The destination for history

The solution to the ‘Two St Patricks’ theory


In 1942 an academic paper rocked the world of the researchers of Saint Patrick. The academic who wrote the paper announced that there were two Patricks. Since then his proposal has generally become known as the ‘Two Patricks Theory.’

The man who caused this intellectual earthquake was Thomas Frances O’Rahilly, Irish Tomas Proinsias O Rathaile. He was an Irish scholar of the Celtic languages and a member of the Royal Irish Academy. Some thirty years after the publication of this theory, James Plunkett, an Irish writer, wrote:

I can still recall the great scandal of 1942, when a book called The Two Patricks was published by a learned Irish professor who advanced the theory that there was one Patrick(Palladius Patrick) whose mission lasted from 432-461, and another who arrived in 462 and died about 490. The suggestion caused a national upheaval. If the careers of the two Patricks, through scholarly bungling, had become inextricably entangled, who did what? And worse still-which of them was the patron saint? If you addressed a prayer to one, might it not be delivered by mistake to the other? There was a feeling abroad that any concession to the two Patricks theory would lead unfailingly to a theory of no Patrick at all.

In fact a Celtic scholar, called C. Plummer, concluded that there was no Saint Patrick. J. Bury, an English historian, stated that Saint Patrick arrived in Ireland in 432 and died in 461, however, O’Rahilly was obviously not impressed with this summary stating that ‘Bury is generally unfortunate in his incursions into Irish history.’ Brendan Lehane, an English born writer who spent many years in Ireland, succinctly sums up the anxiety caused by differing academics in his book ‘Early Celtic Christianity’ where he writes:

Patrick’s status in Ireland was a matter of considerable importance. Consequently scholastic civil war began, and continues today. A climax was reached in the year of the alleged centenary, in which Dr. D. A. Binchy chose to publish a conscientious, slightly acid article in which he set out to prove that a final answer was out of the question on the evidence available. The dearth of facts was in itself proof that nothing could be proved one way or the other. War had become anarchy, and Patrick was left floating without a chronological anchor somewhere in the fifth century.

To be fair to Dr. Binchy, the historical evidence available is very sparse, and what there is has been so dissected and re-dissected in genuine attempts to find the truth that it has become extremely inter-woven and confused.

So was there one Patrick, two Patricks, or none at all?

T. F. O’Rahilly was right.

There were two distinctive Saint Patricks. He was also correct in assuming that the first one was Palladius, also called Patrick. The feast day for this saint is given as July 6th or July 7th. The second one was the person we know today as Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and whose memory is celebrated on March 17th each year. James Plunkett need not have worried; there is a clear distinction between the two.

The first Saint Patrick: Palladius

The Rev. Alban Butler in his book ‘The Lives of the Saints’ Vol. Vii, July, lists Saint Palladius, Bishop and Confessor, Apostle of the Scots, under July 6th. His words provide a summary of what is known historically regarding this saint.

The name of Palladius shows this saint to have been a Roman, and most authors agree that he was deacon of the church of Rome. At least Saint Prosper in his chronicle informs us, that when Agricola, a noted Pelagian, had corrupted the church of Britain with the insinuation of that pestilential heresy, Pope Celestine, at the instance of Palladius the deacon, in 429, sent thither Saint Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, in quality of his legate, who having ejected the heretics, brought back the Britons to the Catholic faith. The concern of Palladius for these islands stopped not here; for it seems not to be doubted, but it was the same person of whom Saint Prosper again speaks, when he afterwards says, that in 431 Pope Celestine sent Palladius, the first bishop to the Scots then believing in Christ…

The Irish writers of the lives of Saint Patrick say that Palladius had preached in Ireland a little before Saint Patrick, but that he was soon banished by the king of Leinster, and returned to North Britain, where they tell us he had first opened his mission. It seems not to be doubted but he was sent to the whole nation of the Scots , several colonies of whom had passed from Ireland to North Britain, and possessed themselves of part of the country, since called Scotland.

After Saint Palladius had left Ireland, he arrived among the Scots in North Britain, according to Saint Prosper, in the consulate of Bassus and Antiochus, in the year of Christ 431. He preached there with great zeal and formed a considerable church. The Scottish historians tell us, that the faith was planted in North Britain about the year 200...but they all acknowledge that Palladius was the first bishop in that country, and style him their first apostle.

Information on the Catholic Saints adds that Palladius may have been of Roman or British descent. His father was Exuperantius of Poitiers, a Praetorian Prefect of the Gallic provinces. Palladius departed Ireland and went to Scotland where he preached among the Picts. There is a Scottish tradition that he lived among the Picts for more than twenty years; however this is considered unreliable.

Some versions of his life state that he ‘died in the plain of Girgin in a place which is now called Fordun, but others say that he was crowned with martyrdom there.’ The dates given for his death, or martyrdom, vary from circa 455 to 461.

Does anyone else provide information to confirm what history says about Saint Palladius? Yes, of course. The oral history of our Celtic ancestors is full of it. However, first consider what Gildas, the historian, says about him, although he does not call him Palladius, or Patrick, but gives another name.

Then the remnants (of the Britons)… take up arms and challenge their victors to battle under Ambrosius Aurelianus. He was a man of unassuming character, who, alone of the human race, chanced to survive the storm in which his parents, people undoubtedly clad in the purple, had been killed.

In legend, some of the other names of Palladius are Ninian, Patraic Sen, and Einion Yrth. How is it possible to state that Palladius had so many seemingly different names? The answer is simple. The names are not really different; they are all synonymous. The ‘Annotations of Tirechan’, an Irish bishop of the seventh century, states that Palladius was also called Patricius and that he suffered martyrdom. Saint Ninian, the Christian apostle to the Picts, was said to have been known as Patricius and it is rumoured that he was murdered. The dates of his death vary, from 432 to 461.

The Irish annals talk of an Old Patrick, or Patraic Sen, said to have died around 458.

Welsh legend mentions Einion Yrth. The ‘Black Book of Carmarthen’, one of the earliest surviving manuscripts written in the Welsh language around the year 1250, in the part known as the ‘Stanzas of the Graves’ records:

Each mournful person asks

whose is the sepulchre that is here

the grave of Einion ap Cunedda

whose slaughter in Prydyn was an outrage

Welsh ‘Prydyn’ means Pictland. The word ‘ap’ is a Welsh word denoting ‘a son of’.

Explaining every synonymous name for Palladius here is too involved for a short article. The names of his immediate family and contemporaries would also have to be taken into account for full elucidation, for example, the names of the fathers also correspond with one another, as do the names of the brothers and other family members.

The second Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland

In a sense more is known of his life than that of Palladius because two Latin documents which he wrote still survive. In general, they are considered to be historically acceptable. One is known as the Declaration, ‘Confessio’ in Latin, and the other is a letter written to the soldiers of a ruler called Coroticus, ‘Epistola’ in Latin. In these Patrick calls himself Patricius and terms himself a bishop. Hagiographical writings give alternative names for Patrick. The meanings of these names are, as one might expect in academic circles, hotly debated and disputed. Names presented are:

  • Maun, which is said to descend from British magunos, meaning servant-lad; Tirechan translates it as famous.
  • Succetus-god of war, or swineherd.
  • Cothirthiacus-because he served four houses of druids, or a classic old Irish tribal name, or a primitive Irish form of Patricius. Note that these definitions vary greatly.

Consider the following:

  • Maun, Welsh mwyn-gentle, mild, Latin mansuetus-gentle, mild.
  • Succetus, Latin sacerdos-a priest. This name has also been used in connection with Patrick’s father, who was a deacon, and his grandfather who was a priest. Or reflect on the possibility that Maun and Succetus have been misread, or corrupted from the Latin mansuetus. Many scribes could not speak, or understand the languages they were transcribing and many orally recorded facts were not put into writing until years after the events, even centuries in some cases.
  • Cothirthiacus, Gaelic coit, pronounced cohtu, and teich, pronounced teych. When Saint Patrick was escaping from slavery in Ireland he did so by means of a boat. The word ‘coit’(cohtu) translates as a small boat and ‘teich’ (teych) as the act of fleeing.

The name given as Maun is of particular importance as it provides a link to the historical name of this Saint Patrick. The location mentioned where he was taken captive, and where his grandfather had a villa, has also led to much debate over the centuries, Patrick calls it Bannavem Taburniae. There was a Roman settlement called Bannaventa on Watling street, however this does not match up to a place open to Irish piracy at the time (as Saint Patrick informs us in his Declaration). The conclusions of academics vary regarding the location of this place ranging from somewhere in Scotland, Cumbria, Somerset, Wales, near the Bristol channel, Gaul, Italy, Spain and so on.

By using the synonymous name method it can be seen that the oral history of our Celtic ancestors links the father and grandfather of Saint Patrick to the Brecon region in South Wales. In the life of Saint Cadoc there is mention of a place called Bannaventa which is just to the north of Brecon.

Banna in Welsh means peak, gwynt (Latin venta) translates as wind. P.A.Holder, in his book ‘The Roman Army in Britain’ explains taburnae as meaning ‘rows of rooms facing on to the main streets of a legionary fortress’. Latin taberna can mean a hut, or tent. Therefore the place was a row of simple dwellings facing on to the main streets of a legionary fortress based on a windy peak. A ‘windy peak’ is, of course, an apt description of the Brecon Beacons region. When the Romans first came to Britain they posted over six hundred soldiers there.

To quickly tie up a number of questions regarding Saint Patrick, below is a list of matters which have become confused over the centuries but can be clarified through the information provided in the legends.

  • Saint Patrick is said to have had numerous sisters-this refers to the first Patrick i.e. Palladius. They were more probably sisters-in-law. Legend mentions only two actual sisters under the synonymous names for Palladius. One of his brothers married a lady who had many sisters; therefore, through this marriage they would have all been deemed as belonging to the same family. Palladius was married and he had a daughter; no sons are mentioned. The name of his wife does not seem to be given in history, or in legend.
  • Saint Patrick met Saint Martin-this refers to the first Patrick i.e. Palladius.
  • Saint Patrick’s mother was a relative of Saint Martin-this refers to the first Patrick i.e. Palladius.
  • Born in the late 300’s-this refers to the first Patrick i.e. Palladius.
  • Arrived in Ireland in 432-this refers to the first Patrick i.e. Palladius.
  • Apostle to the Picts- this refers to the first Patrick i.e. Palladius.
  • Linked with Saint Germanus of Auxerre- this refers to the first Patrick i.e. Palladius.
  • Legend reveals, by following the synonymous name method, that he was closely related to Saint Germanus.
  • Died, or martyred in 461-this refers to the first Patrick i.e. Palladius.

As to the Patrick who was described as ‘left floating without a chronological anchor somewhere in the fifth century’ by Brendan Lehane, the summary is as follows:

  • Son of Calpurnius, grandson of Potitus- this refers to the second Patrick, i.e. Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.
  • Mother- Concess, daughter of a Saxon or Frankish king-this refers to the second Patrick i.e. Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.
  • Arrived in Ireland 461 to continue the mission of Saint Palladius- this refers to the second Patrick i.e. Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.
  • Arrived in Pembrokeshire and was told to leave that area for Saint David who would be born in thirty years’ time. i.e. circa 490-this refers to the second Patrick i.e. Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.
  • Linked with Saint Germanus of Auxerre- this also refers to the second Patrick i.e. Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, who, according to legend, met him during his formative years. In legend, the grandfather of Saint Patrick, under several synonymous names, helped Saint Germanus during the reported encounter with a ruler called Vortigern. From then on he became known in legend as ‘the good king’, and ‘the good man of distinction’.
  • Died in 492-this refers to the second Patrick i.e. Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.
  • The Annals 553 state ‘the relics of Patrick were placed sixty years after his death in a shrine by Colum Cille’ confirming that he died circa 493(553-493=60)-this refers to the second Patrick i.e. Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.

So who was the patron saint of Ireland in history?

He had to be someone who was available to follow the mission of the first Patrick i.e. Saint Palladius who arrived in Ireland in 432 and died, or was martyred, in 461. He had to be an authorised bishop. Is there any person mentioned in history who would fit these qualifications? There is one such historical person still sitting humbly in the shadows waiting patiently to be discovered. Consider Mansuetus. He was the bishop of the Britons who attended the Council of Tours in 461 A.D. The only reference to him states that he was the last person at the council to sign the canons where he wrote:

I, Mansuetus, Bishop of the Britons, was present and signed here.

Ralph. W. Mathisen, in ‘Barbarian Bishops and the Churches “in Barbaricus Gentibus” During Late Antiquity’ states,

He subscribed last of the eight bishops, suggesting either that he had been recently ordained or that he was considered junior to the bishops of cities.

Only the year before Saint Perpetuus had been given the position of bishop of Tours. He was extremely strict on disciplinary issues, so much so, that a number of priests were dismissed when he took over. The date is significant. It is the date given for the death, or martyrdom, of Saint Palladius. It is the date concluded, by some academics, that Saint Patrick began his mission in Ireland. Mansuetus, who declared himself Bishop of the Britons is even echoed in the words of Saint Patrick, who also had the name Maun, when he writes:

I, Patrick, resident in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop...

Consider also, the information given regarding Saint Perpetuus and his zeal for disciplined ecclesiastics. In the ‘Declaration’ of Saint Patrick mention is made of the saint’s despair at being doubted as to his suitability to become a bishop. A charge was brought up against him which caused him great distress.

They brought up against me after thirty years something I had already confessed before I was a deacon. What happened was that, one day when I was feeling anxious and low, with a very dear friend of mine I referred to some things I had done one day – rather, in one hour – when I was young, before I overcame my weakness. I don’t know – God knows – whether I was then fifteen years old at the time, and I did not then believe in the living God, not even when I was a child...

 But I grieve more for my very dear friend, that we had to hear such an account – the one to whom I entrusted my very soul. I did learn from some brothers before the case was heard that he came to my defence in my absence. I was not there at the time, not even in Britain, and it was not I who brought up the matter. In fact it was he himself who told me from his own mouth: “Look, you are being given the rank of bishop.” That is something I did not deserve. How could he then afterwards come to disgrace me in public before all, both good and bad, about a matter for which he had already freely and joyfully forgiven me, as indeed had God, who is greater than all?

The name Deisignatus has been mentioned by some academics in regard to this accusation. Designato in Latin can mean an appointment to an office. Could this be a reference to the recently appointed Saint Perpetuus? Was he ‘the dear friend’ or the person ‘the dear friend’ had informed? Was this the source of the accusation?

Nothing more is mentioned of Mansuetus in Roman history, or, at least, nothing has been found to date. He was probably too busy in Ireland over the next thirty years or so becoming their most revered and holy patron saint. From then on, his story was continued by our Celtic ancestors.

By Bronwen Hosie

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