Saturday 24 August 2013

Sen Patrick, August 24

24 August opens up an historical mystery that has long fascinated scholars of Ireland's saints: the problem of 'the other Patrick'. For on this date is commemorated Sen Patrick, also known as Old Patrick or Patrick Senior, whose relationship to the apostle of Ireland commemorated on March 17 is a conundrum still unresolved. In the paper below, Irish Ecclesiastical Record contributor, Father Sylvester Malone, reviews the evidence from the sources for clues to the identity of the elusive Sen Patrick. Not that the writer is in any doubt himself, long before he has concluded his arguments he has already plumped for Sen Patrick as being Saint Patrick's predecessor, Palladius. As Father Malone was writing in the 1890s he has a basic trust in the historicity of the original sources (something modern scholars do not share), but his paper still provides a good starting point and a useful summary of the sources. 


IN some sciences it has passed into an axiom "that entities should not be multiplied without necessity," and it were well to apply the axiom to the domain of history. Nothing should be admitted for fact without fair evidence, especially if the proposed fact be far-reaching in its consequences or revolutionary of well-established views of history. Now, of such a character is the existence or identity of Sen Patrick. He is generally admitted to have been a contemporary of our national saint and his fellow-labourer on the Irish mission. But though Sen Patrick figures almost as prominently as our great St. Patrick in the opening chapters of Irish Church history, to our mind he is, as represented by most Patrician biographers, no better than a myth. The violence offered to the human system from the introduction of a foreign body is no less real than what is suffered from facts being grouped around a mythical personage: and if the identity of Sen Patrick has not been yet established, then indeed there has been an unnatural displacement of facts, and then at the very outset there has been initiated a slovenly and uncritical method of dealing with the evidences of history.

1. The Calendar of Cashel commemorates Patrick Senior under the 24th of August, and adds that while some said he was buried in Ros-dela, in the region of Magh-lacha, others, with more truth, state he was buried in Glastonbury, and that his relics are preserved in the shrine of Patrick Senior in Armagh. [Here we see the reluctance to admit any person to be older than our national saint.]

2. The ancient Irish scholiast states that "our national apostle promised Patrick Senior that both of them would ascend together to heaven. Hence some say that the soul of St. Patrick awaited the death of Patrick Senior from the 17th of March to the end of August. Some state that Patrick Senior was buried in Ros-dela, while others, with more truth, state that he was buried in Glastonbury."

3. The Calendar of Saints, written by Aengus the Culdee, while commemorating the saints under the 24th of August, states that "old Patrick was the champion of battle, and the lovable tutor to our sage." A glossarist of the fifteenth century adds that he was buried in Glastonbury.

4. The Annals of the Four Masters state, under the year 457, that old Patrick "breathed forth his soul." The Annals of Ulster make the same remark; but a copy of the Annals of Connaught, quoted by Ussher, states that he died in the year 453. The Chronicon Scotorum assigns his death to 454. The Book of Lecan, in its list of St. Patrick's household, gives old Patrick as " the head of all his wise seniors”. Some ancient authorities suggest that the death of Patrick happened in the year 461 or 465, from which it is inferred there was reference to old Patrick; for our Irish annalists assign generally the death of our national saint to the year 493.

5. I may remark that the sixth life of St. Patrick, written in the twelfth century, makes mention of a Patrick, nephew of our national saint, who on the death of his alleged uncle left Ireland, and was buried in Glastonbury. Later historians have called him Junior Patrick, in reference to his supposed uncle, our national apostle.

6. While Irish annals and calendars recognise the existence of old Patrick, the primatial list of bishops ranks him amongst its metropolitans, and define the length of time during which he occupied the see. Let us glance at the first bishops of Armagh:

The Psalter of Cashel gives:

Secundinus (sat.) vi, or xvi.
Patrick Senior, x. years.

Yellow Book of Lecan.

Patritius . . . xxii.
Sechnall . . . xiii.
Sen Patrick . . x.

Book of Leinster gives:

Patrick, lxiiii. years from his coming to Erin till his death.
Sechnall, xiii,
Sen Patrick, ii.

We have now noticed the principal events on which the theories about Sen Patrick have been grounded; but before reviewing these I may at once say that Sen Patrick, to my mind, is none other than Palladius, who preceded, about a year, our national apostle on the Irish mission.

7. Dr. Lanigan maintains that Sen Patrick was no other than our national saint, and that there was only one Patrick in the early Irish Church; but the Book of Armagh and other documents clearly establish that Palladius also was called Patrick, and it is no less certain, notwithstanding the opposite opinion of Dr. Lanigan, that the term Old was applied to a Patrick, not for his absolute, but relative age. The opinion then of Dr. Lanigan is groundless.

8. The Bollandists suggest (vol. ii., March; vol. iv., Sep.) that a Patrick was called Sen, that is, Patrick Sen, as being the son of Sen, brother to our great saint. Nothing could be more unnatural than this view. Every Irish writer has associated Sen Patrick with only one person, and made Sen only a qualitative adjective. The idea of a nephew having been with our apostle in Ireland till his death, cannot be entertained. The learned Bollandists, relying on the primatial list of bishops, state that Sen Patrick was successor to his uncle. The only objection raised by Dr. Todd against this statement is, that he was only coadjutor to the great St. Patrick. The Confession leads to the belief that our saint after entering on the Irish mission never after saw his country or relatives.

9. Another theory, advocated by Petrie and Dr. Moran, states that Sen Patrick came from Wales; that he cooperated with our national apostle in the conversion of Ireland; that at the close of his life he returned to Wales; and that a portion of his relics are in Armagh and Glastonbury. Dr. Moran added that Sen Patrick's "place is well defined in Celtic records." Why, the case is quite otherwise. The venerable Speckled Book gives him no place at all in the list of primates. And if we turn to the essays of Dr. Moran, we see that he there makes Sen Patrick not a Welshman, but an Irishman and a pagan, who in Glastonbury instructed our national saint, and in consequence was rewarded with the gift of faith. For these assertions there is not a tittle of evidence. Dr. Moran concludes the article in the Dublin Review by stating there were four Patricks in the first age of the Irish Church, each having a fixed place in history; but it is clear to my mind there was only one Patrick.

10. Nothing can be more unsettled than the position assigned to Sen Patrick by modern historians, because, as understood by them, he did not exist. They copied self-contradictory annalists. Now, the primatial succession starts either with the episcopate of our apostle or the foundation of Armagh: if with the former, the lists should include Palladius, Ireland's first bishop; if with the latter, how can Secundinus be included, as he is represented by Irish annalists to have sat during six, thirteen, or sixteen years, and to have died in the year 448, though the see was not founded till the year 455. Moreover, the Psalter of Cashel makes Sen Patrick third in succession to the great St. Patrick, with Secundinus as intermediary (see sec. 6): the Yellow Book of Lecan does the same, with this difference, that it allows Secundinus to intervene between Sen Patrick and the great St. Patrick during thirteen years, rather six or sixteen, as stated by the Psalter; and the Book of Leinster allows only two years to the episcopate of Sen Patrick, while the other lists gave variously to it ten and thirteen years. The Book of Leinster, in grouping some remarkable events under several reigns, states that Secundinus and Sen Patrick died during the reign of King Laogaire, 428-463, but gives the death of "Patrick, bishop of the Irish" under the reign of Lugaid, 438-503; yet its list of bishops gives not a Patrick for many years after the death of Sen Patrick. In sober truth, the references to Sen Patrick in Irish annals were only an undigested reproduction of the baseless legends found in Norman chronicles.

The first mention of Sen Patrick in Irish annals does not appear earlier than the tenth century ; but long before that time the monks of Glastonbury claimed the honour of his having been abbot of the monastery. The monastic chronicles state that St. Patrick after converting Ireland retired to Glastonbury in the year 433; or, according to others, 449; that he was sent in the year 425, in the sixty-third year of his age, to Ireland by Pope Celestine; that after spending eight years in Ireland he retired to Glastonbury, which he governed as abbot for thirty-nine years ; and that he died in the year 472, in the one hundred and eleventh year of his age.

All these statements in reference to our national saint are discredited either by the Book of Armagh or the Confession. In point of fact, the connection of our saint after consecration with Glastonbury has no better foundation than either the vision of one monk, the dream of another, or some false document purporting to be written by St. Patrick himself. Even William of Malmesbury, who stood up for the Antiquities of Glastonbury, mentions with doubt the burial of St. Patrick there; but states that he was consecrated by Pope Celestine and educated by Germanus of Auxerre. The consecration by Pope Celestine, mentioned by the Glastonbury writers could be attributed to Palladius, called for some time Patrick, but not to our national saint. The older Patrick is said to have been sent so early as the year 425, whereas our national saint did not come to Ireland till 432. He died in Saul, county Down, whereas Palladius died after landing in Wales and leaving Ireland, on his way to Rome. Glastonbury chronicles state that St. Patrick was a pupil of St. Germanus, and converted Ireland after labouring there several years; this was true of our national saint, but not of Palladius; for the Book of Armagh states that the Irish mission of Palladius was a failure; that his stay in Ireland was brief; that his death was immediately after landing in Wales, and that he patronized Germanus. The legendary chronicles state that Patrick left after him in Glastonbury an autobiographical notice, and that he was a Briton. Our national saint was, indeed, a Welsh Briton, and wrote his Confession not in Glastonbury, but in Ireland.

The Annals of Connaught, under the year 453, register the death of Old Patrick, bishop of Glastonbury. Furthermore, Ralph of Chester, writing of the Patrick who was said to have been buried in Glastonbury, states that he was commemorated on the 24th August as one who, finding the Irish people rebellious, turned his back on them, and retiring to Glastonbury, died there on the 24th of August. Now, we must infer that the Patrick of Glastonbury was the Sen Patrick commemorated in Irish calendars on the 24th of August (see secs. 1, 2); and that Sen Patrick, mentioned in the Polychronicon of Ralph as having found the Irish rebellious, having abandoned them, and as having returned to Glastonbury, is no other than Palladius, is made evident by the Book of Armagh. For it states, in reference to the bad reception which the Irish gave to Palladius, as follows : "Neither did these fierce and savage men receive his doctrine readily, nor did he himself wish to spend time in a land not his own, but he returned to him who sent him."

Here, then, we have Irish martyrologies and the Book of Armagh identifying the Patrick of the Saxon chronicles with Sen Patrick, or Palladius.

11. Lives of the Irish saints, compiled in the eleventh century, contain a notice of Sen Patrick, from which we may infer that he was no other than Palladius. The lives, full of anachronisms, state that Saints Dechan, Ailbe, Ibar, and Ciaran, were contemporaneous bishops in Ireland before St. Patrick, and that Palladius preceded him by many years. Palladius is represented as having baptized St. Ailbe on the confines of Munster and- Leinster ; and turning to the life of St. Alban, nephew of Bishop Ibar, we learn that the birth of the saint was foretold by Patrick, " chief father of Ireland;" and that while this Patrick was in the south of Leinster, St. Ibar, St. Alban, and Sen Patrick encountered a monster of the deep in Wexford bay. Now as this district is admitted to have been the scene of Palladius' labours, and as he and Sen Patrick are represented as contemporaries a long time before our national saint, we may infer that Sen Patrick was the Palladius mentioned in the life of St. Ailbe. The anachronisms that disfigure the lives have perplexed historians. Thus Declan, Ailbe, Ibar, and Ciaran, are falsely stated to have preceded our national saint; thus Palladius in the Life of St. Ailbe, is represented as contemporary with Conchobar Mc Nessa in the first century ; though, according to the Book of Armagh, he scarcely by a year preceded our national saint on the Irish mission, yet the Irish lives separate them by an interval of four hundred years ; and though they make Sen Patrick contemporary with Palladius, and nominally distinct from him, they would have him succeed our national saint in the fifth century. Such anachronisms in uncritical biographies that were not collated with each other or the Book of Armagh are matter for regret ; but it is matter for wonder that these anachronisms escaped the notice of the learned Bollandists. For Papebroke and Stilting (A. A. SS. For March and September) suggest that what was said of St. Patrick in the life of St. Ailbe, may not refer to the great St. Patrick, but to Sen Patrick, his successor. But how could the great St. Patrick be referred to, as he lived four hundred years after the events commemorated in the life? The oversight of the Bollandists arose probably from not knowing that Palladius was called Patrick, and from not adverting that Mc Nessa, the represented contemporary of Palladius, lived in the first century.

12. The inconsistent notices of Sen Patrick in the lives may be traced principally to the Glastonbury legends; and as the monks claimed St. Patrick as inmate and abbot after his supposed departure from the Irish mission, so Scottish writers claimed him as an apostolic missionary in Scotland. The Glastonbury claims were advanced in the eight century. Irish chronicles of the tenth and eleventh centuries adopted the notices of Sen Patrick's death in the obits of Glastonbury, while the annals of Connaught and Ulster in the fifteenth century, and those of the Four Masters in the seventeenth were coloured by the Scottish theories. There was neither truth nor consistency in either Scottish or English legends. Some English legends stated that Old Patrick lived in Glastonbury for thirty-nine years, having come there in the year 433; while others made him come there in the year 449. The Scottish theories were no less inconsistent. Some maintained with Spotiswoode, that Palladium evangelized Scotland during twenty-three years, while others extended his labours there to thirty years. Hence we find, on the supposition that Palladius came to Ireland in the year 431, that the Irish chronicles variously date the death of Sen Patrick to the years 454, 459, and 461. The Scottish theories, stimulated probably by the earlier claims of Glastonbury, were mainly built on the statement of the very unreliable scholiast that Palladius, having left Ireland, founded a church in Fordum.

The confusion in the Glastonbury legends differs from the Irish chronicles in this, that the former attribute the acts of the two Patricks to one person, while the latter preposterously make the first, or old Patrick, succeed the second Patrick. But even amid this obscurity gleams of truth flash out in the succession of bishops given in the Book of Leinster; only two years are given to Sen Patrick or Palladius. He came to Ireland in 431, and died in 432. In course of time he was so much forgotten that the later notices of him in the Book of Armagh state that the place and nature of his death were unknown. Towards the close of the twelfth century it appears to have been nearly forgotten that Palladius was called Patrick for some centuries; and in course of time our national saint so filled the public mind in connection with the conversion of Ireland, as to shut out the idea of any missionary previous to him.

But it may be objected that there is mention in the lives of several Patricks, a "source of much embarrassment" to our modern historians ; these are (a) Sen Patrick, (b) Patrick of Nola, (c) Patrick of Auvergne, (d) the three Patricks mentioned in the Tripartite, and (e) Patrick Junior. Patrick Senior (a), mentioned in the hymn of Fiacc, was Palladius; Patrick of Nola (b), commemorated by Farracius on the Eve or first vespers of the 17th March, is no other than our national saint, who was ordained in Nola. (c) The same may be said of Patrick of Auvergne, commemorated in the Roman martyrology on the 16th of March, to the great surprise of Baronius, as there had been no Patrick among the bishops of Clarmont: our national apostle had studied on the borders of Auvergne, and was there consecrated by the abbot-bishop Amatus. (d) The three other Patricks mentioned in the Tripartite, whom our saint met at Lerins, were probably Saints Honoratus, Maximus, and Hilary of Aries, three abbots there in succession.

(d) The three Patricks appear to be taken by the Tripartite as of consular rank; but such a meaning is misleading. If the Patricks (laii Patricii) were Christian names, then the writer was in error, as our apostle was not then called Patrick, unless by the figure prolepsis he anticipated the future name of the saint. The writer was also in error if he employed the Patricius as a name of honour; and it is most likely he did so employ it; for in page 123 (Tr. Thaum.) he states that our national saint received at consecration from Pope Celestine a name, Patricius, which at that time was expressive of honour and excellence. The mention of the three Patricks, then, was expressive of their patrician rank, and not of their Christian names.

(e) It is admitted that Palladius, an arch-deacon or deacon of the Roman Church, was sent by Pope Celestine to Ireland. He was called by the Irish the first Patrick. The Irish scholiast, in giving the relatives of our national saint (Tr. Thaum., p. 4), states that Sannanus, the deacon, was his brother. He was his spiritual brother ; for Sen, the deacon, mentioned by the scholiast was Sen Patrick, or Palladius.

In turning from the scholiast of the tenth century to the sixth life by Joceline in the twelfth (Tr. Thaum.,p. 106), we are informed, that our national saint had a dear son Patrick (spiritually), who was son of San, and who, after the death of his uncle, returned to Britain, died there, and was buried in Glastonbury. Now, on this statement, Ussher remarks (Primordia, p. 823) that Sannanus, the deacon, was father to Patrick Junior; and Colgan winds up the story (Appendix v., p. 225) by expressing a hope that he was born before San, his father, became a deacon. Here we see the Patricks almost inextricably involved, and the spiritual inconsistently confounded with carnal relationship. For Palladius, who has been properly described by Irish annalists as a "foster father or tutor" to our national saint, is made by-and-bye to sink to the level of a carnal brother, rises again to the higher spiritual level, but as a dependent or coadjutor to our apostle; and, having become a Patrick junior, nephew to the great Patrick, finally disappears in a grave at Glastonbury. And all this has been chronicled and faithfully copied as grave matter for history!

On broad historical lines, by a rather circuitous road, we have been led to the identification of Sen Patrick; but we might, through an easy and short cut, have arrived at the conclusion by a reference to the May number of the I. E. RECORD. It has been there proved clearly that only two persons were called Patrick, down to the eleventh century in the Irish Church. One of these was our national saint, the other was Palladius. Our national saint was always contradistinguished from Sen Patrick; not so with Palladius; and therefore, Palladius, as being the elder workman in the Irish vineyard, must have been he who, not inaptly, was called Sen Patrick.


Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol 12 (1891), 800-809.

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