The paucity of written records from Dark Age Britain has been a cause of much confusion for decades. This is especially so when we consider the fact that there were inevitably many people who must have had the same name, just like today. In some cases, however, the chronological information makes it clear that two similarly-named individuals cannot be the same person — although the chronological information might be wrong.
When two separate individuals are accidentally combined into one, this can create major chronological issues with repercussions for many other figures or events. It appears that this is what has happened in the case of Saint Patrick. There is evidence that there was a separate individual who has been wrongly assumed by many to have been the Saint Patrick. This error has caused some confusion in the study of Dark Age Britain.
Who Was Saint Patrick?
Saint Patrick was a very important figure in the early Dark Ages. He lived just after the Roman era of Britain. When he was a youth, he was taken to Ireland by pirates. He later returned to Britain, became a preacher, and then went on a preaching mission in Ireland. He spent many years there and is widely remembered for his role in spreading Christianity throughout the country. There is evidence that Christianity did already exist in Ireland before Patrick, but he was evidently responsible for rooting it even more firmly among the populace.
The aforementioned information is about as reliable as can be, because it comes directly from Patrick himself. There are two surviving works of his, in which he provided some basic autobiographical material. He is also mentioned in records written in the next few centuries. These reveal that he lived in the fifth century. Scholars today generally agree that he died in either c. 460 or c. 490.
Chronological Issues Concerning Saint Patrick
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There is a fairly well-known theory that there were actually two Patricks who preached in Ireland. The theory goes that the first (whose name was actually Palladius) died in c. 460, while the second died in c. 490. This would explain the contradictory medieval records concerning Patrick’s date of death. This article is not about that theory. Rather, this article is focused on chronological issues concerning Patrick’s role in purely British history, not Irish history.
Saint Patrick is mentioned in a number of records about other important religious figures who were active in early Dark Age Britain. For example, he is mentioned in a record concerning religious figures from Wales named Brioc and Illtud. This record states that Brioc, Illtud, and Patrick went to Germanus to be educated. This is often assumed to have been Germanus of Auxerre, who died in 448. Patrick, of course, was also active in the fifth century. Therefore, this record sometimes leads researchers to place Brioc and Illtud in the fifth century too.
The problem with this is that Illtud was definitely a sixth-century individual. A near-contemporary source explains that he was a contemporary of Samson of Dol, who opposed Count Conomor and assisted in his defeat in 560. Thus, it is not possible for Illtud to have been educated by Germanus, who died in 448. Regarding Brioc, his hagiography makes him too, a contemporary of Samson of Dol. It also independently makes him a contemporary of King Childebert I of the Franks, who ruled between 511 and 558. Therefore, the evidence shows that Brioc was a sixth-century individual, like Illtud.
In fact, the record that mentions Brioc, Illtud, and Patrick being sent to Germanus specifically says that they were sent to him in Paris. Therefore, this would most logically be a reference to Germain of Paris, who was active in the mid-sixth century, and not the earlier Germanus of Auxerre. How, then, can we harmonize this information with the record that makes these individuals contemporaries of Patrick, a thoroughly fifth-century figure?
The Later Patrick of France
The obvious solution would be to propose that there was a later figure who was also called Patrick. This would explain the discrepancy between the dates of those other figures and the dates of Saint Patrick of Ireland. However, the suggestion of multiple figures by the same name has often been criticized as a convenient excuse in the study of Dark Age Britain. That common objection notwithstanding, it is an absolute inevitability that almost any given name was possessed by more than just a single person within any given century.
Nonetheless, it is obviously important to try to find direct evidence of any hypothetical duplicate figure. In the case of a sixth-century Saint Patrick, there is indeed some direct evidence. A document called the Martyrologium Hieronymianum was written in the fourth century but then revised in c. 600 CE. This revision has survived to us today through some eighth and ninth-century manuscripts. Therefore, this document is near-contemporary to the sixth century, the period of the hypothetical second Saint Patrick.
This record from c. 600 records the names of various “saints,” or notable religious figures, next to dates throughout the year. One particular entry is very relevant to the issue of a second Patrick. It records the following:
“In Gaul in the city of Nevernum, the feast of abbot and confessor Patricius.”
Modern scholars universally give this Patricius a date in the sixth century, seemingly shortly before the revision of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum in c. 600. This abbot of Nevernum (modern-day Nièvre) was obviously a different person to Saint Patrick of Ireland, as scholars agree. Beyond this basic fact and his sixth-century date, hardly anything at all is known about him.
He is the saint after whom Saint-Parize-le-Châtel, a commune in central France, is named. However, it seems that no biographical information about him at all has survived in the records. Nonetheless, his name and date are a perfect fit for the Patrick mentioned in the record about Illtud, Brioc, and Patrick being sent to Paris to be educated by Germanus. In addition, Nièvre is not far from Paris, further supporting this identification.
The Second Patrick in British Records
The existence of this sixth-century Saint Patrick in France is sufficient to demonstrate that there was a second prominent early religious figure by that name. However, we can go further than this. Note that the reference to Illtud, Brioc, and Patrick being sent to Paris comes from a British record. This implies that the Patrick in question was British, or at least was active in Britain before traveling to Paris. So, can we identify him in British records?
In medieval records concerning sixth-century Britain, it appears that there is only one figure who actually had a name directly equivalent to “Patrick.” He appears as Padrig ap (“ap” meaning “son of”) Alfryd in a record known as Bonedd y Saint. He was the saint of Llanbadrig in Anglesey, northwest Wales. He could have been the sixth-century Patrick mentioned in connection with Illtud and Brioc. However, those other two figures were from southeast Wales, whereas Padrig was from northwest Wales, which makes this connection unlikely.
In reality, the sixth-century Saint Patrick can almost certainly be identified with a prominent religious figure who lived in southeast Wales called Pedrog. This name is not quite the Welsh form of “Patrick,” which should be “Padrig,” but it is very close. It must be remembered that the records which mention him come from hundreds of years after the fact. It was not uncommon for names to evolve over the years or even become corrupted. For example, the first name of the fifth-century Ambrosius Aurelianus appears as “Embreis” in medieval Welsh records. In that case, the initial “A” has become “E” and the middle “o” has become “ei.”
An alternative possibility is that the singular record that mentions Patrick in conjunction with Illtud and Brioc is corruption. It would also not be difficult to imagine that the eighth-century writer of the relevant surviving document of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum adjusted the name to the more familiar “Patricius.”
Evidence for Pedrog Being the Second Saint Patrick
In any case, there is strong evidence that Pedrog and the Saint Patrick associated with Illtud and Brioc are one and the same. For one thing, Pedrog came from precisely the right area — southeast Wales. Their associates also support this connection. For example, the Life of St Pedrog records that Pedrog knew Samson of Dol. Samson, in turn, is known to have been a close associate of Illtud. Furthermore, the record that mentions Patrick in conjunction with Illtud and Brioc comes from the Life of St Brioc. In this record, when Brioc returns to Britain after studying abroad, he travels to Cornwall and arrives at Padstow. Similarly, in the Life of St Pedrog, Pedrog is described as traveling to Padstow in Cornwall after studying abroad.
Even more significantly, the Life of St Pedrog states that Pedrog and his men encountered a local prince named Cynam (a Welsh form of “Conan”) who was cured of a grievous sickness. A similar story appears in the Life of St Brioc, in which Brioc and his men encounter a tribune named Conan who is eventually converted.
The Mystery of Saint Patrick Solved
In conclusion, we can see that not all records about Saint Patrick in early Dark Age Britain were actually about the famous Saint Patrick of Ireland. One notable example is the record of Patrick being sent to study under the tutelage of Germanus along with Illtud and Brioc.
The evidence clearly shows that Illtud and Brioc were sixth-century figures, which conflicts with the fifth-century date of Saint Patrick of Ireland. A near-contemporary record, the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, proves that there was a second Saint Patrick, all but forgotten today. He was Patricius of Nièvre. Furthermore, we can likely identify this sixth-century Saint Patrick with Pedrog, a prominent religious figure from southeast Wales.
A comparison of his hagiography with that of Brioc strongly indicates that they traveled together. Of course, we can be certain about very little regarding early Dark Age Britain. Nonetheless, this evidence heavily suggests that Pedrog was the “Patrick” mentioned in the Life of St Brioc.