St. Patrick’s Day, St Albans, Nicholas Fuentes, & Cats March 17th

Stained Glass window depicting St Patrick with a  crock and a castle
Stained Glass window depicting St Patrick (source of image, lost in the mists of time!)

St. Patrick has a very interesting autobiography (Confession).  He was captured by Irish pirates while living in a Romano-British Town.  He says his father was a Decurion and a Deacon which suggests elements of Roman political organisation continued.  No one knows the dates of St Patrick’s life but these titles suggested an early date perhaps just after the end of Roman rule.

The town he lived in was called Bannavem Taburniae.  Many places have been proposed for it.  The closest linguistically is Bannaventa in Northamptonshire but this seems a very unlikely place for Irish raiders to land, being about as far away from the sea as it is possible to get in Britain!

Scholars have suggested South Wales and the Scottish borders most commonly.  But my favourite suggestion is Battersea in London.  This was made in the pages of the London Archaeologist by editor Nicolas Fuentes. 

Fuentes was one of a pioneering group of archaeologists when Rescue Archaeology first began a campaign to record the archaeology, being destroyed by massive redevelopment of town centres in the 70s.

He changed his name from the anglicised Nicholas Farrant back to its original Fuentes and wrote a magnificent series of papers which located St. Patrick in Battersea; St Alban’s execution in London and all 12 battles of King Arthur around Greater London.

All were well argued, but as a set they do raise an eyebrow, being unsupported by any clear evidence, and, as far as I know, without scholarly support.  The one I really like is St Alban being martyred in London because it reminds everyone that the first reference to St Alban, which is by Gildas in the 6th Century, places the execution of the Saint firmly in London. It makes sense of the story that Alban, keen for martyrdom, gets God to part the River so he can get quickly to the execution spot. In Gildas’s case, the Amphitheatre is in Roman London, and the river needing parting – the mighty Thames. Anglo-Saxon historian, the Venerable Bede places St Alban’s death firmly in St Albans, but the river that God needs to part – the River Ver, is a piddle, and Alban could have crossed it easily, hardly requiring anything more than wellington boots.

To my, unscholarly mind, when we worship people we venerate them, chiefly, at their birthplace and death place. So to me, it makes sense that St Alban’s main shrine was at Verulamium where he was born (now known as St Albans) and London where he died. The hagiography of St Germanus of Auxerre tells us that Germanus came to an amphitheatre for a religious debate about 15 years after the end of the Roman occupation of Britain, and then went to a nearby shrine dedicated to St Alban. Unfortunately, the writer of the memoir is not really interested in post-Roman Britain, so does not tell us whether it was in London or St Albans. But there is an early church dedicated to St Alban just by the Roman Amphitheatre in London, although archaeology does not reveal any evidence early enough to suggest the Church is that early. Fuentes, argued that London as the Capital was likely to have been the place where capital punishments were carried out, particularly in the case of a Roman Citizen like Alban. I must note that in placing any credibility to Fuentes theory, I am standing largely alone.

stained glass window from Gloucester Cathedral of St Patrick being taught by St Germanus

I’m not so convinced by the 12 Battles of King Arthur, for which there is just never going to be enough evidence to locate, and they are more likely to have been spread throughout Britannia.

So, to the point – St Patrick in Battersea?  The evidence, as I remember it, was really only the suggestion that Battersea was derived from Batrick’s Island or originally Patrick’s Island.  The word ‘sea’ being used in that sense along the River Thames as in Chelsea, Thorney, Putney derived from ey which is short for eyot (island).

St Patrick lived as a teenage slave for 6 years, then escaped from captivity in Ireland and returned home. Trained as a priest, in perhaps Auxerre (home to St. Germanus who is another crucial witness to post Roman Britain) and returned to Ireland to begin the conversion to Christianity. He is the Patron Saint of Ireland, with St. Brigitte and St. Colomba.

Another candidate for Bannavem Taburniae’ comes from Andrew Breeze FSA. I read about this in Salon IFA, the newsletter of the Society of Antiquaries, and it is also discussed in this History First article. Breeze has revived a theory that the Saint comes from the West Country, and that the ‘Bannavem Taburniae’ is Banwell, near Weston-super-Mare in North Somerset. He suggests that ‘Bannaventa was a Latinisation of a Brittonic name that included banna, for a bend’, crook or peak. Venta is a well known word for an area of local administration or marketplace (for example, Venta Bulgarum, was the name for Winchester in the Roman period.) . He suggests that these ‘elements, as well as the Berniae element of ‘Taburniae’, can be found in the name Banwell, itself a compound name of the Brittonic ‘Banna’ and the Old English wylle, both meaning pool, or in the names of surrounding villages.’

mage credit: Looking south from Winthill, near Banwell, Somerset, Colin S Pearson; Banwell in Somerset, Google Street View
Image credit: Looking south from Winthill, near Banwell, Somerset, Colin S Pearson; Banwell in Somerset, Google Street View

What it has over the London theory is that it is more likely to have been subject to Irish Raiders than London. But, for me, it is just another theory based on placename evidence that might or might not be true.

And least we forget, today is also St Gertrude’s Day, patron saint of Cats.

comical post from facebook of St Gertrude Patron saint of cats
Facebook Post by a friend

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