It would be disgraceful if the light of so good and great a man
were to remain concealed under the bushel of silence, and not be published… [Vita I]
Window of St Gangolf at Kluftern Gallery
So wrote the anonymous author of the C10th prose life of St Gengulph. It has, however, been the fate of this saint that the earliest biographical material relating to his life has not been readily available to the ordinary reader. This is because the subject matter - though full of historical and human interest - contains elements which previous ages have considered indelicate or distasteful. The great French literary historian Alexis Paulin Paris, for example, reflected a widespread opinion when in 1841 he referred to 'l'histoire assez peu édifiante de S. Jangon',a whilst the Revd Sabine Baring-Gould in his monumental Lives of the Saints, wrote even more decisively, ‘It is impossible, even in Latin,b to give the account of the miraculous punishments inflicted on the murderer and the [saint's] wife’.c
That however was 1872. Today it would be not only disgraceful but absurd if our knowledge of this great man - a military leader of early Carolingian France; a companion of Pepin the Short; a significant figure in the religious history of Burgundy, and a saint of outstanding generosity and patience whose cultus extends widely through six countries of western Europe and beyond, were to be restricted by sensitivities derived from the age of the crinoline.
It should be stressed, moreover, that those elements of St Gengulph's story which some ages have found coarse or unedifying are connected not with the exemplary life of the saint himself, but with the retribution visited upon his adulterous wife and her lover - who would win a perverse and ironic victory if the nature of the punishments inflicted upon them was allowed to eclipse the merits and sanctity of their victim.
The Saint first came to my notice in 1964 when, on inheriting my grandfather’s copy of the Ingoldsby Legends, I discovered with delight the Revd R. H. Barham’s burlesque but safely sanitized Lay of St Gengulphus. Now, after an acquaintanceship of more than forty years, it is with pleasure that I attempt in this small way to reverse his unjustifiable neglect.
Urbs Sancti Jangulfi
b My own italics.
c Baring-Gould s.d. 11th May
© Paul Trenchard