Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Saints Yvi, David and Non in Brittany

Saint-David (Dewi-Sant) is the patron saint of Wales, but he is also revered in Brittany where he is called Saint-Divy or Yvi or Ivy. He lived in the 5-6th centuries. His mother, Saint-Non, was raped and Saint-David was born where 
Saint-Non's chapel stands today.
Non baptises David, Dirinon (Brittany)
Saint-Non may have left for Brittany soon after. The stained glass in the Church of Saint-Non in Dirinon (St. Non's oaks) pictures a scene where she prays for water to baptise David. Non's well and St David's cradle (where the rock melted to hold the infant David) are carefully preserved at the site in Dirinon. Nearby, Lannon and Lesnon also indicate a connexion with Saint-Non. Several miles away there is the church (and commune) of Saint-Divy which has had a long association with Saint-David and features a 17th century painting wood panel narrating episodes from his life.
Non's well, Dirinon
These associations, however deeply rooted they seem, may be no more than than a collection of oral traditions and myths which made their way from Wales to Brittany in the Middle Ages. It's an old problem, which came first: saints, place names or cults?

This brings us to Saint Yvi (or Yvy, or Ivy). At one time it was thought that this Yvi was connected with Divy (or Dewi). It would be a fascinating and useful link because it would furnish us for explanations of Pontivy, Loguivy and, of course, Saint-Yvi.
Saint-Yvi / Ivy, Pontivy
Instead we have the possibility of a rather more obscure (and very late) 7th century Celtic monk from Lindisfarne (ordained by St. Cuthbert) who built a small chapel or monastery and a bridge in a small town now known as Pontivy, with other centres in Saint-Yvi (near Quimper) and Saint-Divy (near Brest). This would make our new Saint-Yvi one of the last saints (perhaps the very last) to migrate from Britain to Brittany. 
But I think the answer is that we just don't know because the historical truth behind so many of these saints' stories is impossible to separate from the myth.

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