British History, 407-597, by Fabio P. Barbieri

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Book IV: Saint Patrick in legend and history

A study of Patrick, the only known British writer of this time, is important not only to establish a number of historical dates and facts, but also to further elucidate the ethnic and cultural background.

 

According to my principles, an analysis of everything known about St.Patrick starts with a careful examination of his writings. I conclude that the crisis alluded to in the Confession began when Patrick was nominated by the Irish diocese as Bishop, and that the British episcopal hierarchy discovered that in his teen-age years he had gone through a period of overt Paganism. I also make an analysis of Patrick’s character and attitude.

I attack the currently popular late dating of the Saint (dead about 493) and argue for the early death-date of 457 or 462.

An analysis of Muirchu as a writer, showing where and why he misunderstood St.Patrick; including a quellenforschung, showing that he drew his account from five separate sources, including St.Patrick’s own writings; and that one of these sources - consisting in a few short annotations which had already before Muirchu’s time been heavily misunderstood - is very likely to include original material. On the other hand, the famous meeting with King Loegaire is not only mythological, but has a clear and exact parallel in British mythology.

This brings together all remaining Patrician notices that have a chance of being ancient or reflecting ancient realities, and forms a coherent account of the Saint. A chronology is offered:

  • Before 377: Patrick is born.
  • Before 392: he takes part in a public act of pagan worship, probably to the Sun. Shortly after, he is taken, along with "thousands" of people from that district, in an Irish slaving raid.
  • Before 398: he escapes.
  • Before 407: he is ordained priest by Amator, bishop of Auxerre, and takes a post among the diocesan clergy of his successor Germanus.
  • Between 407 and 429: no evidence of any outstanding activity.
  • About 425: He witnesses his superiors freeing the prisoners of Frankish raiders.
  • 429: Germanus, Patrick’s superior, travels to Britain to force the expulsion of the Pelagians.
  • 429-431: An Irish diocese is planned and set up under Palladius. Germanus, involved in the search for suitable churchmen with Irish experience, singles out Iserninus and Patrick.
  • 431-2: Patrick goes to Ireland with Palladius. Palladius dies suddenly, leaving the mission leaderless.
  • After 432: Patrick is elected head of the mission. The British rake up his youthful participation in pagan rites.
  • 437: Prominent Pelagian leaders reappear in a British region. Germanus, in one of his last public acts, travels to the island and procures their arrest and conviction.
  • 440 or 441: the new Pope, Leo I, hears Patrick's case and accepts his orthodoxy. The British bishops still insist on summonsing him to Britain.
  • 442: The Saxon revolt probably distracts the British episcopate from their attempts to destroy Patrick's mission.
  • 446/7/8: Patrick’s follower Secundinus dies. Before he died, he had written a Hymn in defence of Patrick's character and claims.
  • 454: Loegaire son of Niall becomes king of Tara.
  • 457 or 461/2: Patrick dies.

History of Britain, 407-597 is copyright 2002, Fabio P. Barbieri. Used with permission.

Comments to: Fabio P. Barbieri


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