Posted by: anna | October 15, 2009

St Bavo

Here is a detail from an image from the British Library, MS Arundel 91 f.36. Arundel 91 is a beautiful manuscript containing many lives of the saints, written in Latin at Canterbury in the first quarter of the 12th century. ‘Historiated initial ‘B'(ono) at the beginning of the life of Bavo or Bavon, an early 7th-century saint, with a monk giving instructions to a boy carrying a bag, and a monk carrying a large bundle in front of building below, possibly Bavon giving away his possessions to build an abbey, and dragons or serpents entwined in the stem of the letter.’

St Bavo’s feast falls on 1 October, the same day as the Pokrov. As there aren’t any British saints today, I thought I would investigate St Bavo a bit. I must say the only thing I knew about him was the stupendous organ in his church in Haarlem. There are Orthodox icons of Bavo but I thought I would make an exception, and perhaps continue to look for early English manuscript examples of illustrations of saints’ lives. They are rare – that is they occur for a limited number of saints – so when they come along it’s good to see them.

Bavo, or Allowin van Haspengouw, seems to have gone through quite a bit of his life (622-659) as a not particularly admirable Frankish nobleman, but after the death of his wife repented on hearing a good sermon by a monk- St Amand, with whom Bavo is sometimes portrayed. He gave up his worldly goods and irresponsible ways, followed Amand as a missionary, and eventually built a monastery (so actually he hadn’t given away all his worldly goods) on his estate, and became a monk there.

  • Wikipedia has an article
  • the outstanding Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts database at the Royal Library oft he Netherlands has here an image of a page from an early 16th century Book of Hours of Bruges production showing St Bavo nearly obscured by devotional kissing. I’m surprised they have only two images relating to Bavo, and the other is of only (possibly) his symbols.
  • the Grote Kerk of St Bavo in Haarlem, the former cathedral, has the most amazing Baroque organ. More about it in English, with photos, here. There is also a 19th century Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to St Bavo, also in Haarlem. Ghent and Bruges aso have churches dedicated to Bavo. Celebrations surrounding his feast (‘Bamis’) mark the beginning of autumn in Ghent.

Holy St Bavo, pray to God for us.


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