7 December 2023


 So often one has a brilliant idea which, if one runs it to ground and digs it up, turns out to be totally illegitimate and wrong. I would like to share an idea of mine ... and if the philologically literate shoot it down in howls of mirth, I shall simply be grateful that my education is continuing. Honest!

As fanatical reders of this blog will know, the Catholic Church in Clacton on Sea, the town where my parents and I spent years when I was small, contains a beautiful Shrine of our Lady of Light. The Revd Cyril Wilson published a very useful (except for its lack of footnotes) little book in 1953 in which he gave a lot of the 'back-history' of that Shrine and that devotion ... which is Cornish and involves  S Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort. He gives the title of one Breton shrine as INTRON VARIA AR SKLERDER.

The first stage in my dodgy(?) hypothesis involves textual emendation. Yes; sneer if you must! My knowledge of the Breton language is minimal; but my little (2002) Breton Dictionary leads me to the belief that the N in INTRON is a typo. Without it, the word means Lady. So: ITRON. Yes??

From what I do know of the "Celtic" languages, in which weird things can happen to some consonants (not least M) in some positions in a word, I am convinced that VARIA is a 'mutated' form of MARIA.

But the word SKLERDER interests me most. That little dictionary suggests that SKLER- and SKLAER- carry the meaning LIGHT. I recall reading somewhere that, as far as Breton is concerned, a initial S may be etymologically insignificant.


When Pam and I spent quite alot of our time in Cornwall, we read (the whole of) the surviving Middle Cornish literature; I was constantly surprised by how much Middle Cornish vocab appears to be derived from highly 'evolved' late Latin terms (I'm not referring to medieval loan-words, which also proliferate whether via French or English). 

I think KLERDER is a corruption of CLARITATE. Readers will recall how often, in the Vulgate, terms with clarus for their root seem more popular than those from gloria.

While browsing around on the feast of All the Saints of England, I found myself looking at one of Canon Doble's calendars of Cornish saints. He lists, on November 4, S. Cleder Conf., and adds 'Clarus, P & M'. He cites in a footnote Baring-Gould, and adds the information that "S Clarus, P & M in Normandy, is honoured on 4 November (also on 18 July.) N.R. may have identified S Cleder with S Cleer."

Cleder, Clarus, Cleer ...

My case rests!! Is it a pure-bred fox, or ...


Arthur Gallagher said...

You make an interesting point.
It might well be that Varia is a mutated form of Maria.
I have been told that Breton is the same type of Celtic as Irish.
If that is so, a very common example comes readily to mind.
The word for woman- bean pronounced ban becomes bhan (pronounced van)
when its "the" woman, as in the bhan a ti- (woman of the house)
(which sounds a lot like saying VANITY very slowly) Yet it can also produce an M sound,
as in Mna, which can also mutate into a sound like mra (mmmmraw) for women.
So, yes-

Francis Y said...

I was curious what ChatGPT (for what it's worth) might say. Here's the response:

The phrase "ITRON VARIA AR KLERDER" appears to be in Breton, and it translates to "Our Lady of Clarity" in English. "Itron" is a term used for "Lady" or "Madonna," and "Varia" means "of Clarity." "Ar Klerder" translates to "the Clarity." Overall, the phrase refers to the Virgin Mary under the title or invocation of "Our Lady of Clarity."

Ansgerus said...


Dictionaire diachronique de Breton -
Martial Menand:

“Clarté, lumière”

With several examples from the literature