Saint Yves and Saint Hervé – Part 2
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.
“O St. Hervé, blessed saint of the sick and over sickness, protect us and our horses.” - Supplication to St. Hervé.
Hervé is well known in Brittany as St. Hervé or Saint Houarniaule, the Patron Saint of Bards and Musicians. He is perhaps better known as one of the veterinarian saints, as his name is invoked to cure horses and perhaps animals of all kinds. He is arguably the second most popular of the numerous Breton saints.
Hervé was born in the Celtic Brittany town of Guimileau in 521 A.D. This tiny town of Gimiliau owes its name to its patron saint and founder, St. Miliau, the good and pious prince, a descendant of the kings of Brittany who was decapitated in 792 by order of his brother.
The legend of Hervé’s divine birth is as follows. Hervé’s father, Hyvarnion, a renowned bard – but a pious and chaste man – decided to dedicate his life to God after quitting a Breton royal court where he had been summoned to play.
An angel comes to him in a dream, and to his chagrin, this angel tells him that he will meet Rivanone whom he is to wed and that they will father a child, a great servant of God.
He meets Rivanone the next day as prophesied and they marry and quickly do God’s bidding. Neither Rivanone nor Hyvarnion is too keen to live together, both preferring to get back to their pre-vision lives, and the day after the marriage Rivanone says to Hyvarnion, "If I have a son, I ask God almighty that he never see the false and untrustworthy light of this world."
Hyvarnion, having only one minor objection, responds: "Yes, but that he have a least the vision of the celestial splendors.”
And there you have it. Hervé is born, and is, naturally, blind, but blessed with heavenly visions.
Hervé with his trusty disciple, Guiharan, locates near the town of Plouvien, living a pious and quiet life of a hermit. He is, as his father, also a bard, and sings of these beautiful visions. God grants him certain powers, mostly curative, over animals. He is often shown in sculpture and in paintings with Guiharan but also with his faithful wolf. This wolf, it is said, killed and ate Hervé's beast of burden. To the astonishment of Guiharan, Hervé commands this wolf, in perhaps one of Hervés more impressive miracles, to take the place of the slain donkey.
Known for his piety as well as his visions and heavenly gifts, Hervé is soon joined by more disciples. He is offered, but obstinately refuses, any priestly ordination and their earthly dominions, owing to humility, accepting only to be ordained as an exorcist.
His pious and joyful life there continues just to the time of his final corporal miracle. In 556, on his deathbed, his niece asks to be able to join him in paradise. A short time later as he dies, she leaps to his side, clutching his legs. Hervé, one assumes, grants her wish, as she falls dead in the same instance.
But where is he today?
The short answer is that there is no short answer. I will however attempt a two-part response.
First as to his corporal remains: Hervé was buried in the Breton town of Lanhouarneau after his death in 556. In 878, however, fearing the pesky Normans just to the east might steal his bones, Hervé was exhumed, and his bones were moved to a chapel of a castle in Brest.
In 1002 Hervé was on the move again, his remains having been placed in a silver relics box and given to the Bishop of Nantes by the Breton Duke Geoffroy*. (The Duke died in 1008, supposedly by being hit by a stone. The story goes that an area woman became irate when one of the Dukes falcons made off with one of her chickens inspiring her to throw the lethal rock.)
During or just after the French Revolution of 1787, which temporarily disbanded the Roman Catholic Church in France, Hervé’s bones were lost – or more likely stolen.
Secondly, as to Hervé’s spiritual presence: Perhaps miracles were truly plentiful on the Breton peninsula, and Rome was jealous, or perhaps the Catholic Celts there were just a little too imaginative, but the official church hierarchy does not recognize Hervé as a valid Roman Catholic saint.
He is, however, in very good company; it seems that there are over 800 Breton “saints” in the same predicament. So, if you are a faithful and pious Catholic, don’t assume that upon your passing that you are assured to see to a sighted and winged Hervé greeting you at the pearly gates, singing the praises of Heaven, for he may very well still be in purgatory or below with the rest of us.
I’m not going to say he can’t still help to cure your horse… Bones or no bones, there is the Chapel of St. Hervé near the town of Gourin, which celebrates a St. Hervé pilgrimage, and the water of the fountain there, it is said, will “remove from horses any evil or illness.”
And at the chapel near Langoelan, the pilgrimage and festival of St. Hervé is held on the 3rd Sunday of each July. It is said that before WWII, pilgrims would bring between 500 and 700 horses to receive Hervé’s blessing.
Links used for reference which should be acknowledged: