SAINT GENGULPHUS



His Iconography






et manibus bravii palmula perpetui…
and in his hands is placed the palm of everlasting victory…

   [Hroswitha]



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Fresco in the church of St Gangolf, Trier.
Source:  Heiligen-3
 



SUMMARY

St Gengulphus is generally depicted as:

      
  • A man in young middle age
  • frequently bearded
  • dressed as a soldier
  • or as a nobleman in civilian dress with hunting emblems
     
     

His attributes include:

 
  • the martyr's palm branch
  • a cloak or other clothing coloured red
  • a sword  -  the instrument of his martyrdom
  • a staff  -  which may appear as a lance, or carry a pennon
  • a spring  -  which may be produced by his staff, or (less correctly) his sword
  • a shield bearing a cross, or the arms of the Duchy of Burgundy
  • other armour worn or associated
  • the coronet of a baron or of some other rank of nobility
  • a hand-held cross
  • a gauntlet and hawk
  • a horse
 
     
     

Representations of St Gengulph are found as statues, paintings, mosaics, and in other forms, throughout the areas of Europe in which his cultus established itself.  

Although St Gengulph is occasionally represented as a noblemen in civilian dress with the accoutrements of a huntsman  -  of which the statue of St Gengoul at Sacey is a notably flamboyant example  -  he is more generally portrayed as a knight.1 The symbols most characteristically associated with him are the sword and the martyr's palm.  He is generally represented as a man 'in his prime'  -  rather than as a youth.

As a knight he may be a standing figure,3 or mounted.4  Frequently he is dressed in full armour or, if not, his armour may prominent elsewhere in the scene.6 The presence of the armour is not merely an allusion to Gengulph's rôle as a military leader; it refers specifically to words in Vita I:a

   

he was energetic of mind, strong in body, vigorous in arms, and highly accomplished in all the military arts.  This is attested by his celebrated armour, which today is preserved in the church dedicated in his honour.  In that church, which bears his name and which is honoured by the presence of his sacred body, is kept his helmet, his breastplate, his sword and his gauntlets.

This was the armour which protected him externally.  Inwardly, however, he was resplendent with armour most invincible.  That is to say, with the helmet of salvation; the unconquerable breastplate of justice;  the shield of equity;  and the sword of the Word of God, which, with wonderful and penetrating power illuminated the innermost parts of his character.   [Vita I]

   

The Saint is almost invariably depicted holding in his hand or wearing a sword.5 Occasionally the sword appears elsewhere in the scene.6  The specific significance of this symbol, beyond its being part of his armour, is that this was the instrument of his martyrdom.

 

When the clerk saw an opportunity for his ungodly villainy, he crept into the bedchamber, seized the sword which lay beside Gengulph’s head, and unsheathed it so that he might cut off his head whilst he lay asleep.  But as he held sword aloft, the Saint awoke and attempted to leap out of the bed.  Although he had intended to strike at the Saint’s neck, it happened otherwise, because, as the blessed man sought to ward off the deadly blow, the point of the blade pierced his hip inflicting a serious wound.   [Vita I]

  

St Gengulph's miraculous transference of a spring from Champagne to Varennes sur Amance is frequently alluded to.  Many depictions show a spring of water spurting from the place where the tip of the sword touches the ground. The Lives, however, are unanimous that it was the Saint's 'staff' and not his sword that was instrumental in producing the miracle.  The alteration is clearly dictated by the artists' need to rationalize the number of items that the Saint could be expected to hold simultaneously.b

This modification, although it has no basis in the Lives, has influenced the development of the St Gengulphus legend, in that popular versions of the Saint's life exist in which it is his sword, and not his staff, which brings forth the miraculous spring.  Whilst of no great significance in itself, the alteration is to be regretted as the staff is in itself an interesting detail of the original narrative. Occasionally, and perhaps significantly, the staff is represented as a general's bâton.7

In the oil painting in the church of St Gengoux de Scissé the Saint appears to be standing in a shallow pool of water, alluding  -  in a rather unexpected way  -  to the miracle of the spring.

Occasionally the Saint carries a hand-sized cross.1  This attribute - more often associated with missionary and preaching saints - is an allusion to the tradition that St Gengulph was involved in propagating the gospel amongst the pagans of Frisia and elsewhere.  This activity is not mentioned in the Lives, and there does not seem to be any evidence for it except, perhaps, in the distribution of his cultus.c

For similar reasons the Saint's shield is frequently charged with a cross or, anachronistically, the arms of the Duchy of Burgundy.  Occasionally the cross appears in the form of a flag or pennon attached to the Saint's staff.1  In the window of the church at St Gengoux le National, the cross appears on the breast of his surcoat. This cross is generally red in colour, which may lead to St Gengulphus being represented in a figure very closely resembling St George.2 

In the stained glass window of St Gengoulf in the parish church at Bréhain (57), the cross takes a  quite different form, being represented by a wayside cross at which the saint, mounted, is performing his devotions.  This window is also unusual in depicting his murderer and his unfaithful wife;  both of whom are portrayed concealed hiding treacherously in adjoining woodland.

Gengulphus, as a warrior, is often portrayed mounted. There are occasions, however, when the horse is more than merely a descriptive detail, and takes on the rôle of an 'attribute'. In the 'cycle of St Gengoult' at Toul, for example, where fifteen panels of C13th glass preserved in the collegate church of St Gengoult present a series of scenes from his life, the Saint is almost always portrayed with a horse. This is the case even when a horse is not strictly required by the narrative. In the panel, for example, which depicts the Saint entering the service of King Pepin, a horse is shown looking into the building through a doorway, and effectively acts as an attribute, assisting the viewer to identify the Saint, and making a symbolic statement about his life, status, and patronage.

St Gengulph is frequently depicted as bearded, presumably because this would be the most likely condition of a campaigning soldier who lacked access to domestic comforts.  The Lives make no allusion to this detail of the Saint's appearance except obliquely in the lines:

 

Quem mox inberbem… 
Gratia Pippini principis almifici
Regale non inmerito sisti iubet aula…   [
Hroswitha]

 

from which inconclusive words no deduction can be drawn as to the Saint's adult appearance in this respect.  The beard with which Gengulph is characteristically portrayed does however achieve a ludicrous importance in Barham's Lay of St Gengulphus.

The characteristic iconography of St Gengulphus can be found reflected in the armorials of some of the places with which he is associated. One noteworthy example is the arms of Gangolfsömmern in which the Saint is represented as a mounted knight, armed with lance and sword, and carrying a shield decorated with a cross.

St Gengulphus, unsurprisingly, is not found represented as a hermit - because he wasn't one. Vita I gives no grounds for this misconception, which is of recent origin. Indeed it gives the clearest indications, both by explicit statement, and by details contained in the narrative, that the Saint was not a hermit.

In the church of St Gengoux le National (71) a large oil painting by Bonnardel, dated 1849, depicts the Saint in an unusual and perhaps unique way.  Here he appears as a youthful and lightly bearded nobleman, dressed unpretentiously in a tunic and cloak, and with his sword hanging at his side.  He is standing at the entrance of his castle where, assisted by a boy with panniers, he is distributing bread to a group of poor people. 

 

Early in his life he succeeded to his family estate;  an extensive property of great value.  He consequently became a liberal benefactor of the poor to an extent which it is beyond our power to describe…   [Vita I]

 

Behind him, and distinct from the group of poor, a woman of richer appearance and a scowling man are watching the proceedings stonily, and would appear to represent his wife and murderer.  The Saint's hunting activities are alluded to by a large and splendidly executed chien de chasse who occupies a prominent position in the foreground and adds greatly to the interest of an otherwise slightly wooden scene.

Another unusual portrayal of the Saint is to be found in the church at Gennes (25). Here there is an oil painting which depicts the Saint purchasing the spring which he will miraculously transport to Varennes sur Amance. Gengulphus is shown as a soldier and is attended by one of his companions. He stands at spring of water, and is handing a purse to a kneeling recipient in peasant costume. Beside the peasant is a small boy - who is explicitly mentioned in Hroswitha as having been sent by Gengulphus to fetch the owner of the spring. This large and interesting oil painting was formerly placed behind the high altar of the church, which is dedicated to St Gengulphus. It now occupies a less distinguished position high on the west wall.


Occasionally statues are found in which the Gengulphus, instead of being represented as a single figure, forms a group with his wife at the occasion of her 'ordeal'.  In these cases the saint, generally in rich civilian costume, stands at a carved vessel respresenting the basin of the fountain, into which his wife, similarly richly dressed, plunges her arm.8

     
 
 
EXAMPLES:

1.   E.g. Statue, Wolpertswende
2.   E.g. See the cartouche at Kluftern illustrated on this page
3.   E.g. Statue, Bourcia
4.    E.g. Statue, Moissey
5.    E.g. Painting, St Gengoux le National
6.    E.g. Painting, St Gengoux de Scissé
7.    E.g. Statue at Montgesoye and painting at Kluftern
8.   E.g. At Abbeville, and Wierre au Bois
     
     
NOTES:

a.   Based on Eph 6.13-16.

b.   But a profusion of attributes is not necessarily a problem. In the fresco at St Gangolf's church in Trier, illustrated at the top of this page, the Saint dextrously wields a remarkable number of items: the church of which he is patron; a hawk; a spear; the sword of his martyrdom; a purse (a detail which is explicitly referred to by Hroswitha, and which aludes to his purchase of a spring in Champagne); a gauntlet; and a smaller blade which is perhaps a hunting dagger.

c.   St Gengulph's connection with Frisia appears to be linked with the misconception that he had been a companion of St Wulfran. This saint, whose ministry among the people of Frisia is undisputed, was active before Gengulphus was born.
     
 
     
     
© Paul Trenchard
all rights reserved
Page last revised 18.04.2011

St Gangolf.  Statue at Wolpertswende

St Gengoux, with palm, armour, and pool of water
St Gengoux de Scissé

Statue of St Gengoul, Sacey
Photographic rights PNRFO


Cartouche over the Gangolfsaltar at Kluftern
Author: Andreas Praefcke

An uncommon depiction of the Saint purchasing
the miraculous spring, Gennes (25)


 Statue de St Jean Goul, Montgesoye
Note that his staff is represented as a General's baton

The arms of Gangolfsömmern

 
St Gengoux between St Roche and St Louis.
Window, St Gengoux le National
 

St Gengoux giving bread to the poor.  H. Bonnardel.
St Gengoux le National
 
C16 sculpture at Abbeville depicting the trial of Ganea


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