Saint Josse (traditionally 600–668), to give him the French name by which he is most recognizable, or Saint Judoc in Breton,[1] was a seventh-century Breton noble[2] who sought the protection of Aymon, a predecessor of the counts of Ponthieu, to live as a hermit and renounce the crown of Brittany, in a place then called either Sidraga or Schaderias or Runiacum,[3] located in the coastal forest near the mouth of the River Canche. He travelled to Rome along the via Francigena, returning safely shortly before his death.

Saint Josse, never formally canonised, developed a local cultus. The Abbey of Saint-Josse, beginning as a small monastery on the site of his retreat, was built in the eighth century at the place where Josse's shrine was kept. In 903, some monks of the abbey, fleeing the Norman raiders, took refuge in England, bearing his relics. The tradition of the New Minster of Hyde at Winchester (founded 901), was that the relics were translated there, and the date was commemorated annually, 9 January.[4]

From England, the veneration of Saint Josse spread, through the Low Countries, Germany and Scandinavia, regions where variations of Josse, Joos, Joost, and the diminutive Jocelyn,[5] etc. became popular names and chapels and churches were dedicated to him. The mal Saint Josse was the term for the ills resulting from snakebite, against which the saint's name was invoked by the fifteenth-century French poet Eustache Deschamps in an imprecatory ballade:[6] "...Du mau saint Leu, de l'esvertin, Du saint Josse et saint Matelin... soit maistre Mahieu confondus!".[7] According to Alban Butler, the abbey was given by Charlemagne to Alcuin and functioned as a hostel for those crossing the English Channel; it became a centre of pilgrimage, especially popular with Flemish and Germans in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

La vie de Saint Josse was written in Old French verses by the learned and competent poet and translator Pierre de Beauvais in the thirteenth century.[8]

The Suaire de St-Josse, the "Shroud of Saint Josse " that is now conserved in the Musée du Louvre is a rich silk samite saddle cloth that was woven in northeastern Iran, some time before 961, which was used to wrap the bones of Saint Josse when he was reinterred in 1134.[9]

The abbey was closed in 1772, sold and then dismantled in 1789, leaving no traces of the monumental buildings; the abbey church became the parish church of the French commune of Saint-Josse.

Saint Josse has his feast-day on 13 December.


  1. Alban Butler, (Michael Walsh, ed.) Butler's Lives of the Saints (1991) s.v. "December 13: St Judoc, or Josse (AD 688)".
  2. The Breton genealogist Fr. Augustin du Paz, (du Paz, Histoire généalogique de plusieurs maisons illustres de Bretagne, Paris, 1619) states that Conan I de Rennes, count of Brittany had a son Juthael; Alban Butler, following the twelfth-century Ecclesiastical History (iii) of Orderic Vitalis ("Beatus Iudocus Iuthail regis Britonum filius et frater Iudicail regis"), states "Judoc was a son of Juthaël, King of Armorica (Brittany), and brother of that Judicaël who had a cult in the Diocese of Quimper", whom Orderic would make king of the "Britons" after his father.
  3. Butler 1991 gives "Runiacum".
  4. Butler 1991.
  5. Chaucer's Wife of Bath swears "by God and by Seint Joce"
  6. S.V. Spilsbury, "The imprecatory ballade: a fifteenth-century poetic genre", French Studies 33.4 (1979:385-396).
  7. Among a host of ills wished upon Master Matthew, Eustache wishes "the ill of Saint Leu, a spell of madness, those of Saint Josse and Saint Matelin..." (Eustache Deschamps, Oeuvres complètes DCCCVI ((Paris 1884) vol. 4, p. 321).
  8. Pierre de Beauvais, Nils-Olof Jönsson, tr. La vie de Saint Germer et la vie de Saint Josse de Pierre de Beauvais: Deux poèmes du XIIIe siècle (University of Lund) 1997. Jönsson's introductory notes offer good introductions both to Saint Josse and Pierre de Beauvais.
  9. M. Bernus, H. Marchal, and G. Vial, "Le Suaire de St-Josse", Bulletin de Liaison du Centre International d'Études des Textiles Anciens 33 (1971:1-57).

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