19th May - St Yves, patron saint of Brittany

Written by Anne Newman· Saturday - 18th May 2019 updated May 2024

St. Ives, Cornwall, England

Appears to have nothing to do with St. Yves - St Ives takes its name from an Irish princess and missionary called St Ia. According to legend St Ia sailed from Ireland to Cornwall on a leaf in the 5th Century.

See more at Saint on a Leaf - Good books for young souls

St. Yves, or Ivo - "Advocate of the Poor"

Yves, or Ivo, was born on 17th October 1253, the son of noble parents Helori, Lord of Kermartin, and Azo du Kenquis. Poetically, he is referred to as "Advocate of the Poor".

The lessons his pious mother instilled in the heart of the boy through Christian training, preserved him amid the grave dangers to which he was exposed during his student years at Paris and Orleans.

In 1267 Ivo was sent to the University of Paris, where he graduated in civil law. Among his fellow-students were the scholars Duns Scotus and Roger Bacon. He then went to Orleans in 1277 to study canon law. He applied himself so diligently to his studies that his instructors and fellow students marvelled at his knowledge, but he was much more intent on acquiring virtue and piety. He drank no wine, and his pastime consisted in visiting the sick in the hospitals.

After he had completed his studies, Yves was assigned to the diocese of Rennes, and later his bishop appointed him judge of the church court of his native diocese of Treguier. Although Yves in his humility did not desire it or ask for it, the bishop of Treguier also ordained him a priest and entrusted him with a parish.

As judge, the young priest-lawyer always let justice hold sway without regard to persons, and the wisdom of his decisions was remarkable. He did not derive this wisdom only from his learning, but he prayed often and long for enlightenment. Before making grave decisions, he always said a Mass in honour of the Holy Ghost.

By preference he helped the poor, the widows, and the orphans to obtain justice, even when the duty of his office did not oblige him to help. As a son of St Francis, to whose Third Order he had been admitted, he felt particularly attracted to the poor.

Wise Judge

It’s said that even those on the losing side respected his decisions. Ivo also represented the helpless in other courts, paid their expenses and visited them in prison.

Although it was common to give judges “gifts,” Ivo refused bribes. He often helped disputing parties settle out of court so they could save money. His home was an open guest-house for the poor, the blind, the lame, and the helpless of the entire vicinity.

During a famine there were many documented miracles. A flour bin which a domestic had found empty was found filled when Yves himself went with the domestic to examine it. Once he fed two hundred hungry persons with seven loaves of bread; at another time he fed twenty-four persons with a small loaf.

Landscape with the preaching of Saint Ivo, by Lucas van Uden

St. Yves died on 19th May 1303. His body was entombed in the cathedral of Treguier. The finest eulogy was tendered him by the poor, who flocked thither in great numbers and raised such lamentations that all present were deeply touched.

Ivo is often represented with a purse in his right hand (for all the money he gave to the poor during his life) and a rolled paper in the other hand (for his charge as a judge).

Another popular representation of Ivo is between a rich man and a poor one. He is the patron of Brittany, lawyers and abandoned children.

Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza - St. Ivo at the University of Rome

In the 14th century, there was a chapel here for the palace of the University of Rome. The University is called La Sapienza, and the church was dedicated to Saint Ivo (or Yves, patron saint of jurists). When a design was commissioned from Borromini in the 17th century, he adapted to the already existing palazzo. He chose a plan resembling a star of David – which would have been recognized at the time as a Star of Solomon, symbolizing wisdom.