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THE LIFE OF ST JOSSE 

In Europe St Josse is referred to by different names; for example: Uzec, Judoce, Jobst, Jost, Judoc, Joas, Jodok or Jodocus.

He is portrayed in a variety of ways: sometimes as an abbot with mitre and crozier, sometimes as a hermit with a Bible in his hand, or, more often, wearing the trappings of a pilgrim. The only way to distinguish him from St James of Compostella is by the crown at his feet.

A Beautiful Life Revealed

A biography of this saint, written in the 10th century, still exists. It tells us that Josse was brought up in a large royal family in Brittany. There seem to have been fifteen sons, but no girls were mentioned, since at that time they didn't count. Their father, Juthael, was probably descended from Celtic tribes who had formerly come from the south of England.  He ruled over Lower Brittany as king of Domnonée, (Cote d'Armor).

Upon the death of Juthael the eldest son, Judicael, succeeded his father. Judicael was the contemporary of Dagobert, with whom he concluded a peace treaty after serious conflicts. Coming home to Brittany, he longed to exchange his earthly kingdom for a heavenly one by entering the monastic life. In order to further his plan and have the joy of living amongst his fellow monks he summoned his younger brother Josse in order to confer upon him the kingship. However, Josse, as fervent as his brother in his love of God, asked for a period of eight days for reflection. During these eight days spent in Lan-Maelmon, the monastery of his youth, he wrestled painfully day and night with the problem of reconciling his brother's plans for him with  his own wish to renounce the throne.  

Escape

Josse was busy weighing the pros and cons of ascending the throne when a group of pilgrims on their way to Rome stopped at the monastery. That helped him make up his mind to flee. Without a moment's hesitation St Josse joined the pilgrims and so started on the path towards his future life. It was not the grandiose life-style of the Court with its pressures and intrigues which interested him but a life which would bring him nearer to God. At that moment, however, he did not yet know how he was to achieve it. The pilgrims with whom he had joined forces did not envisage going to Rome directly but on the contrary intended to make several detours. They arrived in Picardy, in Ponthieu, where Duke Haymon welcomed them and offered them hospitality. The latter paid all his attention to Prince Josse and persuaded him to stay at his Court. From that moment on Josse had a generous patron. He continued his studies and served Duke Haymon in the role of chaplain. But seven years later Josse realised that he still was not living the life he had hoped for: he was spending his time at Court and that was exactly what he wanted to avoid. 

The Moment of Decision

Duke Haymon understood well Josse's aspirations and allowed him to leave the Court, which to do at that time was something quite incredible. But  that was not all. Three times in the course of the following decades he found him a place where he could live as a hermit. The first place, which was called Brahic, was situated on the banks of the little river Authie The Duke had a chapel and hut built for him towards the year 644. We do not know the reasons which forced him to leave this heavenly spot. We only know that eight years later Jose begged his friend Haymon to find him a new hermitage. Haymon did him this favour and built him a chapel a little further north at Runiac. This was dedicated to St Martin and there Josse lived for thirteen or fourteen years. We do not know the reasons why Josse wanted to leave this second location, but once more Duke Haymon was prepared to find him a third site for his hermitage towards the year 665. Once found, Josse stayed there to the end of his life.

A Pilgrim on the Road to Rome

At the end of his life, Josse achieved his goal: a pilgrimage to Rome. Sadly, we have no information about this pilgrimage apart from several unsubstantiated accounts passed down by oral tradition. But this only goes to prove that at that time many hermits made long journeys and pilgrimages to Rome or as far as the Holy Land. Josse returned from Rome after several months, laden with relics. Meanwhile, Duke Haymon built a church in stone, dedicated once more to St Martin.

When he died on the 13th December, (AD 669?), he died as a Saint, and was buried in his church. Several years later his bones, apparently intact, were unearthed and placed in a reliquary on the altar of St Martin's. The monks lived according to the Benedictine rule in the Abbey which they then developed. Centuries later, in 1772, the Abbey was closed for lack of monks and then, during the French Revolution, it was sold for demolition.

The reliquary is is actually to be found in the unassuming church in the village of St Josse-sur-Mer. Each year, during the week of Pentecost, the reliquary is taken by the locals to the different places which St Josse had frequented; for example to the spring where one imagines the hermitage to have been built. On another occasion, a longer procession leaves St Josse-sur-Mer, passes through Airon-St Vaaste to arrive at the Chapel of Bavémont, where the cure of a young blind girl took place. The heavy reliquary, weighing 80kg, is carried by two porters and it is an honour for the participants in the procession to share its burden for part of the way. 

Another aspect of this biography is noteworthy. Alcuin, the most learned scholar of his time and Charlemagne's most important advisor must have been at one time the Abbot of the little monastery of St Josse-sur-Mer and it is possible he provided the incentive for putting down the first anonymous biography in writing.

The Fame of St Josse continues apace

People who sought out holiness, who looked for help and shared the same ideas became united not only during the time of the last hermitages in the stone church but also in the time of the two preceding hermitages. Various tales had already been told of the miracles surrounding the presence of St Josse during his lifetime. Even more people gathered round his tomb and they say that there were many cures and wishes fulfilled.

Pilgrims came from far and wide. Thanks to a confederation of priories representing the monasteries of Prum/Eiffel, St Maximin at Trier and Walberberg/Rhein, the veneration of Josse arrived in Germany in the 9th century. This veneration extended along pilgrim routes throughout the whole of Europe. A series of churches and chapels became dedicated to St Josse and following on from that, one could find his name mentioned in a multitude of places.

When the pilgrimage to St James of Compostella unloosed a wave of pilgrims St Josse-sur-Mer became known as one of the best known halts on the way to Spain. Those for whom Spain was too far parted company in Picardy to join forces with the St Josse brotherhood. However, only those who had already been to Rome, to Jerusalem or St James of Compostella could become  accepted as a member of the St Josse fraternity. 

This is how Josse became the patron saint of pilgrims.

A Saint who Helps the Poor

If the saints of former days were called upon to respond to a particular request, it was because faith was expressed in their particular capabilites. It was so, among other things, in the case of St Josse.

a)  His shrine having become a stopping place for Compostella pilgrims, Josse subsequently became their patron saint. This put a  pilgrimage to his shrine on a par with any  pilgrimage to Rome. At the same time, travellers from Ireland or England who landed at Quentovic and who broke their journey at the Abbey of St Josse spread his fame throughout the whole of Europe.

b) When it was a question of survival, then it was above all the sailors and fishermen from Etaples and other places on the coast who came every year with their families. That is still the situation today. Everybody knew how dangerous the sea could be and how many men met their death therein.

c) If St Josse could help people on a journey and across the seas of the world, then he was able to help them even more on their last pathway towards eternity. As a consequence he has become the patron saint of the sick and the dying. That is the reason why so many hospitals bear his name: for example in Brussels, Nurnburg, Marburg, Trier and elsewhere. It is a similar situation regarding the many chapels close to cemeteries.

d) If a patron saint is able to bring about good weather for pilgrims, that is something of interest to peasants. In several regions, for example,the intercession of St.Josse is requested when animals fall sick or when harvests are bad. And above all it is the wine-growers who need good weather That is why St Josse is also patron in certain regions of the Rhineland and in Switzerland. Even some vintages carry his name which should be a good enough reason to drink a toast to him on his Saints-day!

e) Moreover, Josse has taken upon himself a very particular duty, which is to help when a couple's wish fpr children has not yet been fulfilled! Empty prams participating in the grand procession clearly express their hopes.

An Obsolete or an Ever-relevant Symbol?

Josse was a typical outsider durng his lifetime. Can he perhaps mean something to us today? Some people say no. They are those who call their church or chapel by another name and have allowed them to fall into neglect. Many agree with the following positive response to the question: the saints often seem to us to be remote from our lives, especially when they have borne witness to their faith by becoming martyrs. That was not the case with St Josse. He tried to find God by leading a quiet life like most of us do. That is why his life has an ever-valuable relevance for us.

Each of us must find his own way. Perhaps success is not immediate, as was the case with St Josse. God gives us another chance. We are always able to put things right. The opportunity is always there. That is what the life of St Josse shows us. The example of his life still remains, down the ages: a valuable guide for us who are living today.

DCW 21.06.12

 

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Sollten jemand den Mut haben, unsere Homepage wenigstens teilweise ins Englische zu übertragen, so ist er im Namen unserer Association herzlich willkommen. Und Saint Josse wird ihm freundlich zulächeln. 

Alfred Rössler, Pfr. i. R.
eMail: alfred-roessler(at)t-online.de