Died 575 AD.. Saint Herve is venerated throughout Brittany but we have
few reliable particulars on him--his life was not written until the late
medieval period. All we really know is that he was a hermit in Brittany,
where he is still highly venerated and where Herve is one of the most
popular names for boys.
The story goes that a young British bard named Hyvarnion, a pupil of
Saint Cadoc, lived at the court of Childebert, king of the Franks. After
four years, desiring to return to his native land, he set off through
Brittany, where one day, riding through a wood, he heard a young girl
singing. The sweetness of her voice made him curious and, dismounting
from his horse, he made his way through the trees to where in a sunny
glade he found a maiden gathering herbs. He asked her what they were
drives away sadness, that one banishes blindness, and I
look for the herb of life that drives away death.
his homeward journey, in that hour loved her, and later he married her.
After three years they had a son who was born blind, and in their sorrow
they called him Herve, which means bitterness. When he was two years
old, his father died, and the mother, Rivanon, and child were left poor
and friendless. In her grief she sang to him and he grew up to love
poetry and music. When Herve was seven, Rivanon gave him into the care
of a holy man named Arthian and she became a hermit. The child wandered
about the countryside singing and begging, led by a white dog which he
held on a string. To this day the Bretons sing a ballad of the blind
child, led by his dog, singing as he shivered in the wind and the rain,
with no shoes on his bare feet, his teeth chattering with the cold.
At age 14, with his mother's approval, he sought out an uncle who was a
hermit and kept a monastic school in the forest at Plouvien. His uncle
welcomed him, and soon Herve excelled in knowledge beyond all his other
pupils. On his uncle's death, he became abbot. Every morning the
children gathered to be taught by their blind master, and every evening
like a swarm of bees issuing from a hollow oak.
instructed them in music and poetry, and, above all, in the Christian
way of life.
When you wake up in bed,
offer your hearts to the good God,
make the sign of the Cross and say with faith and hope and love, 'I give
You my heart, my body and my soul. Make me a good man.' When you see a
crow fly, think of the devil, black and evil. When you see a dove fly,
think of your angel, gentle and white. Think of God, as the sun makes
the wild roses bloom on the mountains. In the evening, before going to
bed, say your prayers that a white angel may come from heaven and watch
you till the dawn. This is the true way to live as Christians. Practice
my song, and you will lead holy lives.
In addition to teaching, Herve worked the fields near the school. He was
venerated for his holiness and his miracles. One day a wolf ate the
donkey with which he was ploughing the fields. The young child who was
Herve's guide cried out in fear, but at Herve's prayers, the wolf put
himself into the donkey's harness and finished the work to be done.
Later he decided to move the community to Leon. There the bishop wanted
to ordain him priest, but Herve humbly declined. Thus, although he was
never a priest, Herve is said to have participated in the solemn
anathematizing of the tyrannical ruler Conomor, c. 550. From Leon the
holy group travelled west. Beside the road to Lesneven is the fountain
of Saint Herve, which he is said to have caused to flow to satisfy the
thirst of his companions. Finally, they settled and Herve built a
monastery at Lanhouarneau in Finistere, which earned a great reputation.
Coming out from his monastery, where he lived for the rest of his life,
Herve would travel forth periodically to preach or act as exorcist. He
was no longer led by a white dog, but by his little niece, Kristine, who
lived near him in a cottage of thatch and wattle built for her by the
monks, and who, gay as a fairy, sang to him as she gathered flowers for
the altar. When he came to die, he said to her:
Tina, my dear, make my
bed ready, but make it not as is wont. Make it on the hard earth, before
the altar, at the feet of Jesus. Place a stone for my bolster, and strew
my bed with ashes.
Weeping, she carried out his wish, and said:
follow in due course, as the boat follows the ship.
As his monks watched at his deathbed, they were said to have heard the
music of the heavenly choirs welcoming him to heaven. So died the blind
Breton saint, who had taught in the school in the forest, and who all
his life, despite his blindness, had given glory to God.
Until the French Revolution, a chapel (now destroyed) near Cleder in
Finistere possessed a most unusual relics: the cradle in which Saint
Herve had been rocked
In art, Saint Herveus is a blind abbot telling frogs to be quiet or
being led by a wolf
or his child guide. He is invoked against
Breton mothers threaten their mischievous
children with his wolf
Image of St Herve
St Hervé is thought to be the composer of the popular and moving
(an hymn to paradise) often sung at funerals. To listen to
Troparion of St Herve Tone l
O Herve, thou minstrel and teacher of the Faith,/ thy sweet voice
enlightened the darkness though thou wast born without the gift of
sight./ Pray that the light of Christ may ever dispel the new pagan
darkness from our lands,/ that God may be glorified.