History of the town Bonaven, or Bononia

Rev. William Fleming
History of the town Bonaven, or Bononia

The ancient records of Bononia, or Boulogne-sur-Mer, date back to about half a century before Christ—to the time when Julius Cæsar, anticipating Napoleon the Great, stood on the north-eastern cliffs of that town gazing through the Channel mist on the dim outline of that Britain which he had resolved to subjugate.

At that period two headlands stretched out into the sea for a distance of three miles—one on the north-eastern side of the town, near to what is now known as Fort la Crèsche; and the other from Cape Alpreck, about three miles lower down on the south-western coast. These headlands, stretching out into the sea, so encircled a bay as to form it into an outward haven.

The inner harbour of Boulogne was approached by a narrow channel dividing the north-eastern from the south-western cliffs; and the waters of the bay, flowing through it and uniting with the River Liane in covering the present site of the lower town, rushed onwards as far as the valley of Tintelleries and the vale of St. Martin.

Facing the site of the present town there was an island called Elna, and on it was built the ancient town of Gessoriac, which was connected with the mainland by a bridge.

Realising the future importance of the place both for naval and military purposes, Cæsar commissioned Pedius, a native of Bononia, in Italy, to lay out a town on the declivity of the Grande Rue, leading to Haute Ville, as the upper town and the hill leading to it are called at the present day. (Bertrand’s “History of Boulogne-sur-Mer,” pp. 17, 18. “Walkernaer’s Geography,” vol. i., p. 454).

The walls of the present fortifications of Haute Ville, built in the thirteenth century, rest on the ancient foundations of the old Roman encampment.

This fact was proved at the time when a tunnelling was made for the railway from Boulogne to Calais under Haute Ville (“Dictionnaire Historique et Archeologique du Pas de Calais,” vol. 1, p. 22).

The circuit of the present fortifications, about 700 yards square, present to-day the appearance of the old Roman encampment.

“The camp of a Roman legion,” writes Gibbon, “presented all the appearance of a fortified city. As soon as the place was marked out, the pioneers carefully levelled the ground and removed every impediment that might interrupt its perfect regularity. It forms an exact quadrangle, and we might calculate that a square of 700 yards was sufficient for the encampment of 20,000 Romans, though a similar number of our troops would expose to an enemy a front of more than treble its extent. In the midst of the camp the pretorium, or general’s quarters, rose above the others; the cavalry, the infantry, and the auxiliaries occupied their respective stations; the streets were broad and straight, and a vacant of 200 feet was left on all sides between the tents and the ramparts. The rampart itself was usually twelve feet high, and defended by a ditch twelve feet in depth, as well as in breadth. This important labour was performed by the legionaries themselves, to whom the use of the spade and the pick-axe was no less familiar than the sword and the pilum” (“Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” vol. 1., p. 27.)

This gives a faithful description of the Roman encampment (Castra Stativa) at Boulogne, which is described by St. Patrick as Bonaven Taberniæ, or Bononia, where the Roman encampment was pitched.

Bononia, according to Bertrand’s “History of Boulogne,” was regarded by the Romans as their “principal dockyard” in Northern Gaul; and Suetonius, in his “Lives of the Twelve Cæsars,” describes it “as the port from which the Roman legions successively departed for Britain” (p. 283, note).

Many err in supposing that Gessoriac and Bononia were one and the same town, originally called Gessoriac, and later, that is to say during the reign of Constantine the Great, known as Bononia. It is true, however, that during that Emperor’s reign Gessoriac also came to be called Bononia.

It is well to observe that the Morini, or inhabitants of the coast in the neighbourhood of Boulogne, were converted to Christianity by St. Firmin about the close of the second century; and that St. Fusian built a chapel on the banks of the River Liane, which flows through Boulogne, in the year 275.

St. Patrick, in his “Confession,” represents himself and the fellow-citizens of his youth as Christians who had not observed the Commandments of God, and who had not been obedient to their priests.

At that time the Northern Britons were pagans; St. Ninian, who flourished about the year 400, was the first missioner who preached the Gospel to the Dalraida and Southern Picts.

They could not, therefore, have been described in the year 388, when St. Patrick was made captive, as Christians who had ceased to practise their religion.

“I knew not the real God,” writes St. Patrick, “and I was brought captive to Ireland with many thousand men, as we deserved, for we had forgotten God and had not kept His Commandments, and were disobedient to our priests, who admonished us for our salvation. And the Lord brought down upon us the anger of His Spirit, and scattered us amongst many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where now my humble self may be witnessed among strangers” (“Confession”).

Boulogne-sur-Mer: St. Patrick's Native Town - Paperback Edition

Boulogne-sur-Mer: St. Patrick's Native Town - Kindle Edition

St. Patrick’s Birthplace: A Summary of Proofs that the Apostle of Ireland was a Native of Boulogne-sur-Mer, France - Paperback Edition

St. Patrick’s Birthplace: A Summary of Proofs that the Apostle of Ireland was a Native of Boulogne-sur-Mer, France - Kindle Edition

The Epistles and Hymn of Saint Patrick, with the Poem of Secundinus, translated into English - Paperback Edition

The Epistles and Hymn of Saint Patrick, with the Poem of Secundinus, translated into English - Kindle Edition