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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?"

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 a quick look at what we do know.

The mystery was begun by the future saint himself, in the opening lines of his brief memoir the Confessio — that is, his 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.

We added the bolding. Here’s the problem: There’s no town or village called Bannavem Taburniae in the modern world — and no record of one in the past. It’s sometimes spelled with an ‘e’ instead of a ‘u,’ as Bannavem Taberniae, and there’s no place named that, either. There was an old fortified Roman town called Bannaventa, but for various reasons scholars don’t think that it was St. Patrick’s birthplace.

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. When he was about 16, Patrick says in the Confessio, he was taken prisoner — presumably by raiders. “I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments.”

In part because he was taken prisoner this way, it’s generally guessed that Patrick must have been born on the west coast of the “big island” of Great Britain. Dónal P. O’Mathúna has a helpful analysis:

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. 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.

There’s still another possibility, as Thomas O’Loughlin points out in his book Discovering Saint Patrick: Bannavem Taburniae might have been the name not of a village, but of a local parish or even an estate, roughly similar to modern-day stylings like “Sunnyside Farms” or the “Bar-T Ranch.” But again, that’s just speculation.

Bottom line: the birthplace of Saint Patrick has been narrowed down to Scotland, England, Wales… or maybe France. Give it another 1600 years and we’ll have it nailed for sure.

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

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Comments ( 2 )

  • 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!

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