St Vedast-alias-Foster.

Via Catriona Kelly’s Facebook post (with some nice photos) I learn of the best church name ever, Saint Vedast-alias-Foster:

Saint Vedast Foster Lane or Saint Vedast-alias-Foster, a church in Foster Lane, in the City of London, is dedicated to St. Vedast (Foster is an Anglicisation of the name “Vaast”, as the saint is known in continental Europe), a French saint whose cult arrived in England through contacts with Augustinian clergy.

And if we follow that Vedast link, we discover that he’s called Saint Gaston in French. You first, my dear Gaston!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s not obvious to me how to pronounce this fine saint. VEE-dust? Vi-DAST?

  2. Stu Clayton says


  3. A lot more here, including many variations, of which my favorite is St. Zawster.
    The chapter concludes, “It must be admitted that the Saint’s anxiety about the pronunciation of his name was fully justified.” But it still doesn’t answer DE’s question.

  4. Jen in Edinburgh says

    It’s not even the best church name in the City of London. How can you beat St-Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe?

  5. VEE-dust?

    So says this chap, for what that’s worth.

  6. It’s Frankish for beer.

    (There are many more versions of this stupid ad.)

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    @JenInEd (and hope you feel better soon): Medieval London had so many churches within the bounds of the old City that one doesn’t want to exclude the awesomely-named ones that are no longer extant (e.g., St. Nicholas Shambles, St. Mary Axe, and/or St. Dionis Backchurch). Of the ones that still exist, I am partial to St. James Garlickhythe, which I actually attended services at once, probably in the late 1990’s.

  8. St. Nicholas Shambles was presumably so named because it was adjacent to one or more slaughterhouses.

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    @Brett. Well yeah. It can be amusing w/o needing to be semantically opaque. The overall point may be that in a city of a certain size where there are no more than X separate churches subject to the same bishop (or other authority structure) the bishop may be able to make sure that all names are unique in terms of which saint or other namesake is selected, but past X that becomes unworkable and thus somewhat ad hoc ways of distinguishing multiple churches named for the same St. N will develop. And in medieval times these disambiguations often developed in a grassroots/vernacular kind of way, rather than by the Proper Authorities coming up with high-toned and edifying ways of disambiguating them.

  10. I wouldn’t have immediately recognized the sense of shambles involved, had I not recently (just this morning, in fact) been reading something where that sense featured prominently. I mentioned in another thread that I was rereading The Traveller in Black. Having finished it, I learned from the Internet that John Brunner had written a fifth novella about the traveller, after the first publication of the fixup novel edition. So I also read that, “The Things That Are Gods,”* and found that “shambles” featured prominently in the plot, although Brunner seemed to use the word more to refer to a regular event at which animals were butchered in large numbers than the location where it was done.

    * I was generally disappointed with the story. It seemed to be much weaker than the four earlier novellas. Brunner was clearly trying to do something a little different with the traveller in black, but I didn’t think it worked. On the other hand, rereading the whole cycle it was clear that there had been a constant evolution in Brunner’s conception of the setting. Sometimes the changes worked, sometimes not so much.

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    “And our time is flying
    See the candle burning low
    Is the new world rising
    From the shambles of the old?”

    –Attr. J. Page & R. Plant, no later than 1972 and possibly earlier.

  12. Annette Pickles says
  13. cuchuflete says

    “ VEE-dust?

    So says this chap, for what that’s worth.”

    Let’s not overlook that chap’s pronunciation of St.


  14. a regular event at which animals were butchered in large numbers

    What’s wrong with “hecatomb”? Is some peever going to count the cows?

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    Let’s not overlook that chap’s pronunciation of St.

    Segmentally, it’s fine, and standard RP for the word when used before a saint’s name like this.* It sounds weird, however, because the speaker puts full stress on it and pauses after it.

    * This is how I pronounce it myself, and is therefore Absolutely Fine and standard by definition.

  16. PlasticPaddy says

    Except in very slow speech I would expect e.g., Sun Peter, Sun Francis, compare St. John > Sinjun, so perhaps Sun V. Maybe the ‘t’ is there but very weak.

  17. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Something about this had me looking up the medieval parishes of Edinburgh while awake in the middle of the night, but I have no idea now what I thought I was going to say about them.

    There’s a nice oddity in that the oldest religious site in Edinburgh is in what is now the New Town, but the names are ordinary enough – Canongate for the Holyrood end, St Giles’ for the middle, St Cuthbert’s for the Castlehill end. I’m really just posting to see if it triggers the spark of thought again…

  18. @Rodger C: I think the religious implications of hecatomb would have been pragmatically wrong for the story. The shambles in “The Things That Are Gods” was a monthly civic event, a centralized slaughter at which taxes were also levied. Since the plot of the story concerns, in part, the transformation of the mundane bloodletting into an evocation of various dubious divinities, it would not have suited the story to have called it a “hecatomb” from the beginning.

  19. David Eddyshaw says

    There’s a nice oddity in that the oldest religious site in Edinburgh is in what is now the New Town

    New College in Oxford was founded in 1379. It is something of parvenu compared with e.g. University College (1249), Balliol (1263) and Merton (1260-odd), though.

  20. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Glasgow seems to have missed a trick in not having St Mungo-alias-Kentigern, though. And then there’s Saint Enoch/Teneu/Thaney, who I have mentioned before

  21. The least Christmassy parish in Ireland is Kill Saint Nicholas in Waterford.

  22. John Cowan says

    Oh! my name is John Wellington Wells,
    I’m a dealer in magic and spells,
       In blessings and curses
       And ever-filled purses,
    In prophecies, witches, and knells.
    If you want a proud foe to “make tracks” –
    If you’d melt a rich uncle in wax –
       You’ve but to look in
       On the resident Djinn,
    Number seventy, Simmery Axe!

  23. The French Wikipedia has something on the etymology of the name Gaston which discusses the name Vedastus. Note especially this:

    L’anthroponyme initial Vedastus est probablement gaulois. En effet, on note dans cette langue les deux noms de personnes Vedius et Astuus. Il est possible qu’il s’agisse d’un composé des deux, à savoir *Ved-astuus ou *Vid-astuus, les composés à deux éléments étant fréquents dans l’onomastique personnelle gauloise. Le radical Ved- (Ued-), pourrait être le même que dans un autre nom Covedos (Couedos) « prieur » ou « marieur », à moins que Ved- soit issu de Vid- (Uid-) « connaissance, savoir », comme dans l’anthroponyme gaulois Uidimacle, ablatif de Uidimaglos « Au savoir Eminent »

    As for the Gaulish etymology… Here are the treatments of the first two possible elements mentioned in Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise of 2003 (some references omitted silently for clarity):

    assu, ‘?’

    Il y a un élément assu- de sens inconnu dans l’onomastique personnelle: Assu-talos, Assu-talus Assu-pa[ris] , Assu-le([), Asso-renus, Ati-assu, Asus, Assuius, -a, Asucius, Asunna, Asurio, Asurius, Asuuius et, en supposant une préservation de -st- qui passe ensuite à -ss-, Astuus , Astucis, Asto-ilunnus théon. à Saint-Béat.

    P.-Y. Lambert, RIG 2-2, L-73, envisage un rapprochement avec v.irl. assae ‘facile’, lui-même expliqué par *ad-sta-yo-, c.-à-d. ‘à la disposition de’, par Vendryes. Les NP montrent cependant qu’il s’agit d’un thème en -u- (*ad-stu- ?) et ce rapprochement est incertain. Il faut donc plus probablement y voir la formation qu’on trouve préfixée en di- dans les NP en Diassu-, Diastu-… avec un sens juridique ou religieux, v.irl. ad ‘loi’, gall. eddyl ‘loi, rite’ (*adilo-). Soit donc *ad-tu- > *astu- > assu-; sens possible: ‘ordonné, initié selon le rituel, légal’.

    uediiumi, ‘je prie, j’invoque’

    Deuxième mot du plomb de Chamalières: andedíon uediíumi diíiuion … mapon(on) ‘j’invoque Maponos … ’, manifestement un verbe à la première personne du singulier, M. Lejeune EC 15 (1976-77), 159. Le mot a été l’objet de nombreuses propositions étymologiques dont on trouvera un résumé par D. Ellis Evans, GAS 13-14, avec les références (cf. récem. P. de Bernardo Stempel, KZ 114 (2001), 164-70, qui compare andedion uediíumi au gotique in-weitiþ guþ ‘honore, révére un dieu’, avec ande-uēd- = inweit- et l’objet díon en tmèse, racine i.-e. *u̯eid- : ‘I do honor a god’). Il semble que la proposition initiale de M. Lejeune, ibid. 166, de voir en uediíumi la continuation gauloise du verbe *gʷhedhii̯o ‘je prie’, v.irl. guidiu ‘id.’, soit la bonne. Elle a une conséquence phonétique importante : elle règle le sort du traitement initial devant voyelle de i.-e. gʷhV- qui passe à u̯- en gaulois, probablement par un stade gu̯-, fait confirmé par l’explication de -uanos en *-gʷhonos ‘tueur’, voir à ce mot. L’étymologie de Lejeune, reprise d’abord par W. Cowgill, Lautgeschichte und Etymologie, Wiesbaden 1980, 68, est acceptée par P.-Y. Lambert, LG 152, et par McCone Origins 119 et Chrono 42. Le même thème se retrouve pt ê. dans les dédicaces aux Matr(on)es Uediantiae de Cirniez (Nice), RDG 70, ‘Mères que l’on invoque’, (ou s’agit-il du thème *u̯edh- ‘conduire’ > ‘marier’, v.irl. fedid, IEW 1116, désignant alors des ‘Mères Marieuses’), et qui ont donné leur nom à la tribu des Uediantii (Barruol 365-66) ; cf. les NP Co-ued[os], Co-uedu (*co-gu̯edōn ‘Prieur’ ou *co-u̯edōn ‘Marieur’), Hl 1151, AE 1976,488.

    La racine i.-e. est *gʷhedh- ‘prier, invoquer, demander’, présente en celtique insulaire: v.irl. guidiu ‘je prie’ (*gʷedi̯ū < *gʷhedhi̯ō, McCone Chrono 42), guide ‘prière’ (*gʷhodhi̯ā), geiss ‘tabou’ (*gʷessis < *gʷhedh-tis), gall. gweddi ‘prier’, et indo-européenne: avest. jaiδiiemi ‘je demande’, grec thessasthai ‘demander par des prières’ (*gʷhedhs-), et sans doute, selon E. Seebold, la famille du germanique, got. bidjan, allem. bitten ‘demander’, EWdS 88. IEW 488, LIV 194. La forme uediiumi qu’il faut donc analyser en *gu̯edii̯ō-mi ‘je prie, je demande’ a une terminaison -mi qui rappelle, dans la même inscription, les verbes pissiumi et dessumiiis (dessumi-is) : il s’agit sans doute d’un transfert de la désinence athématique de 1ère personne -mi, sur le verbe thématique, phénomène constaté déjà en brittonique, en slave moderne et en sanskrit (type bhárā-mi) ; comme on a aussi des verbes de 1ère pers. sing. delgu, regu sans cette désinence, certains auteurs y voient un enclitique personnel -moi > -mī (datif, Lejeune, ibid. 166) ou -me > -mī (accusatif, Lambert, LG 152).

    However, Delamarre himself make no such proposal about the name Vedastus such as the one found in the Wiktionary, at least that I can find. The name Vedastes/Vedastus is not found in the index of his work, Les noms des gaulois (2017), which treats at least 1000 names and their variants. Delamarre’s treatment of the Gaulish names in -stus in “Notes d’onomastique vieille-celtique” Keltische Forschungen 5 (2012) section 13, p. 120ff, available here. Vedastus isn’t mentioned.

    On the possible second element -astus in Vedastus, there is also the following, in Johannes Hubschmid (1966) “Die -asko und -usko Suffixe und das Problem des Ligurischen” Revue internationale d’onomastique 18, no. 2, which treats onomastic suffixes sometimes thought to indicate a Ligurian or pre-Gaulish but Indo-European substrate in the Gallo-Roman region. From page 101, discussing a name Badastus attested very late, only from the 2nd millennium CE:

    Dass -astus hier Suffix ist, zeigt der ebenfalls in Südfrankreich vorkommende Personenname Malastus, der sich erschliessen lässt aus monasterium Mallasti (815), qui vocatur Malaste (835, HGLang. 2, 191, 192), castrum Malasti (906, HGLang. 5, 113), und aus Montis Malasti (1192, Bibl.Dumb. 2, 55), Monmalast (1236, Cart.Lyon 1, 378) > Monmelas, Rhône.
    Gleich gebildet ist der Männername Vedastus (ca. 500), aus dem Périgord oder Limousin stammend : der aus der Hagiographie bekannte Vedastus war später Priester in Toul und Bischof in Arras (Cambrai). Nach ihm sind zahlreiche Kirchen bzw. Gemeinden benannt, Saint-Vaast u.ä. in den Departementen P.Cal., Manche, Calv., SeineI., Nord und im Hainaut (S. Vedastus 1230), auch ein anderer Vedastus, frater eius (1167, Cart.Som-mereux 21). Die Annahme von H. Gröhler 2, 428, der heilige Vedastus sei ursprünglich irischer Missionar gewesen, stützt sich nur auf die Verbreitung der heutigen Ortsnamen vom Typus Saint-Vaast.

  24. As for the Germanic etymologies mentioned in the French Wikipedia… As far as I have found, no real advance for the etymology of Vedastus on the Germanic side seems to have been made since Jacob Grimm (1848) Geschichte der deutschen Sprache, p. 541, discussing Frankish onomastics and some names that appear in the Historia francorum of Gregory of Tours (italics added):

    Eigenthümlich schwindet das G von gast in der Zusammensetzung mit andern Wörtern. Gregor schreibt Arboastes de gl. conf. 93, während er den gleichnamigen römischen Söldner hist. 2, 9 Arbogastes nennt; ferner Leudastes hist. 5, 14. 47 = ahd. Liutkast Liudigast, mhd. Liudgast; Leubastes 4, 9 = ahd. Liopkast; Leonastes 5, 6; Bladastes 7, 28. 34; Blandastes 6, 12; Vedastes 7, 3 vielleicht eins mit Widogast im prolog des sal. gesetzes; Flidastus Irm. 1 13 b… man wird zugleich an Segestes bei Tacitus gemahnt, das für Segegast gesetzt scheint und an Sigambri für Sigegambri (s. 225). G musz den Franken äuszerst weich geklungen haben…

    The Widogast that Grimm mentions in connection to the name Vedastus is here in the prologue of the Pactus legis salicae (edited text, glossing over many textual variants, with a quick translation):

    Placuit atque convenit inter Francos atque eoi ura proceribus, ut pro servandum inter se pacis studium omnia incrementa rixarum odia resecare deberent et, quia ceteris gentibus iuxta se positis fortitudinis bracchio prominebant, ita etiam eos legale auctoritate prae­cellerent, ut iuxta qualitatem causarum sumerent criminales actiones terminum.

    Extiterunt igitur inter eos electi de pluribus quattuor viri his nominibus: Wisogaste, Salegaste, Arogaste et Widogaste in villis qui ultra Renum sunt in Bodochem et Salechem et Widochem, qui per tres mallos convenientes omnes causarum origines sollicite discucientes de singulis iudicium decreverunt.

    “With the help of God, it was decided and agreed among the Franks and their cheiftains, that in order to maintain the zeal for peace among themselves, they must cut off all growth of disputes, so that just as the Franks stand out from other peoples by the strength of their arms, so also will they excel them in the authority of their laws, so that criminal cases should be decided in proportion to the nature of the crimes.

    Therefore from among them four were chosen, named as follows: Wisogast, Salegast, Arogast and Widogast from places beyond the Rhine named Bodochem, Salechem, and Widochem, who meeting together in three assizes and carefully discussing all the things that give rise to legal cases, decreed the penalty for each.”

    Grimm doesn’t mention it, but Gregory also tells of a Vinastes, cured of blindness but persecuted by the aforementioned Leudastes, dux of Tours. Gregory tells this story in his Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi, book II, chapter 23, here. Perhaps a Frankish *Wini-gast “Friend-Guest”?
    Still, we are doing better in etymologizing this name than the Golden Legend (mentioned in the treatment of St. Vedast that Y linked to above):

    Vedastus quasi vere dans aestus, quia vere sibi dedit aestus afflictionis et poenitentiae, vel quasi vae distans, quia vae aeternum ab eo distat. Nam damnati semper dicent : vae, scilicet quia Deum offendi, vae quia dyabolo consensi, vae quia natus fui, vae quia mori non valeo, vae quia tam male torqueor, vae quia nunquam liberabor.

    “Vedastus, from vere dans aestus [‘truly giving fires’], because he truly imposed the fires of suffering and penitence upon himself, or from vae distans [‘Alas!’/‘Woe!’ far away], because eternal woe is far removed from him. For the damned will forever say, ‘Woe indeed, that I have offended God! Woe, that I fell in with the devil! Woe, that I was born! Woe, that I cannot die! Woe, that I am tormented so terribly! Woe, that I will never be set free!'”

    It’s page 47r (page 118 of the image file), right column, here in the Yale Legenda aurea.

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Maybe Widogast was named after Widochem, if he came from there. (That one looks like “Woodhome”, as in “Waldheim.”) Like his pal Salegast from Salechem.

    The Franks seem to have liked their -gast names:

  26. andedion uediíumi

    I can’t help but hear this as the start of a hexameter, though it’s obviously not. One wonders what Gaulish poetry was like…

  27. Trond Engen says
  28. David Marjanović says

    G musz den Franken äuszerst weich geklungen haben…


  29. Trond Engen says

    Vedast alias Foster alias Gaston alias Zawster alias … A great mass of translations. Any attempt to explain his name should also include an attempt to account for the variation.

  30. David Eddyshaw says

    “Gaston” strikes me as fairly easily accounted for, at any rate.

    The initial g for w is familiar from many Frankish loans like garder, (loup-)garou; loss of medial d and the preceding vowel is regular cf voir, choir, asseoir and English “chain” (from catena via cad-); and the final -on is standard Old French for the oblique case of masculine personal names, e.g. Charles vs Charlon – in some names it got generalised when the case system collapsed, and/or both forms survived as separate variants.

  31. Trond Engen says

    Yes, w ~ g is very easy, and the suffix is just that. It’s the other forms that are weird.

    Nowegian has f- for Latin v- in the (rare) name Faltin < Valentinus. I imagine that to be a very early borrowing. That, or a late one through German.

  32. Trond Engen says

    Also Sylfest < Sylvester and (one step to the left) Sevast < Sebastian. There are probably more.

  33. Vedastus, from vere dans aestus [‘truly giving fires’], because he truly imposed the fires of suffering and penitence upon himself, or from vae distans
    Etymology used to be so creative…

  34. Norwegian has f- for Latin v- in the (rare) name Faltin

    Similarly, the appearance of the F- in Foster (for Vedastus) can be understood easily if the antecedent of this variant is a borrowing into Old English. The appearance of foreign v as f in later loanwords into Old English is unproblematic; see here, referring to Cambpell, Old English Grammar (1959), referring to Förster, p. 131, who in turn approves Mezger, p. 50. The problem of the vowel remains, though.

    (Another thought… I wonder if, in English, there were any reverse spellings of etymological Norman or medieval Latin /v/ with f, as an effect of the late Old English voicing of initial /f/ and /s/ in the South (as persists in vane, vat, vixen, and zax in standard English), so that the current Foster simply has a spelling pronunciation of an f once used to spell /v/. That is, the /v/ of a Norman Vaast was ‘undone’ as /f/, perhaps under the influence of ME foster ‘sustenance’ and foster ‘forester’?)

  35. Don’t English borrowings from the Germanic adstrate in Norman/ONF regularly come as w-? William, war, warden, …

  36. David Eddyshaw says

    Not always: guard, guarantee, guile …

  37. Indeed they do, but in that aside, I was reckoning with learned influence from the Latin form (this being a 6th-century saint with a widely diffused cult), or another such complex interaction such as seen in vagrant (some forms in the AND, and an account here of the etymology usually given, which remains problematic, of course).

  38. David Eddyshaw says


    Fascinating! I’d just (so far as I’d thought about it all) assumed it was from Latin vagari somehow, though in hindsight that clearly couldn’t have worked at all.

  39. Trond Engen says

    Xerib: vagrant

    Heh. Surely that’s a hyper-latinization, and it could easily have happened if and when the word was primarily a legal term. Contamination with vagare is mentioned. I’ll add vagabond.

  40. Not always: guard, guarantee, guile …

    All of those are from Central (i.e. ordinary) French, but their /w/-cognates can be native like ward or borrowings from Normand like warranty and wile. You can’t tell in general without looking at the sources (or, in these degenerate days, EtymOnline or Wikt or the OED). In this specific case, however, Warte ‘watchtower’ also points to a native word.

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