Thursday, 24 March 2016

Saint Patrick's Aunt

We have seen that Jocelin's Life of Saint Patrick provided our patron with an extended family, with an emphasis not on the line of the father and grandfather named in Saint Patrick's own writings but on the matrilineal. In the opening chapter of his Life, Jocelin introduces not only the French mother of Saint Patrick but her unnamed sister who is to play a part in the saint's childhood. Both of these women are depicted as having been brought to Britain as slaves, but Conchessa rises above this station to marry Patrick's father:
THERE was once a man named Calphurnius, the son of Potitus, a presbyter, by nation a Briton, living in the village Taburnia (that is, the field of the tents, for that the Roman army had there pitched their tents), near the town of Empthor, and his habitation was nigh unto the Irish Sea. This man married a French damsel named Conchessa, niece of the blessed Martin, Archbishop of Tours; and the damsel was elegant in her form and in her manners, for, having been brought from France with her elder sister into the northern parts of Britain, and there sold at the command of her father, Calphurnius, being pleased with her manners, charmed with her attentions, and attracted with her beauty, very much loved her, and, from the state of a serving-maid in his household, raised her to be his companion in wedlock. And her sister, having been delivered unto another man, lived in the aforementioned town of Empthor. (Chapter I, p.135)
As we saw yesterday, the anonymous aunt is actively involved in the care of her nephew Patrick and his sister Lupita:
And Patrick, the child of the Lord, was then nursed in the town of Empthor, in the house of his mother's sister, with his own sister Lupita. (Chapter IV, p.138)
Auntie is also depicted as being involved in agriculture and in the episode below she falsely accuses her nephew of being negligent in his duties as a shepherd. In true hagiographical style our saint patiently bears the injustice and by his faith is able to vindicate himself:
WHILE Saint Patrick was a little boy, his aunt entrusted him with the care of the sheep, and to these he diligently attended with his aforementioned sister. ...But as the boy Patrick was one day in the fields with his flock, a wolf, rushing from the neighboring wood, caught up a ewe-lamb, and carried it away. Returning home at evening from the fold, his aunt chided the boy for negligence or for sloth; yet he, though blushing at the reproof, patiently bore all her anger, and poured forth his prayers for the restoration of the ewe-lamb. In the next morning, when he brought the flock to the pasture, the wolf ran up, carrying the lamb in his mouth, laid it at Patrick's feet, and instantly returned to the wood. And the boy gave thanks to the Lord, who, as he preserved Daniel from the hungry lions, so now for his comfort had saved his lamb uninjured from the jaws of the wolf. (Chapter VIII, p.142-143)
In a second episode involving the young Patrick and his aunt's livestock, she is presumably rather happier that he is on hand to deal with an outbreak of mad cow disease:
THE aunt who had nursed Saint Patrick had many cows, one of which was tormented with an evil spirit; and immediately the cow became mad, and tore with her feet, and butted with her horns, and wounded five other cows, and dispersed the rest of the herd. And the owners of the herd lamented the mishap, and the cattle fled from her fury as from the face of a lion. But the boy Patrick, being armed with faith, went forward, and, making the sign of the cross, freed the cow from the vexation of the evil spirit; then drawing near to the wounded and prostrate cows, having first prayed, he blessed them and restored them all even to their former health. And the cow, being released from the evil spirit, well knowing her deliverer, approached with bended head, licking the feet and the hands of the boy, and turned every beholder to the praise of God and the veneration of Patrick. (Chapter IX, p.143-144).
Overall, I am left with the impression that although the aunt remains anonymous she is nonetheless an important part of the extended family supplied by Jocelin for Saint Patrick. And with her 'many' cows she also appears to have been of some means. It leaves me wondering therefore, why the writer was unable to furnish a name for her.

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