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July 6, 2005

Saint Yves and Saint Hervé – Part 1

Wile E. Delaplaine

Yves and Hervé are arguably the two most famous and most popular saints of Brittany (Northwestern France). They have equally fascinating yet quite dissimilar stories, and as for their whereabouts today, that too is curious and equally dissimilar.

St. Yves

The most popular of the numerous Breton saints, Yves is known officially as St. Yves of Tréguier, the patron saint of judges and lawyers. To the Bretons, he is St. Erwan, who also looks out for mariners. Yves was born Yves Hélori de Kermartin in 1253. After receiving formal education in theology and law in Paris and Orleans, he returned to the Duchy of Brittany where he became a priest with clerical dominion over a region called Tredrez.

As was common in the Middle Ages, this dominion granted to Yves the power of canonical judge over the region. He chose to add to his commitment the burden of being a lawyer, representing both rich and poor clients alike. Defying the morality and custom of that era, he defended poor clients for free, even pressuring others to reduce their fees.

What really set attorney Yves apart were his objectivity, lack of corruption and the way he kept personal bias out of his cases. To him is attributed the Latin, “Advocatus erat sed non latro, res miranda populo!' Or, “This was a lawyer who was not a thief, a thing of wonder to the people.”

He was even more highly respected as a judge. Statues place him between rich and poor applicants before the court. He enjoyed a widespread reputation for scrupulous impartiality at a time when any degree of fairness, especially toward the lower classes, was virtually unknown, really rare.

Yves’ works of charity are legendary, beginning with two orphans he took on while still in his twenties. Among the various anecdotes about this part of his life, the most famous deals with a horse given him by a sympathetic bishop. Before the donor was very far up the road, the generous gift was sold and the proceeds distributed among the needy.

By the way, the future saint emphasized his humility by refusing to ride. He walked everywhere even on days he gave four sermons to four different churches, which was routine for him.

As for miracles, that absolute necessity for sainthood, Yves was certainly no slouch. Let me merely mention mundane wonders such as the stretching of bread to feed the masses. We will cut to the chase: resurrections.

While fellow Bretons received elevation to the Christian pantheon with merely one or two, documents still considered authentic today contain testimonies that Yves brought back to life no fewer than 18 men and women declared dead. The documents and their evidence were cited at his canonization, in 1330.

But where is St. Yves today?

The short answer is that he – or his skull at least – is in the Cathedral of Tréguier in Brittany. As you can see from the photo his skull is in a lovely gilded box, on display at his tomb inside the stately basilica, near its center. The rest of his bones may or not be in the tomb; some say that the remaining relics were taken to Rome. The literature I have come across is filled with contradictions on this point.

In seeking a satisfactory answer to “where is St. Yves,” two details should be taken into consideration.

First, I must mention the pilgrimage and festival of St. Yves held yearly in Tréguier on May 19. More than 10,000 pilgrims from around the world flocked around the cathedral in 2003, the 700th anniversary of his death. Battalions of American Catholic attorneys traveled over from the states to receive the traditional blessing given once a year during the rites that mark his passing from earth to heaven.

St. Yves, or at least that gilded box with his skull inside, is marched around the cathedral, from where legal professionals and litigants (and mariners) alike kneel, their heads bowed for benediction from their patron. His blessing is bestowed on law professionals and litigants (and mariners) alike.

Let me quote lines from separate prayers offered to the saint on that occasion.

Litigants beseech: “…give a good lawyer and defender, inspire him as well as my judges and also my adversaries, so as to obtain justice and peace, and if possible reconciliation.” While legal professionals say: “(St. Yves), the Patron Saint of lawyers and men of law, we pray to you for those who have the heavy mission to render justice and we pray to you also for all the victims of injustice under all its forms.”

Secondly, St. Yves is one of the few Breton saints officially recognized by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. It seems that there are over 800 Breton “saints” whose holiness has not been recognized by Rome.

So, if you are a Catholic, you are lead to believe that St. Yves of Tréguier is in paradise with God, St. Peter, and the rest of the family, including – we are assured – the recently departed Pope John Paul II.

Tomorrow: St. Hervé.


Links used for reference which should be acknowledged:

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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