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Where in the World is Bannavem Taburniae?

Stained-glass image of St. Patrick with an added cartoon voice balloon reading, "Do you know the way to Taburniae?"

Legendary Christian hero Saint Patrick was born in the village of Bannavem Taburniae, or so he claimed. But where is Bannavem Taburniae? Centuries later, nobody knows.

Here’s the venerable saint, kicking off his famous Confession:

I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many. My father was Calpornius, a deacon, son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniae he had a country seat nearby, and there I was taken captive.

The bad news is, there’s no place called Bannavem Taburniae in the modern world — and no record of it, either. (It’s sometimes spelled Bannaem Taberniae, and there’s no place named that, either.)

In the era when St. Patrick was born (about 385 A.D.), what is now Great Britain was largely still controlled by the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar himself led the invasion in 55 B.C. The Romans ran the show until they pulled out around the end of the fourth century — just after Patrick was born.

It’s generally guessed that Patrick must have been born on the western coast of the “big island” of Great Britain. Here’s a helpful analysis of the possibilities:

Patrick tells us that he grew up in Bannavem Taberniae, but efforts to locate this place precisely have so far failed. He tells us elsewhere that he was a Briton, and a Roman citizen (Lett. 2). One place suggested for this has been south-west Scotland, which would be close to Ireland for raiders, and would also explain how Patrick knew Coroticus, who is named as king of Dumbarton in the fifth century in Welsh annals… Hanson acknowledges this evidence, but favors a location on the south west coast of Britain due to the higher density of Roman villas known to have existed in that area.

An alternative location is that of modern Boulogne-sur-mer, in north-east France, whose medieval name was Tarvenna or Tarabanna.

So that means the birthplace of Saint Patrick is narrowed down to Scotland, England, Wales… or maybe France.  Another 1600 years and we’ll have it nailed down for sure.

In the meantime, see our full biography of Saint Patrick »

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  • Brian O’Reilly

    From Wiki:

    Bannaventa was a Romano-British fortified town which was situated on the Roman road of Watling Street, which today is known as the A5 trunk road. Bannaventa is 1 mile (1.6 km) northeast of the village of Norton in the English county of Northamptonshire. The Ordnance Survey grid reference for the centre of the town is SP612645.

    The road where Bannaventa was located is thought to be the first road constructed by the Romans in Britain. It begins in Portus Ritupis (now Richborough) in the county of Kent and runs in a north westerly direction linking many Roman settlements and towns along its route. At Viroconium (now Wroxeter in Shropshire), the road branched with one route going to Deva Victrix (now Chester) and the other into Wales. Bannaventa was a small fortified town on this road and was 10.9 miles north west of the Roman town of Lactodorum (now Towcester).17.3 miles to the north west was the Roman settlement of Venonis (now Wigston Parva) where Watling street is intersected by the Fosse Way.

    • Thanks! Good stuff.

      I was just looking over that Wikipedia entry, and they do pour cold water on the idea of Bannaventa being St. Patrick’s birthplace, though:

      “Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland tells us in his Confession that he had been born in a settlement called Bannavem Taburniae. The location is unknown, but the first part of the name can probably be read as Bannaventa. This led at least one local historian to guess that Patrick was born at the Roman town described above. However an early Life of Patrick describes his birthplace as ‘near the western sea,’ as indeed we should expect, as he was carried into slavery in Ireland by Irish raiders.”

      So still a mystery!