Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Yvo, Confessor

[Saint Ivo of Kermartin]Article

A.D. 1353

Saint Yvo Helori, or son of Helor, descended from a noble and virtuous family near Treguier in Brittany, was born in 1253. He studied grammar at home with unusual application and success, and at fourteen years of age was sent to Paris, where he learned the liberal arts and divinity: he applied himself to the civil and canon law at Orleans. His mother was wont frequently to say to him that he ought so to live as became a saint, to which his answer always was, that he hoped to be one. This resolution took deep root in his soul, and the impression of this obligation was in his heart a continual spur to virtue, and a check against the least shadow of any dangerous course. The contagious example of many loose companions at school served only to inspire him with the greater horror of evil, and moved him to arm himself more vigorously against it. The gravity of his behaviour reclaimed many from their vicious courses. His time was chiefly divided between study and prayer; and for his recreation he visited the hospitals, where he attended the sick with great charity, and comforted them under the severe trials of their suffering condition. During his ten years’ stay at Paris, whither he was sent at fourteen years of age, and where he went through a course of theology and canon law, he was the admiration of that university, both for the quickness of his parts and his extraordinary piety. He continued the same manner of life at Orleans, where he studied the decretals under the celebrated William de Blaye, afterwards bishop of Angouleme, and the institutions under Peter de la Chapelle, afterwards bishop of Toulouse and cardinal; but he increased his austerities and penance. He chastised his body with a hair shirt, always abstained from meat and wine; fasted all Lent and Advent and on many other days in the year on bread and water, and took his rest, which was always very short, lying on a mat or straw with a book or stone under his head for a pillow; and he never lay down till he was quite overpowered with sleep.

He made a private vow of perpetual chastity; but this not being known, many honourable matches were proposed to him, which he modestly rejected as incompatible with his studious life. He long deliberated with himself whether to embrace a religious or a clerical state; but the desire of serving his neighbour determined him at length in favour of the latter. He desired, indeed, out of humility, always to remain in the lesser orders; but his bishop compelled him to receive the priesthood, a step which cost him many tears; though he had qualified himself for that sacred dignity by the most perfect purity of mind and body, and by a long and fervent preparation. Maurice the archdeacon of Rennes, who was formerly by his office perpetual vicar of the bishop, appointed him official or ecclesiastical judge for that diocese. Saint Yvo protected the orphans and widows, defended the poor, and administered justice to all with an impartiality, application, and tenderness, which gained him the good will even of those who lost their causes. He never pronounced sentence without shedding many tears, always having before his eyes the tribunal of the Sovereign Judge, where he himself was one day to appear, and to stand silent at the bar.

Many bishops strove who should be so happy as to possess him: his own prelate, Alan le Bruc, bishop of Treguier, carried the point, and obliged him to leave Rennes. The saint by his care soon changed the face of this diocese, and reformed the clergy. The bad feared him, the good found in him a father, and the great ones respected him. Though himself a judge, in quality of official, he solicited causes in favour of the poor in other courts, pleaded them himself at the bar, and visited and comforted the prisoners. He was surnamed the advocate and lawyer of the poor. Once, not being able to reconcile a mother and a son who pleaded violently against each other, he went and offered up mass for them, and they immediately came to an agreement together. He never took a fee, but pleaded all causes without any gratuity. His bishop, Alan le Bruc, nominated him rector of Tresdretz, and eight years after his successor Geoffrey Tournemine of Lohanec, one of the most considerable parishes of the diocese, which he served ten years till his death. He always rose at midnight to matins, and said every day mass with incredible devotion and fervour. In his preparation he continued long prostrate, quite absorbed in the consideration of the abyss of his own nothingness, and of the awful majesty of him to whom he was going to offer sacrifice, and the sanctity of the victim. He usually rose bathed in tears, which continued to flow abundantly, during the whole time he was celebrating the divine mysteries. Upon accepting the first curacy he laid aside furs and every other ornament in dress which his former dignity obliged him to wear, and he ever after used the meanest and plainest ecclesiastical garments that could be worn. His fasts and austerities he rather increased than abated; fasting, as we observed already, Lent, Advent, and all vigils, and Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, every week, so severely as to allow himself no other refection than bread and water. On other days he only added to his meal a pottage of peas or other pulse or herbs, and on the principal festivals of the year, a couple of eggs. Tears trickled from his eyes whenever he spoke on spiritual things, which were the usual subject of his discourse: and such was the energy of his words as penetrated the souls of his hearers. He preached often in distant churches, besides his own, and sometimes thrice or five times on the same day. All differences were referred to him, and he took care to reconcile the parties. He built a house near his own for an hospital of the poor and sick; he washed their feet, cleansed their ulcers, served them at table, and ate himself only the scraps which they had left. He distributed his corn, or the price for which he sold it, among the poor immediately after the harvest. When a certain person endeavoured to persuade him to keep it some months that he might sell it at a better price, he answered: “I know not whether I shall be then alive to give it.” Another time the same person said to him: “I have gained a fifth by keeping my corn.” “But I,” replied the saint, “a hundred-fold by giving it immediately away.” On a certain occasion when he had only one loaf in his house he ordered it to be given to the poor; but upon his vicar’s complaint at this, he gave him one half of it, and divided the other half among the poor, reserving nothing for himself. Providence never failed him in his necessities. During the Lent in 1303, he perceived his strength daily to decay; yet far from abating anything in his austerities, he thought himself obliged to redouble his fervour in proportion as he advanced nearer to eternity. On the eve of the ascension he preached to his people, said mass, being upheld by two persons, and gave advice to all who addressed themselves to him. After this he lay down on his bed, which was a hurdle of twigs platted together, and received the last sacraments. From that moment he entertained himself with God alone till his soul went to possess him in his glory. His death happened on the 19th of May, 1303, in the fiftieth year of his age.

The greater part of his relics are kept in the cathedral of Treguier. Charles of Blois, duke of Brittany, placed a portion in the church of our Lady at Lamballe, capital of his county (now the duchy) of Penthievre. From another portion given to the abbey of our Saviour, of the Cistercian Order, small distributions have been made to Saint Peter’s at Louvain, to Mechlin, Gant, and other places. The Duke of Brittany, John of Montfort (competitor with Charles of Blois for that duchy, which after his death was carried by his valiant widow, and enjoyed by his son) went to Rome to solicit his canonization, declared that under a distemper being given over by physicians, he was restored to his health by imploring Saint Yvo’s intercession. Many other miracles were proved before the commissaries of John XXII. in 1330, and Saint Yvo was canonized by Clement VI in 1347. His festival is celebrated in the several diocesees in Brittany, and his name occurs in the Roman Martyrology on the 19th of May. The University of Nantes puts itself under the special protection of his patronage. The Bretons founded a collegiate church in his honour, at Paris, in 1348. The chapel of Kirmartin, where the saint lived, which was first dedicated under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin, now bears his name: a church in Rome and several others in other places are built in his honour.

Saint Yvo was a saint amidst the dangers of the world; but he preserved his virtue untainted only by arming himself carefully against them, by conversing assiduously with God in prayer and holy meditation, and by most watchfully shunning the snares of bad company. Without this precaution all the instructions of parents and all other means of virtue are ineffectual; and a soul is sure to split against this rock, which does not steer wide of it. God preserved Toby faithful amidst the Samaritan idolaters, and Lot in Sodom itself; but he will never protect those who voluntarily seek danger and court destruction. Who for pleasure or amusement would choose to live in a pest-house, continually to converse with persons infected with the plague, and to breathe an empoisoned air? The maxims both of reason and religion command us to fly from out of the midst of Babylon, that is, from the company of abandoned sinners, whose very conversation and deportment secretly spread a baneful influence over our minds.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Yvo, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 12 May 2013. Web. 23 April 2014. <>