St. Patrick’s Unmentionable Kinfolk

I’m irritated. One hears all sorts of discussion about Our Boy from Bannavem Taberniae, Patricius, and his historical and legendary significance. One hears a great deal about his statement in his pocket autobiography, that he was the son of Calpornius the deacon, who was the son of Potitus the priest. (And sometimes how shocking this supposedly is, when it’s quite normal for the days before celibacy for priests became a matter of discipline for all in the West, as opposed to being a very popular and holy option which was also the only way to be eligible to become a bishop.) You also get a lot of talk based on the later medieval lives, full of exciting events and miracles. You get discussion of his dealings, real or alleged, with other famous saints, and especially St. Brigid.

But nobody ever mentions that legend tells us the name of his mother. Concessa (or Concha, or Conchessa). Furthermore, legend adds that she was from Gaul, and was a sister or close relative of St. Martin of Tours.

Now, there are several reasons why this is a bit improbable (mostly, that this stuff never comes up in the really early sources, a family connection to a super-popular saint should have been mentioned, and that the lives of St. Martin don’t give evidence of relatives). But when it comes to discussions of legend and folklore as folklore, historical fact isn’t the point. So why didn’t we hear about her, or about the strain of legend that claims that St. Patrick spent time with St. Martin as well as studying under St. Germanus? And why the heck wouldn’t Concessa be mentioned by supposedly feminist writers?!

Also, in an entire life as a semi-professional Irishwoman, nobody ever mentioned the fact that legend gave him a sister who was a saint and mother of saints. 19 saints, to be precise.

Her name is St. Darerca. (Not to be confused with the St. Darerca whose nickname was Monenna.)
Her day is March 22, and she is the patron saint of Valencia Island, Ireland, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Legend tells us that her first husband was Restitutus the Lombard. Quite possible in a seaside town, especially considering that her brother Patricius studied in Gaul to become a priest and then traveled to Rome to get the papal blessing on his mission to Ireland. Her sons by him were St. Sechnall of Dunshaughlin; St. Nectan of Killunche and Fennor; St. Auxilius of Killossey; St. Diarmaid of Druim-corcortri; St. Dabonna; St. Mogornon; St. Drioc; St. Luguat; and St. Coemed Maccu Baird (the Lombard) of Cloonshaneville.

Her second husband was Conas the Briton. He founded Beth-Chonais, now Binnion in County Donegal. Her sons by him were: St. Mel of Ardagh, St. Rioc of Inisboffin, St. Muinis of Forgney; and St. Maelchu.

She also had two daughters: St. Eiche of Kilglass and St. Lalloc of Senlis.

But that’s only fifteen saints, you say? Well, there are also some miscellaneous sons granted her, whose father is not mentioned: St. Crummin of Lecua, St. Miduu, St. Carantoc, and St. Maceaith.

Now, obviously there’s a great deal of question here as to whether these are all sons of the same person. Seventeen isn’t an impossible number of kids by any means, but it’s certainly a good chunk. And indeed, St. Patrick was credited with several other sisters: St. Liamania (probably just another name for Darerca), St. Tigris or Tigridia (occasionally credited also with seventeen bishop-sons, so maybe half of this crop of kids is actually hers), St. Lupita the vowed virgin (though some writers give her kids, too), and St. Cinnenum or Richella. Patrick also has Welsh sister-sons who are deacons come over to help him in Ireland: St. Reat, St. Nenn, and St. Aedh. (And they have big long Welsh saint genealogies behind them.)

(St. Tigris’ sons, btw, are generally counted as the following bishop-saints: Lomam of Trim; Munis of Forgney; Broccaid of Emlagh; Broccen of Breaghwy; and Mugenoc of All Duimi Gluin. I should probably also mention that, in Ireland, being a bishop was sorta like being a monsignor — they made tons of ’em, and they had little power other than the power to ordain — while being an abbot was the big important bishop or archbishop type job.)

Now, St. Patrick’s letter to Coroticus says ” I live among barbarians, a stranger and exile for the love of God… out of love for my neighbors and sons for whom I gave up my country and parents and my life to the point of death… I am bound by the Spirit not to see any of my kinsfolk.” This doesn’t totally rule out that there weren’t kinfolk around, of course.

But also, there are chronological discrepancies. Besides that, tons of his supposed relatives in these old genealogies are known Irish saints, who have totally different genealogies given elsewhere, where they descend from Irish people in the usual way! What’s going on?

Probably, what’s going on is a record of who studied under whom, and who lived in whose monastic or early Christian mission communities. Genealogies were vital information and an important literary form in most Indo-European countries, and Irish ecclesiastics would probably have adapted them to their own use for ease of memorization. (Oooh, inculturation.) So this is exactly the stuff you’d think that real historians (and real feminists) would find interesting! You’d think there’d be somebody out there correlating the known disciples of Patrick (mostly known, again, through legend), the relatives, and the Christian archeological record. (Our old friend Sabine Baring-Gould probably did something like.) But if they’re doing this, they’ve totally neglected the popularization market, despite the obvious need every March 17th.

Instead, it’s so much easier just to pawn everybody off as a survival of a mother goddess or random pagan god. *roll eyes*


Filed under Church, History

3 responses to “St. Patrick’s Unmentionable Kinfolk

  1. very interesting
    very good job!

    can yuo tell if there’s a connection between
    st Tigris and st Rynagh, her brother Finnian and
    their mother?
    I’m trying to find out if St Patrick visited the mother once neer Banagher/the Shannon
    kindest regards
    jan schrama heemskerk, holland

  2. Phil Graham

    This lot about St Patrick is clearly medieval Roman Church Promotion Propaganda. Anyone attemping to proof these pedigrees quickly get quite scunnered and gie up the chase (to use an auld scots phrase)
    However the subject should not be kicked into touch an account of the sins of others. A study of the Pictish saints and patronages helps to clarify some bits n bobs about St Patrick. I find it rather strange that nobody has attempted to demonstrate the origins of the St Patrick parishes and Patronages in the Bishopric of Glasgow, Perhaps this is because these foundations have very little to do with contemporary matters concerning that saint nor do they reflect on his rather large extended family. But we do have a Chapel Royal in the Castle of Dumbarton dedicated to Saint Patrick and apparently we are obliged to accept that, just as it is, we dinny ken the reason furit bein there. I note that the Church keeps rather quiet about this sort of depth of enquiry.

    • Actually, there’s quite a lot of inquiry into that sort of thing, both academic and ecclesiastic. You just need to find the right library, or ask your local medieval history professors for some pointers on where to look. It’s not “covered up”; and in fact, there’s a study group that was founded in the 17th century that’s still working on exact scholarship of the Lives of the Saints somewhere. It’s just that usually nobody really wants to know the details of scholarship, especially when there’s no obvious application. If the History Channel ever wanted to make a lurid documentary series about True Stories of the Saints, you’d suddenly find out how much research is out there. 🙂

      Exactly how far north or south in Britannia that St. Patrick was born was a Fraught Topic in the Middle Ages, and it was exacerbated by the presence of multiple people named Patricius (and similar names), and by the constant “church planting” of early Irish missionaries. So what you’re seeing in Glasgow is not surprising at all.

      Btw, if you’re worried about Latin Rite vs. Celtic (though it’s Gallican Rite, really), you should realize that “history by genealogy” is exactly the sort of thing that _is_ Celtic. The Irish, Scots, Picts, Cymry, et al all have symbolic genealogy galore. (This is not to say that other Indo-European peoples don’t have similar stuff, but it’s usually being symbolic about kings’ allies. It doesn’t generally extend to the genealogy of monastery founders to each other!) And of course, a lot of it turns out to be true after all, or true in some kind of blood-brother spiritual adoption sort of way.

      With the way Celtic cultures sometimes saw things, it wouldn’t surprise me if some old lady abbess came over to help St. Patrick found/direct female monasticism in Ireland, and the locals had promptly started calling her Patrick’s mother, and all the others her children too. It would have gone along very nicely with the Irish ideas of sovereignty coming through women. The whole culture of memorization of genealogies to figure out where people stood, would have encouraged this sort of viewing of monastic relationship as if it were genetic inheritance. It goes along with abbots and abbesses calling the members of their monasteries their children.

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