St. Joss? St. Joyce?

For years, I have assumed that “Joss” and “Jocelyn” were forms of the name “Joseph” or maybe of “Joshua.” But no!

Josse was the French form of the name of a saint from Brittany, St. Judoc. Jocelyn (a popular medieval name for men and women which occasionally makes a comeback) was the diminutive French (and English) form of Josse. And Joyce is another form of Josse and Jocelyn! Other forms of the name are Joss, Jost, Joost (in the Netherlands), Jobst, Uzec, Iudog (in Wales), Judocus or Jodocus (in Latin), and Jodok.

St. Judoc (circa 600-668) was a hermit monk of Brittany who moved out of Brittany, between Picardy and Normandy. His cell in Saint Josse-sur-Mer in Ponthieu became part of a monastery after his death. (And maybe before, because holy hermit monks attract disciples like flies.) Legend has it that he was the son of St. Judicael, the king of Brittany, but renounced the throne to live as a hermit. He was known to have traveled to Rome and gotten back safely (which was a good trick during the 600’s), and was said to have been ordained while there. When he died, his body was found to be incorruptible, to the point that it was said that his hair and beard continued to grow for many years.

St. Judoc was a pre-conciliar saint. His feast day is December 13. His name means “lord” in Breton (iudh = lord, -og/-oc = a common Celtic name ending meaning “little one,” “young one,” or just spinning a noun out longer with “one, person”).

When the Vikings invaded Brittany, the monks fled Saint Josse-sur-Mer in 901 and went to England. (There was a lot of back and forth between Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, and England because they were such near neighbors, and because Wales and Brittany’s languages were so close. But more importantly, St. Josse-sur-Mer was practically next door to Calais.) St. Judoc’s relics came with the monks and ended up placed at the New Minster at Winchester, a Benedictine monastery’s church. These monks were later moved to Hyde Abbey and took St. Judoc’s relics with them. (They also had King Alfred the Great’s body, relics of St. Barnabas, St. Valentine’s head, and St. Grimbald, their founding abbot. It’s nice to be a royal abbey.) Unfortunately Hyde Abbey wasn’t treated very well by Henry VIII and his successors, but they think they probably found his body back in the day. Nobody seems to know what happened to St. Judoc’s relics. Probably nothing good.

In 977, when the Vikings were out of the way, monks returned to St. Josse-sur-Mer and recovered some relics they hadn’t taken to England. St. Judoc became popular all across Europe, and the monastery became a pilgrimage site again. The monastery town is still around today, but it’s simply called “Saint-Josse.” The sea used to come right up to the village, when St. Judoc lived there, but now is four miles away. The abbey was closed in 1772 and destroyed in 1789, but people still do pilgrimages there. There’s a big procession on the Tuesday after Pentecost, all the way up to Bavemont Chapel on a calvary hill at Airon-Saint-Vaast. (This is in memory of St. Judoc giving sight to a blind girl, Juliule, on his return from Rome. Also, nobody wants to process on foot for 7 kilometers, close to the English Channel, in December.) St. Judoc’s reliquary is in the Saint-Josse village museum the rest of the year.

Some pieces of 10th century samite saddlecloth are currently at the Louvre. The saddlecloth is called “the Shroud of St. Josse.” It was made in Iran, with a woven inscription saying it was Abu Mansur Bakhtegin. Etienne-Henry de Blois apparently brought it back with him from the First Crusade. He must not have done well otherwise, as he got a reputation for cowardice. So he went back, and ended up getting killing at the Battle of Ramlah in 1101. In 1134, his son, Etienne de Blois (aka King Stephen of England – boo, hiss!) gave it to the monastery. (This took place a year before Henry I died and the Londoners named him king.) The samite is called “the Shroud of St. Josse” because the monks used it to wrap the French portion of St. Judoc’s bones when they reinterred him in that year. Here’s a page about it from the Louvre with some nice pictures.

Here’s an interesting exhibition catalog about stuff that escaped Henry VIII’s destruction of Hyde Abbey. It’s a good thing Stephen had some respect for St. Judoc, because his brother, Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester, burned Hyde Abbey in 1141 for being a supporter of Empress Matilda! (The Pope made him say he was sorry and make reparations.)

Not everybody whose name is Joyce has it from St. Judoc, though. Some women are named Joyce from “rejoice,” in French or English. So, if you’re named Joyce, you could either have St. Judoc as your name saint, or somebody like St. Gaudentius, St. Laetitia, and other Latin names for “joy” and “rejoice.” The choice is yours!

The surname of Joyce comes from a placename that probably came from St. Judoc, though. Joyce is a common surname in Ireland, and comes down from the Welsh/Norman settler Thomas de Joise, who married an O’Brien daughter in 1283. If you have the given name Joyce from the surname, you’re definitely one of the Judoc ones!



Filed under Saint Names, Saint Stories

3 responses to “St. Joss? St. Joyce?

  1. . His name means “lord” in Breton (iudh = lord, -og/-oc = a common Celtic name ending meaning “little one,” “young one,” or just spinning a noun out longer with “one, person”).

    So you might say he’s “Lord Dude”?

  2. Barry Joyce

    Thanks for your excellent research on St Josse. I am planning to go to St Josse sur Mer for the pilgrimage on Tuesday. Have you ever been there for it? I am staying with my daughters in laws at Le Crotoy sur Mer which is quite close.

    • Unfortunately, I’ve never been to Europe at all! But library books and the Internet let me poke my nose into a lot of stuff, sometimes in extreme detail.

      (Not that I’m an obsessive researcher. I can stop any time….)

      I hope you had a good pilgrimage! St. Josse, pray for us!

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