St Gengulphus

 

 

HIS RELICS

 

 

…they laid to rest the limbs of blessed Gengulphus, sprinkling the sacred remains with their tears. Henceforth they would frequently visit these sacred relics, seeking the sure protection of the Saint.

[Hroswitha]


The Reliquary of St Gangulphe at Florennes
 


 
Reliquary of St Gangulf, St Gangulfkerk, St Truiden

Reliquary of St Gangolf at Heinsberg.
 
St Gengoux de Scissé, church interior
Dedicated to St Gengoux before the year 801


The ancient oak tree at Zimming (57), which local
tradition associates with the bâton of St Gengoulf
Source:  M. François Folschweiller

 
 La Chapelle de St Gengon, Varennes sur Amance

Painting of St Gangolf at Kluftern
Author:  Andreas Praefcke
Church of St Gengoult at Toul
Postcard ca 1899

Painting of the Saint at Tallenay (25)

 
 St Gengulphus from a mediaeval manuscript

The collegiate church of St Gangulphe at Florennes
detail from a postcard

Figure of St Gangolf at Kluftern

La chapelle St Gengoulf, Zimming (57)
Auteur:  M. François Folschweiller

 
 

The relics of St Gengulphus are to be found throughout the area in which his cultus became established.  It is not possible to give a coherent account of their dissemination, but some documentary evidence does survive to throw a little light on this subject.

As far as primary relicsx of St Gengulphus are concerned, the story begins with the account in Vita I of the events immediately following the Saint's death when, at the intervention of his aunts, his body was brought back to Varennes for burial. The narrative states that a profusion of miracles occurred in the vicinity of the Saint's body during the journey and that following the burial of his mortal remains, miracles continued to be produced at the site of his grave.

         

His two aunts, Willegossa and Willetrudis, had settled at the… place called Varennes, which belonged to Gengulph, where they devoted themselves to the disciplines of holiness and chastity. When acquainted with his death, they hastened to where his lifeless body lay, joined 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 astonishing miracles.  He was buried by these two handmaids of God, in his own church, dedicated in honour of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles.

After the servant of God had gone the way of all flesh, at the very place to which they conveyed his sacred body the broad and unspeakable mercy of God, through the merits of his saint, bestowed great benefits upon the people. Manifestations of his wonders flowed forth on every side, and great crowds of people would gather for this great outpouring of gifts. One of the young women who served [Gengulph's wife] in the capacity of a servant, then ran swiftly to her mistress, saying,  ‘The body of Lord Gengulph, now laid to rest in his tomb, is bestowing the most wonderful miracles of healing upon everyone!’

         

The maidservant's enthusiastic excitement, however, does not elicit a sympathetic response from her mistress, who angrily expresses her disbelief in the miraculous powers of her husband's relics in a vigorous and coarse manner.x For this impiety she is instantly afflicted with a miraculous and humiliating punishment.

For some period of time, then, the bodily relics of the Saint remained interred at the church of St Peter at Varennes. They would almost certainly have been disinterred at the time of his canonization and the local establishment of his cultus, in order to ensure their reverent preservation, to encourage devotion, and to allow portions of these relics to be shared with other churches. A reference to a church dedicated to Gengulphus at St Gengoux de Scisséy in 801 strongly suggests that the 'elevation' and 'recognition' of his relics had taken place prior to that date.

Vita I also provides the first evidence for the preservation of certain secondary relicsa associated with the Saint in the form of the his 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,b is kept his helmet, his breastplate, his sword and his gauntlets.

  

This statement is of particular interest given that there is evidence that such secondary relics have in fact survived into the modern period. Bégasse de Dhaeme, for example, writing in 1945 notes:

 

A Langres, on conserve une partie de son armure, ainsi qu'au village de Lugesc où l'on montre un fragment de sa cotte de maille.d

 

At some stage, perhaps in response to the dangers presented by the Viking incursions of the C9th, the relics of St Gengulphus were removed to the relative safety of Langres. Here they were housed in a chapel dedicated to St Gengulphus and served by a small religious community. Nothing survives of this foundation.

In the 960s these same relics, or a significant portion of them, were transferred yet again, this time at the instance of St Gerard the celebrated bishop of Toule (963-994). St Gerard was well-known for his enthusiastic acquisition of relics, and his successful application to the bishop of Langres for the relics of St Gengulphus is recorded both in Vita II, and in the Miracles of St Aper.f The relics were duly enshrined in the monastic church which Gerard himself had founded at Toul - the present successor of which is the impressive église collégiale de St Gengoult.


The presence in Toul of the relics of St Gengulpus, and of a robust cultus in his honour, led Hroswitha of Gandersheim to remove all mention of Varennes from her account of Gengulph's burial, and to portray Toul as if it had been his original resting place. It is not known whether this was a genuine misapprehensionh on her part, or whether it was inspired by a not unreasonable desire to enhance the reputation of the place which had effectively eclipsed Varennes as the chief centre of her subject's cultus.

At all events her description of Gengulph's burial is clearly influenced by her awareness of the important cultus of his relics which was, at the time of writing, firmly established in Toul:

 

Meanwhile the preparations are made for a great funeral  
and they honour the lifeless body with the accustomed rites.
All men wept at the loss of so great a master,
but his own grieving servants lamented him the most deeply.

A worthy place, which our forefather called Tul,
was chosen for his venerable tomb.
Here they laid to rest the limbs of blessed Gengulph
sprinkling the sacred remains with their tears.

Henceforth they would frequently visit these sacred relics
seeking the sure protection of the Saint,
and even prostrate their bodies upon the sacred tomb              
seeking relief for various infirmities of health.

Even he who bears the sceptre prostrates himself and, pressing his lips upon the monument,
offers the marble tomb the tribute of a kiss,
seeking with earnest supplication, and with offerings, that through the merits
of the gracious martyr, Christ might look favourably on him.      [
Hroswitha 489-504]

 

The mention of a royal visit to the shrine is of great interest. Vita I makes no suggestion that Pepin le Bref ever visited Gengulph's tomb, and here again it seems probable that Hroswitha is allowing her knowledge of contemporary events to colour her narrative. The ambiguous imprecision of the phrase 'ast, qui sceptra gerit…' raises at least a strong possibility that she is making a surreptitious reference to some visit paid to Toul by the Holy Roman Emperor.

Hroswitha also describes at some length the popularity of the cultus of St Gengulphus at Toul, the profusion of the miracles associated with his relics, and the international extent of the Saint's reputation:

 

How could I describe of the crowds which gathered at the threshold of the shrine,
or recount their innumerable petitions?
[…]
Here in truth the blind man opens his eyes to the clear light of day
joyous at the rapid restoration of his sight,
and ears long closed are opened to the sound of voices,
and movement is restored again to crippled feet.
Here the sick find relief for a multitude of other ailments,
and diseased limbs are at last made whole.
I cannot find words adequate to describe the outstanding gifts
which this place bestows upon our illustrious nation.

And it is not only Gengulph’s fellow countrymen
who are fired with love for their own dear patron,
but even the inhabitants of distant lands
become aware of the martyr’s ready assistance.
Thus Tul boasts her good fortune throughout the whole world
for it is she who cherishes in her bosom those sacred relics.    [Hroswitha 505…526]

 

Whilst Toul was enjoying this newly acquired prestige, another significant portion of the relics of St Gengulphus was migrating in quite a different direction. The relation of this portion of relics to the others which have been mentioned, and the reason for their separate existence, is not known. Their story, which is by no means free of human weakness and subterfuge, is engagingly recounted by Gonzo, the fourth abbot of Florennes.

 

In the Ardennes, at the place called Geldina,k there was a church dedicated to St Gengulph,l in which the relics of that saint, as always, worked wonders. A priest named Reinoldus served this church, which was the property of the Count Godefridus de Griso Montem by right of his inheritance of that territory. 

A violent disagreement arose between these two men and the priest departed, taking with him the relics of the saint. Upon his arrival at a place called Vileriacumn, he deposited the relics without anyone knowing in the reliquary behind the altar of the church.

There was a certain old woman there, who waited on the priest when he celebrated Mass. She was disturbed by a repeated vision of a venerable figure, standing before her and saying, 'Go and tell Reinoldus to take me away from that place where he has put me'. As she did not know who this might be, and was becoming troubled by the man’s repeated admonition, she approached the priest and said to him, jestingly, ‘Who is it that have you laid to rest, I know not where, and who so insistently asks to be taken away?’

In those days Arnulph, the son of Alpais and Godefrid the Count of Hainaut governed Florennes. He was held in equal esteem and awe by all men, as much for his military discipline as for his devotion to religion… Reinoldus revealed to… [him] what had happened concerning the relics of St Gengulph. At Arnulph’s request he brought the relics to Florennes and placed them in the church of St Matthew within the castle. These events took place the months of March and April.

There were, in that neighbourhood, a number sick and infirm people. A mysterious figure appeared to certain of them in a vision and advised them that, in order to recover their health, they should go to Florennes. Full of trust, they duly went; and when they returned home cured, they broadcast this astonishing fact. The priest Reinoldus then began to make it known to everyone that these wonders had been performed through the merits and intercessions of St Gengulphus, whose relics were at that place.

Meanwhile, as the day of St Gengulph’s martyrdomo was drawing near, the priest began to beg Arnulph that he would allow the day to be solemnized by bearing forth the relics from the castle. The pious Arnulph granted this request and erected in the middle of a field a pavilion with two galleriesp one on each side, in which the wonder-working relics might be displayed.r

 

Gonzo here introduces the first of some three dozen miracles. A man of Rolceasq named Boso whose long-standing paralysis had rendered him no more than a 'living man with a dead body'. His disease is cured following the appearance to him in his sleep of a mysterious figure who urged him to visit Florennes for the Feast of St Gengulphus. 

 

How splendidly do the miracles here begin!  How clearly does the Godhead reveal his pleasure in the devotions which the crowds of people offer there to the saint.  And other pleasing miracles were wrought there that day, which because they are so many they will be inserted elsewhere in the narrative.

Seeing the multitude of wondrous deeds that the Lord had performed in the pavilion, the pious Arnulph realized that God wished his saint to be honoured in that place;  so he immediately raised a church in honour of St Gengulph in that very spot.  He had it consecrated by Bishop Notherus, and it was later enlarged by Abbot Werricus.r

 

Whilst the arrival of the relics of St Gengulphus are a source of prestige and popularity for Florennes, their loss is naturally a matter of regret to their previous owner…

 

When he heard that so many great miracles were being performed at Florennes the aforementioned Godefrid regretted that his own church and he himself should have been deprived of such a great honour.  He summoned Reinoldus the priest and, with persuasive charm, rapidly set about regaining the benefit which he had lost.

Paying him handsomely and promising yet further reward, he extracted from the priest a sworn agreement that he would restore to Godefrid the privilege of these relics which had been removed.  The priest thus resolved to make his way to Florennes, with the intention of stealing back the relics surreptitiously.  But at the very moment of his departure he was seized by an unexpected bodily affliction, and was suddenly struck down dead in the middle of his journey.
r

 

Gonzo then makes a digression in which he gives a curious and circumstantial account of the arrival at Florennes of a relic of the thumb of St John the Baptist. The subsequent acquisition of this more prestigious relic gives him the opportunity of alluding to Gengulphus by the grandiose title of Precursor Precursoris Domini.

 

Thus at Florennes St Gengulph becomes the Forerunner of the Forerunner of the Lord;  and that place, which had previously been barren and short of clergy, is transformed through the merits of the saints into a richly productive land, full of monks.  And so, through the merits of St Gengulph, countless miracles have been performed here, and continue to be performed.  Many of these miracles, however, have not been recorded, as much on account of their astonishing profusion, as through a shortage of writers.r

 
To be continued shortly
     
     
 
NOTES:

x.   Primary relics are the bodies, or parts of the bodies, of saints.

z.   At illa, furiali amentia debachata, sic ait:  'Sic operatur virtutes Gangulfus, quomodo anus meus'.

y.   Ragut.  No LXVIII

a.   Secondary relics are objects that have been in contact with, or used by, a saint. These are frequently items of clothing, but include articles of many other kinds.

b.   In that church, which bears his name… It is not entirely clear which church the author is referring to here. He has told us that Gengulph's body was originally buried in the church of St Peter at Varennes. He is now referring to a church, dedicated to St Gengulphus, and in which his relics were kept subsequent to their recognitio. The most obvious candidate is the chapel of St Gengoult at Varennes, a building distinct from the parish church, and built on the site of the miraculous spring.

c.   Luges - I cannot identify this place.

d.   St Gangulphe à Florennes p.51
     
e.   In the present département of Meurthe et Moselle, France.
     
f.   Krusch & Levison p. 172 and 173
g.  
h.   A number of considerations make it improbable that this was a genuine misapprehension on Hroswitha's part.
 
k.   Usually identified with Gedinne (Walloon Djedene) a Belgian commune in the province of Namur, some 40 km SSE of Florennes.

l.   The present church of Gedinne, however, is dedicated to Our Lady.
 
m.   If amended to Orsisomonte, this is the modern Orchimont, 10 km S of Gedinne.

n.   Possibly Villers deux Eglises, 11 km SW of Florennes, or Willerzie, 6 km W of Gedinne.

o.   11th May.

p.   duaeque altrinsecus scenae componuntur - these two structures are presumably gallerys in which the sexes might be accommodated separately whilst making their devotions before the relics.

 q.   Perhaps Roly, 15 km SSW of Florennes
 r   Historia Miraculorum Sancti Gengulphi, caput I
     
 



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Page last revised 24.07.08


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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