THE PROSE LIFE

OF

St GENGULPHUS



A Résumé of VITA I




Our story speaks of a man whose entire life became a mirror of good works for the whole world.

[Vita I]


Icon of St Gingolph by Marie Lavie
by kind permission of the artist
 

There is only one primary source for our knowledge of the biography of St Gengulphus.a This is the prose 'Life' written in Latin by an anonymous author in the late C9th or early C10th, and generally referred to as Vita I. The later prose Life known as Vita II, and the poetic work Passio Sancti Gongolfi Martyris, by Hroswitha of Gandersheim, both rely entirely on this text and have no independent source of material. Some versions of Vita I have an additional portion of narrative De Lucerna Divinitus Accensa inserted in varying ways into the text.


Prologue



The chapel of St Gengoult at Varennes sur Amance
the home of the Saint. 
Gallery

The author explains that St Gengulphus is a saint of ‘recent’ times, a secular and military figure who, in a life of outstanding goodness has followed the examples of saints of former times, and who now as a soldier of Christ enjoys his heavenly reward.

The text ‘With the trumpet of brass and the instrument of horn, make a joyful noise before the Lord’b is used as the basis image of the saint’s spiritual life. The trumpet of brass representing the mortification of the flesh, and the instrument of horn a holy life.

The author justifies his present work by explaining that little or no written material concerning St Gengulphus is extant, and attributes this to the loss and destruction of books during the period of the pagan [Viking] irruption. He has therefore been obliged to rely on oral tradition in compiling this brief summary of the saint's life.

The Saint’s Birth and Character

Gengulphus was born into a noble Burgundian family, and was instructed from childhood in the teachings of the Christian faith, which he embraced wholeheartedly. Early in his life he inherited the extensive family estate, which enabled him to become a liberal benefactor of the poor. As a young man he chose for himself a wife of noble rank, but of bad character - who was to the the means by which his patience and sanctity would be tested. He was a skilled hunter and an energetic and accomplished soldier.

His Recreations

As his favourite estate was thickly forested and abounded with game, Gengulphus spent much of his time hunting. The author notes that this might be a ground of criticism, but puts up a vigorous defence of this recreation, which Gengulphus untertook for the sake of exercise and to avoid inactivity.

His Service to Pepin

The author explains that the Franks were, at that time, governed by Pepin (the Short), and implies that the saint’s youth coincided with the period when Pepin was Mayor of the Palace.

Gengulphus, as an energetic and accomplished soldier, served Pepin in a military capacity, and his armour is still displayed in the church which is dedicated to him.

His Purchase of a Spring


Statue of St Gangolf, Kluftern
Gallery
Returning from a succcessful expedition in the king’s service, Gengulphus and his men passed through Champagne.j Here Gengulphus came upon a pleasing spring, in a spot where he and his men stopped to take food and to graze their horses. When the peasant who owned this land approached, Gengulphus invited him to share their meal, and asked the man if he would be prepared to sell the spring for a suitable some of money.

The peasant was unaware of Gengulph’s spiritual powers and took him for a fool. Expecting to retain both the spring and the purchase money, he was duly given one hundred pieces of silver.

He Returns to his Wife

Gengulphus arrived at his home at Varennes sur Amance, unaware that his wife had commited herself to an adulterous relationship. He gave her an account of his activities, including the purchase of the spring. She upbraided him for his stupidity and for his wasteful expenditure.

After taking a walk in the grounds, Gengulphus plunged his staff into the ground and entered the house.

The Miracle of the Spring

The next morning Gengulphus found that there is no water with which to wash himself. He commanded a servant to go and pull his staff out of the ground, and to bring in the water which would appear. The servant did this, and a very great stream of water immediately flowed from the spot where the staff had been thrust.

Whereas springs in the neighbourhood of Varennes have a characteristic chalky cloudiness, this spring retained the perfect clarity that it had in its original location, from which it had been brought by divine power, and where no trace of a spring remained.

His Wife’s Adultery

Gengulph's wife meanwhile was committing adultery with a clerkk who was one of his own servants. This became the subject of common gossip, and eventually reached to the ears of Gengulphus himself. Torn between desire to punish her, and the wish to live his own life without reproach or guilt, he determined to entrust the matter to the judgment of God.

His Wife’s Adultery is Exposed

One day Gengulphus, in the company of his wife, approached a certain spring.l He mentioned the injurious rumours which are circulating about her - which she denied vehemently. Gengulphus proposed that she should plunge her hands into the water and draw out a pebble which lay at the bottom. He explained that if she was telling the truth, nothing would happen. If she was lying, then God will give some sign to expose her falsehood.

His wife gave no weight to his words, and unreflectingly plunged her hand into the water. She immediately pulled her hand out revealing the judgement of God - for the whole surface of her hand and arm had been scalded.

Gengulphus Parts from his Wife


St Gangolf, Amorbach
Gallery
Gengulphus expressed his regret at this confirmation of her unfaithfulness He indicated that rather than executing justice upon her himself he would leave her to the judgement of God, and advised her to repent. He allowed her to retain the property which she had received as dowry for her maintenance. He then parted from her to live in a distant estate in the region of Avalo,m where he continued to devote himself to good works.

His wife now took advantage of her freedom to continue her adulterous affair with the clerk. The pair however feared that Gengulphus might take revenge on them, and began to make plans to kill him.

His Murder

The clerk secretly watched Gengulph's household until one night, when an opportunity presented itself, he crept into Gengulph’s bedchamber, and attempted to decapitate him with his own sword which lay beside the bed. Gengulphus was able to deflect the blow, but received instead a serious wound in his hip. He attacker, meanwhile, fled.

Gengulphus survived several days, but realizing that his death was imminent he received the Sacrament and made the heavenward journey for which he had longed.

His Burial

Two aunts of Gengulphus who lived a religious life at Varennes came, accompanied by a large crowd of priest, monks and laypeople, to remove his body for burial. Astonishing miracles were performed as they made their way back to Varennes, where he was buried in his own church, dedicated to St Peter.

The Punishment of the Clerk

The clerk, after his attack on Gengulphus, had immediately fled back to his mistress. After they had performed a dance in misplaced celebration of his deed, he felt the need to empty his bowels. In the garderobe his bowels poured out (like Judas and Arius) and he plunged, unrepentant, to hell.

The Punishment of the Wife.

The tomb of Gengulphus attracted great crowds of people as a result of the many miracles which were performed at it. A young woman who was a servant of Gengulph’s wife rushed to tell her mistress this news. Overcome with fury her mistress said ‘If Gengulphus can work miracles, then so can my arse’. Immediately, from that very part of her body which she had indicated, there came a disgraceful sound.

This exchange took place on a Friday,n and every Friday for the rest of her life every time that she wished to speak shameful noises would instead be emitted by that part of her body which she had irrevently compared with the miraculous powers of the man of God.

This became widely known, and King Pepin commanded some of his men to investigate the truth of the matter. They discovered that it was entirely true, and reported to this effect.

Epilogue

The writer reminds his readers that miracles are not important in themselves, and that obedience to God is more important. He admits that little is known about miracles that Gengulphus performed during his lifetime, but points out that now that he is dead his miraculous powers are outstanding and well-known.


     
       
NOTES:
   
a.
St Gengulphus is not mentioned in any contemporary state document or charter. The assertion that he was a signatory of a charter of 762 executed by Pepin le Bref at Prum is an old canard and without foundation.

b.
Ps 97/98.6. The author's material is derived, with very little adaptation, from St Augustine's Exposition on Psalm 98.

j. It is occasionally stated that the purchase of the spring took place in the pays of Bassigny.  This is a localization of  relatively recent origin.  The narrative of Vita I makes it abundantly clear that the open terrain of historic Champagne is meant.

k. That is to say, a person who has received the tonsure, with or without proceeding to minor orders. A certain, perhaps minimal, degree of literacy is implied by this status. It is occasionally stated that the co-respondent was a priest, which is not in accordance with the text. Hroswitha expressly refers to the clerk's servile status, which makes it impossible that she considered him to have been in major orders.

l. The author does not explicitly identify this spring with the one miraculously transported from Champagne.  But the ambiguous words quendam… fontem probably indicate that he is using a different source for this section of the narrative.  Hroswitha explicitly identifies the two springs.

m.
Avalo has been variously identified; plausibly, with Vaux la Douce (Haute Marne); less plausibly with Avallon (Yonne).

n.
The narrative  strongly implies, but does not explicitly state, that the Friday was the day of the Saint's burial.
       
     
© Paul Trenchard
all rights reserved
Page last revised 29.10.08





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