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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

THERE is no part of the story of the Saint’s life more interesting and more instructive than the history of his captivity. Here, too, we are on firm ground. We have his own account of those marvellous six years of his captivity, and we have the additional advantage of knowing the scenes which he describes, and, we might almost say, the persons to whom he refers. The whole story is, therefore, worthy of careful examination and reproduction.

First, let us examine the account of the captivity as given by himself.

He tells us in the Confession that his father had a small farm or country-house, near the village of Bannavem Taberniæ, and that it was there he was taken captive. The phrase he uses is a strange one, by no means classical; but there can be no doubt as to its meaning. His age at the time was close on sixteen.

He tells us, too, that many thousand persons were taken captive in the same raid, and that the rovers ‘devastated his father’s house, and put to death his men-servants and maid-servants,’ but he does not state that his parents—either father or mother—were slain or captured at the same time.

We may assume, then, that as the Saint was certainly born on the banks of the Clyde, he was carried away captive from the country-house of his father, which was near (prope) to the town in which he was born. Now, this is exactly what might be expected. A high official of the municipium would have not only a house in the town itself but also have a country-house not far off—located somewhere on the banks of the river. It would, therefore, be all the more accessible to the sea rovers of the time, because it was somewhat secluded and near to the sea. In our opinion, therefore, there can be no reasonable doubt that the Saint was carried off by Irish raiders from his father’s villa, which was probably on the northern bank of the river, somewhere between the modern Dunbarton and Helensburg, on the line of the present railway to Helensburg.

Yet, it is strange that some ancient writers who admitted that St. Patrick was born at Alclyde still assert that he was carried off to Ireland, not from Strathclyde, but from Brittany in France. The Scholiast on Fiacc, who expressly says that “Nemthor,” where Patrick was born, “is a city in North Britain, namely, Ail Cluade” (the Rock of Clyde), yet states that Patrick, with his parents—Calpurn, his father, and Concess, his mother—together with his five sisters and his brother, Deacon Sannan, “all went from the Britons of Ail Cluade over the Ictian Sea southwards to the Britons of Armorica—that is, to the Letavian Britons—for there were relatives of theirs in that place at that time; and besides, the mother of the children, Concess, was of the Franks, and she was a near female relation of (St.) Martin. That was the time at which seven sons of Sechtmad, King of Britain, were in exile from Britain. So they made a great foray on the Britons of Armorica, where Patrick was with his family, and they slew Calpurn there, and they brought Patrick and Lupita with them to Ireland, and they sold Lupita in Conaille Muirthemne, and Patrick in the north of Dalaradia.”

The Tripartite gives nearly the same account. That story, too, seems to have got into the mind of Probus, for he describes this foray, in which Patrick was captured together with his brother Ructi and his sister Mila, as having taken place in ‘Arimuric,’ which, however, was in the native country (patria) of the Saint, although it was the sons of Rethmiti, the British king, from Britannia who made the inroad. Probus, however, is unreliable in his narrative and his names, for he admits that Patrick was born in Britain (in Britanniis), and he speaks of this as a second captivity from ‘Arimuric,’ quite distinct from the first captivity at the age of sixteen, with which he nevertheless confounds it in giving the details.

Here is a grave difference of opinion, and the Book of Armagh does nothing to settle the question, for it makes no reference to the point at issue. It is highly probable that the Tripartite and Probus took their account from the Scholiast on Fiacc; and the Scholiast—if indeed there were not more than one—seems to contradict himself. Several modern writers have adopted the same view, following most likely the authority of the Tripartite.

The author of the Homily in the Lebar Brecc gives probably the true account when he says that these seven sons of the British king with some Ulster men raided Britain—not Brittany—and carried their captives thence to Ireland.

We must, however, adhere to the piain statement of the Saint in the Confession, that he was carried off from the country house near where his father dwelt in Bannavem Taberniae; that a great number of captives were carried off at the same time, and that the spoilers devastated his father’s house, and slaughtered his men-servants and maidservants. He makes no reference to the killing of his father or mother on that occasion, from which we may fairly infer that they were not slain in that foray; and were probably either absent or dead at the time.

There are many other circumstances that confirm this view. The author of the Second Life says expressly that the raiders were an Irish host ravaging, as was their custom (de more), the shores of Britain. The Fourth Life also describes them as fleets of the Irish who were in the habit of crossing the sea to plunder Britain.

The Roman writers tell the same story. The Province of Britain was first invaded by the ‘Picts’ and ‘Scots,’ on its northern limits, about the year A.D. 360. The Picts crossed the northern wall, while the Scots, that is the Irish, harried the western sea-board from the Clyde to the Severn. Four years later, in 364, a second attack was made in greater force, the Saxons on this occasion swooping down in their long ships on the eastern coasts of Northumbria. Again and again these attacks were renewed until 369, when Theodosius, a brave and skilful warrior, was sent over to Britain by the Emperor Valens to chastise the barbarians. He drove them out of the Province, renewed the wall from the Clyde to the Forth, and having completely subjugated the country between the two walls called it Valentia, in honour of his master, the Emperor Valens. As we have seen he established its chief military station and civil capital close to the British stronghold on the Clyde. The commander-in-chief of the new Province was called the Dux Brittaniae, and as it was his duty to defend the northern frontier, he naturally kept his headquarters on the Clyde, from which he could keep both Picts and Scots in check. He is said in the Notitia Imperii, or Army List of the time, to have had no less than 8,000 foot and 600 horse, that is a whole legion, along the line of the northern wall. Bannavem Taberniae was, therefore, a populous and important place at that period, that is about the time St. Patrick was born, in 372 or 373; and we need not be surprised that, as the capital of the new province of Valentia, and the head-quarters of the army, it was made a municipium or free town.

One of the chief officers of Theodosius during this campaign in Britain was the Spaniard, Claudius Maximus, who afterwards became commander-in-chief in Britain, and then revolting against the Emperor Gratian was himself proclaimed Emperor by the army at York in 383. He remained, however, only a short time in Britain, for next year he crossed over into Gaul to vindicate his claims to the western empire, and took with him nearly all the British troops, as they were the men who had raised him to the purple, and who were likely to prove his most staunch allies. This was in 385 or 386. The Picts and Scots, finding the Roman troops called away from Britain, at once renewed their incursions, especially about 388, when Maximus collected all his troops from all quarters, and crossing the Alps fought the great battle of Aquileia, in which he was defeated and slain by the Emperor Theodosius the Great, the son of his former master. It was about the year 387 that Britain was thus completely denuded of Roman troops, for Maximus was slain in 388; and this is the very time, too, that St. Patrick was carried into captivity by ‘the fleets from Ireland.’ The British historians, Gildas and Nennius, tell us expressly that the invaders were Picts and Scots—the Picts coming from the north, and the Scots from the west, that is from Ireland. The poet Claudian also, when lauding the achievements of Stilicho, who drove back the barbarians a few years later, describes him as guarding the extreme limits of the British frontier, curbing the ferocious Scot, and curiously observing the punctured marks on the bodies of the slaughtered Picts. We may safely assume, therefore, that the raiders, who carried off from Strath Clyde at this period ‘so many thousand’ persons into captivity, were Scots from Ireland, who crossed the narrow seas in fleets of ‘hired boats.’ These were the years, too, during which Niall the Great reigned in Ireland; and except the bards belie him, he spent much of his time in ravaging the coasts of France and Britain. We have no historical evidence of the raids into France, but we have undoubted authority to prove that the Scots harried the British coasts, from which they were driven off only for a while by Stilicho. We are assured, indeed, that Niall was slain at sea, on the Muir n-Icht, or Ictian Sea, between France and England; but that was several years later, in A.D. 405.

We are told that Lupita, a sister of Patrick, was carried off in the same raid, although the Saint himself makes no allusion to the fact. It is in itself, however, not unlikely; and the venerable authorities who make the statement are not to be lightly set aside.

As St. Patrick himself says that many thousands were taken captive on the occasion when he was carried off by the Irish rovers, they must have had many boats; for they were not ships in the modern sense of the term. Each boat carried off its own portion of the captives, and doubtless sold them as best they could, for the benefit of themselves and their leaders. On their return, therefore, they would not all sail for the same port, but each of the crews would naturally make for the port where they were most likely to dispose of their spoil. In this way we can readily understand how Lupita might have been brought in one boat to Dundalk Bay, and sold as a slave in the district of Conaille Muirthemne, the famed Hy Conaille land around Dundalk, where Cuchulain fought and the young St. Bridget prayed. The Tripartite tells us there were two sisters of Patrick sold as slaves in Hy Conaille; but the older authorities mention only one. Patrick himself was probably carried off by a Dalaradian crew that landed somewhere near Larne, and sold him to the king of North Dalaradia, to whom Larne belonged, as his sister or sisters were sold further south in Conaille Muirthemne, ‘and he and his sisters knew nothing of each other.’ This statement bears out the view that the children were carried off in different boats, which probably belonged to different districts of the Irish sea-board, to which they afterwards returned.






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