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The Serpent's Tale (History)
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Hatty
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In: Berkshire
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Hatty wrote:
St Yves /Ives is said to mean 'St Yew' (etymologists claim yves = ivo, if in French). Yet the association between yew and saint is relatively recent, in the Breton canon anyway

- Sant Erwan (Yves in french)
- Santez Anna (St Ann)

The 1st one, Erwan Helouri, a priest and lawyer from Landreger (Tréguier in french), was the 1st breton saint ever canonized by Rome. A few decades after his death (14th century) he had gained a massive worship throughout Brittany, even supplanting older saints (like Eozen) in most places. He was proclaimed the patron of Brittany by the Duke Yann IV. He is also the patron of lawyers. His "pardon" (May the 19th) between Ar Vinic'hi and Landreger still has a great audience.

Lawyers is interesting, the church had great need (indeed a monopoly) of them.

St Ann is even more recent though efforts have been made to establish an older pedigree. St Yves, or Erwan, is more Breton-sounding.

The 2nd one is a biblic character, she's St Mary's mother (and Jesus Christ's grandmother). The modern form of her worship dates back to the 17th century, when a peasant from An Alre named Yvon Nikolazig found a statue of her while ploughing his field, and had visions charging him to build a chapel to give her shelter. In the context of Catholic counter revolution of that period, church authorities magnified that event so as to settle Brittany as a kind of grandmother of Christian faith. Recently some said her success may have something to to with recollections of ancient goddess (D)an(n)a. Her "pardon" (August the 25th) in Santez Anna Wened (Sainte Anne d'Auray) still have a massive audience.

With Brittany vanishing as an autonomous province, as a result of French revolution, neither worship kept its national dimension. It is mainly among exiles that celebrating a patron of Brittany recurred, about one century ago. Since then, Sant Erwan has been clearly preferred over Santez Anna. Its feast in Paris Roman amphitheatre is famous. That is why a few years ago, when St Patrick's day started to be widely celebrated in mainland Europe, Breton cultural organisations joined the mostly religious Sant Erwan feast to give it feast a greater weight, under the name "Gouel Erwan / Fest'Yves"

St Erwan was canonised in 1347 by the (French) pope, Clement VI.

French etymologists seem unsure about Erwan. It could be Celtic meaning 'dragon' but perhaps the root is Germanic, whence 'yvo'.
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aurelius



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A potential association between yew, dragon and saint - so good, you named it twice!

(with apologies to Gerard Kenny)
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Mick Harper
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In: London
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One for Aurelius to follow up. Not that it will be in the least reliable but you should be able to see the wood for the trees. My old alma mater too. The shame.

Jessica Treacher‏ @JessicaTreacher
Arboreous Anglo-Saxons! My PhD considers how trees are represented in English place-names and what this can tell us about the Early Medieval management and exploitation of trees.
https://twitter.com/UoNCSVA
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Ishmael


In: Toronto
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a peasant from An Alre named Yvon Nikolazig found a statue of her while ploughing his field, and had visions charging him to build a chapel to give her shelter.


Just an aside...

Does this strike anyone as eerily similar to the story told of the Sphinx, which was similarly dug up (out of sand) in association with a vision.

Aren't there also a number of stories exactly like this one where statues were dug up by farmers and then venerated?
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Hatty
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In: Berkshire
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A post on yew branches used in a 'topping ceremony' in East Devon, from the excellent Folklore Frontiers, caught my eye.

According to the director of the project, "this age-old tradition of topping out is said to bestow good luck." and is intended to ward off evil spirits.

Dating back to pagan days, the topping out ritual has been observed by builders for many centuries. Architect William of Wykeham attended one of the earliest ceremonies on 28 March 1393 for the Winchester School, while English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who died in 1400, referred to topping out ceremonies in his writing.

In the 14th century, it was customary to put a yew tree branch at the highest point of the building to keep evil spirits at bay. Today, ceremony organisers continue this long-held tradition using sprig of yew or, more sustainably, by presenting an evergreen sapling, to be planted in the landscape.

Medieval records show that the personal flag of the structure’s owner would be hoisted to the top of the building once the shell was complete. According to other historical documents, a weathercock or vane was placed at the summit.

While constructing great mansions, builders would fly coloured flags from the roof to show they needed more materials. Different colours were used to represent stone, brick and timber.

Weathervanes are often added to church towers, presumably because for centuries they were the highest buildings, and we've come across them in witch- and devil-related lore. Yew trees are associated with churchyards and seen as symbols of immortality and general paganness. Stringing up evergreen branches, not necessarily yew, is reminiscent of May Day parades and popularly supposed to be fertility symbols and merry-making rather than protection against evil.
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Mick Harper
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Here's an interesting tweet for all kinds of reasons

Ireland’s west county Mayo derives its name from ‘Maigh Eo na Sacsan’ (Plain of Yew of the English), from an early medieval monastery.
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Hatty
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In: Berkshire
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According to an article in The Irish Examiner, there are no yew trees in Ireland older than 700 - 800 years. If the assumption that yews predate churches is accepted, the dating of Mayo Abbey (7th or 8th century) is out by about five hundred years.

The English connection seems to be borne out by etymologists

Recorded as Mayhow, Mayhew, Mayo, Mayhou, Mayho, Mayow and others, this is an English surname but of either Hebrew or French origins. It is a nickname form of the very popular medieval personal name Matthew, but probably through the Norman-French pre 9th century version of Mahieu.

In Spanish (and Portuguese) majo means pleasant, agreeable, nice, etc.
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