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Bannavem Taburniae: Where in the World Is It?

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.

The venerable saint began the mystery himself with the opening lines of his famous Confession:

My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers… My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner.

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 Bannavem 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 some 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. Give it 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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