A Résumé of Vita I

The Prose Life of St Gengulph 


The author explains that St Gengulph 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’ 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 Gengulph 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.

Illustration:  Equestrian statue of the Saint, formerly in the Church of St Gangulphe, Moxhe.

The Saint’s Birth and Character

Gengulph 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.

His Recreations

As his favourite estate was thickly forested and abounded with game, Gengulph 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 Gengulph 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.

Gengulph, 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

Returning from a successful expedition in the king’s service, Gengulph and his men passed through Champagne. Here Gengulph 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, Gengulph invited him to share their meal, and asked the man if he would be prepared to sell the spring. 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

Gengulph 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, Gengulph plunged his staff into the ground and entered the house.

The Miracle of the Spring

The next morning Gengulph 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

His wife, continuing her adultery with a ‘clerk’, became the subject of common gossip which eventually reached the ears of Gengulph himself. Torn between desire to punish her, and the wish to live his own life without blame or guilt, he determined to entrust the matter to the judgement of God.

His Wife’s Adultery is Exposed

One day Gengulph, in the company of his wife, approached a certain spring. He mentioned the injurious rumours which are circulating about her - which she denied vehemently. Gengulph 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.

Gengulph Parts from his Wife

Gengulph 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, where he devoted 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 Gengulph 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. Gengulph was able to deflect the blow, but received instead a serious wound in his hip. He attacker, meanwhile, fled.

Gengulph 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 Gengulph, 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 Gengulph, had immediately fled back to his mistress. After they had danced in 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 went, unrepentant, to hell.

The Punishment of the Wife.

The tomb of Gengulph 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 Gengulph 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, 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.


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 Gengulph performed during his lifetime, but points out that now that he is dead his miraculous powers are outstanding and well-known.


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