Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Ivo, St., bp. in Britain
Ivo, St. (Yvo), June 19, a supposed Persian bp. in Britain, after whom the town of St. Ives in Hunts was named. His Life was written by the monk Goscelin when resident at Ramsey, towards the end of 11th cent., based on a more diffused account by a previous abbat Andrew, who collected his information while in the East on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1020. Goscelin's Life is printed in Boll. Acta SS. 10 June ii. 288. It describes Ivo as a missionary bishop, a star of the East, a messenger of the true Sun, divinely marked out for work in Britain. Quitting Persia, he passed through Asia and Illyricum to Rome, enlightening every place he visited. From Rome he proceeded to Gaul, where the admiring king and nobles would have detained him, but he pushed forward to Britain with his three companions. There he rescued the people from idolatry. The first-fruit of his labours was "a youth of patrician dignity named Patricius, the son of a Senator." Passing into Mercia, Ivo settled at the vill of Slepe, 3 English leucae (Gosc. c. 2, § 8) from Huntedun. There he laboured many years, died, and was buried. About 100 lustra (c. 1, § 4) had passed since the bishop's death, when a peasant of Slepe struck with his plough a stone sarcophagus, within which were found, besides human remains, a silver chalice and insignia of the episcopal rank. Slepe being one of the estates of the abbey of Ramsey, 8 leucae (c. 2, § 8) distant, abbat Eadnoth was informed of this. The same night a man of Slepe saw in a vision one robed as a bishop, with ornaments like those in the sarcophagus, who said he was St. Ivo and wished to be removed to the abbey, with two of his companions, whose burial-places he described. The translation was accordingly effected, and
on the spot where the saint was found a church was dedicated to him, connected with which was a priory as a cell of the parent abbey. The spot was thenceforth known as St. Ives. A later hand adds that temp. Henry I. the relics of the two companions were re-translated to St. Ives. As Ramsey abbey was founded about 991 or a little earlier (Mon. Hist. Brit. 580 D; Monast. Angl. ii. 547), Eadnoth the first abbat (Liber Eliens. ed. Stewart, p. 188) would be living c. 1000 (the common date of the translation is 1001). Reckoning back 100 lustra or 400 years (computing by the four-year lustrum), we arrive at a.d. 600 as about the period of Ivo's death, and this is the year given by Florence of Worcester (Chron. in M. H. B. 526). His mission at Slepe must thus be placed c. 580–600, which nearly corresponds with the reign of the emperor Maurice, with whom Diceto (in Gale, iii. 559) makes him contemporary. Thus Ivo's Mercian mission preceded the arrival of Augustine by about half a generation and anticipated by some 70 years the conversion of Mercia as narrated in Bede. The obvious improbability of this leaves the monks of Ramsey responsible for the legend.
Possibly there may be here a lingering tradition of old British Christianity and a reminiscence of its Oriental origin, leaving the period out of the question. It would not be surprising if a British remnant should have survived in that locality as late as the Conquest. There are indications that Britons did actually maintain themselves in E. Mercia and the fastnesses of the fens long after the conversion of the English race. Moreover, the name of Patrick gives the story a Celtic look, and the locality might have been a sort of eastern Glastonbury. The Celtic element in the first conversion of the Mercian Angles was likely to prolong the vitality of Celtic traditions. If there was Celtic blood surviving in the fens when Ramsey was founded, the Oriental colouring of the legend is accounted for. The stone sarcophagus may have been a genuine Roman relic, furnishing a material basis for the story and suggesting the occasion. If the above inferences are not unreasonable, the legend of St. Ivo contains a reminiscence that the Christian missionaries who reached Britain from the East came by way of Gaul and of the tradition of their having been sent from Rome.
Slepe is found in Domesday and is still the name of one of the manors of St. Ives.
The priory of St. Ives, the ruins of which survive, is described in Monast. Angl. ii. 631. In the time of Brompton (Twysd. p. 883) no saint in England was so eminent as St. Ivo at Ramsey for the cure of diseases.
The story was written again by John of Tynemouth in 14th cent., in whose Sanctilogium, before the MS. was burnt, it stood No. 70 (Smith, Cat. Cotton MSS. p. 29). It was one of those adopted by Capgrave in 15th cent. for his Nova Legenda (ff. 199) and so is preserved. This version states that the pope commissioned him to Britain. The MS. Lives of Ivo are mentioned by Hardy (Desc. Cat. i. 184–186), and the Life by Goscelin exists as a Bodleian manuscript in a fuller form than the recension given by the Bollandists, the Life in Capgrave being another abridgment. One of the MSS. mentioned by Hardy purports to be the very Life by abbat Andrew referred to by Goscelin.