of St Gengulphus




Vir itaque Domini Gangulfus alto parentum germine et superbi sanguinis nobilitate Burgundia extitit oriundus et disciplinis christiani dogmatis a parentibus adprime eruditus est.

  [Vita I]

The Chapel of St Gengoult at Varennes sur Amance
Detail of a drawing by Hannibal Dias

The little information we possess concerning St Gengulph's immediate family is derived entirely from Vita I.


Vita I and Hroswitha are unanimous that Gengulphus was born of a distinguished and noble Burgundian family. His parents are not named. His mother is spoken of only in her parental rôle when he was a small child, and as the provider of a strong Christian influence in his early upbringing.  His father is mentioned only obliquely in the statement that Gengulph's succeeding at an early age to the paternal estate - an extensive and valuable property - gave him the opportunity to become an outstandingly generous benefactor to those in need.

Some authorities have identified the Gengulfus who is mentioned in a charter of year 667 with the father of the saint.  This is most improbable.  See His Remoter Ancestry.


Neither Vita I nor Hroswitha indicate that the Saint had any offspring - even when there are sufficient reasons and opportunities for so doing; as when, for example, Gengulphus separates from his wife in Vita I and makes provision for her maintenance.  The question of the succession is explicitly dwelt on in Hroswitha, where we are told that the Gengulph, apparently dilatory in complying with the matrimonial expectations of his people,


… was urged by strong representations from his chief courtiers
to take to himself a suitable young woman
to join in lawful wedlock as is fitting,
lest the noble line of the royal family
should come to an end through lack of issue.


Despite this understandable anxiety we hear nothing of an heir on the occasion of his death.

This negative evidence, coupled with the lack of any external historical record that he left a posterity, compels us to suppose that Gengulph's unfortunate marriage was childless.


After describing Gengulph's death, and his triumphant entry into glory, Vita I goes on to tell us what happened to his body:


His two aunts, Willegossa and Willetrudis, had settled at the abovementioned place called Varennes, which belonged to Gengulph.  Here they devoted themselves to the disciplines of holiness and chastity.  When they learned of his death, they hastened to where his lifeless body lay, accompanied by great numbers of clergy and religious, and a considerable crowd of laypeople.

Taking up his body they bore him with lights and crosses to Varennes, accompanied by the melody of sacred hymns, and dazzling miracles.  He was buried by these handmaids of God, in his own church, dedicated in honour of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles.


 - which is exactly as we would expect. Gengulph has made provision from his own inheritance for the maintenance of his deceased father's unmarried sisters. 

We might have expected the quasi-religious life of these aunts to have attracted the interest of Hroswitha, but she omits all mention of them.  Presumably  -  having shifted the location of Gengulph's burial from his native Varennes and relocated it anachronistically at Toul she could no longer find a convincing place for them in her narrative.

Vita I touchingly describes their grief at Gengulph's death:


These two felt conflicting emotions:  whilst indeed they knew that they should feel glad for Gengulph, they felt grief for themselves;  and whilst rejoicing at his glorification, they lamented their own desolation.


The fact that the names Willegossa and Willetrudis both have elements in common with Pépin le Bref's mother (Rotrudis of Trier), the wife of his grandfather (Plectrudis), and with his maternal grandmother (Willegarde of Bavaria), raises the fragile possibility of a family relationship.

The C13th stained glass cycle representing the life of St Gengulphus which is preserved in the collegiate church of St Gengoult at Toul contains two panels depicting Gengulph's aunts.


© Paul Trenchard
all rights reserved
Page last revised 17.08.08

Statue of St Gangulphe, Guessling  Gallery
Auteur:  M. François Folschweiller

Figure of St Gangolf at Kluftern  Gallery
Author: Andreas Praefcke

Window of St Gengulphe at Moissey (39)

Equestrian statue of St Gangulphe at Gennes (25)

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