that the raiders were Irish. “Do I not show my love of sympathetic pity by so acting towards that nation (the Irish) who once took me captive, and destroyed the men-servants and maid-servants of my father’s house.?” The Armorica, too, on which the raid was made was not the Armorica of Gaul, but the western coast-land (Airmorica) of the Clyde, where the villa of St. Patrick’s father stood.

These facts, referred to by St. Patrick himself, clearly show that the raiders were from Ireland, and naturally returned with their booty to the place from which they came. But in this there is nothing to prevent us accepting the account given in the Lebar Brecc Homily to the effect that the seven sons of Sechtmad, King of Britain, were in exile (in Ireland); that the exiles wrought rapine in the land of Britain by bloody raids; that Ulstermen were along with them in their raids, and that it was in one of them they carried off Patrick in captivity to Ireland with his sisters Tigris and Lupita—as will be explained further on.






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