Reprinted from Newsletter 90, dated 1999 February

St Patrick’s Somerset birthplace

Adrian Pearse

A talk by Harry Jelley

In response to the question “Was St. Patrick born in Somerset?” Harry Jelley argued that his study of manuscript sources, placenames and archaeology provided a positive answer.

Plentiful evidence exists to show that Romano-British society in Somerset declined only gradually after the Roman withdrawal in 410. The records of Palladius, sent to Britain in 431, indicate that there was also a Christian community. Patrick, born in the early fifth century, states in his autobiographical Confessio that his father had lived near BANNAVEM TABERNIAE.

Mr Jelley explained how this could be a corruption of BANNAVENTA BERNIAE. By examining the component elements of this name and referring to placename research he had reached the not-unreasonable conclusion that the location of this site was at Banwell, where an area of Roman habitation had been discovered.

He also argued that an earthen bank in the form of a cross in woods near Banwell represents a monument to Patrick’s birth — Glastonbury Abbey had claimed Patrick’s burial by the 1150s. However, there was little evidence to support this theory and the structure was probably a rabbit warren.

Although it will probably never be possible to prove either claim, Mr Jelley has made an interesting foray into this most obscure of periods and those interested can follow the arguments in detail in his book on the subject.