Saint Gengulphus was a Burgundian knight of Varennes-sur-Amance in the present
département of Haut Marne in the Grand Est region of Northeastern France. He was a man of outstanding piety and charitableness who served as a soldier under Pepin the Short, and whose martyrdom took the unusual form of being murdered (ca 760) by his wife’s lover. His name is entered as a saint and martyr in the Roman Martyrology on 11th May, which is generally accepted to have been the date of his death. Whilst being particularly regarded as the patron saint of deceived husbands and unhappy marriages, St Gengulphus also has traditional associations with shoe-makers, tanners, glove-makers, horsemen, knights and huntsmen.
In this day and age of increasing numbers of divorces, broken and unhappy marriages it seems appropriate to try to breathe some new life into this neglected cultus. We are researching the music for the office of St Gengulphus at present. It appears that most of the office music written for St Gengulphus has not been sung for over 500 years – very possibly longer – maybe some 600 years! Here and there from the late C15th to the French revolution maybe a Magnificat antiphon or respond, a couple of readings with a related respond in matins and a commerative prayer, an intercession appeal in a litany – little evidence of much more. In the late C18th (before the French revolution) a text of of a new hymn was published in Paris. After 1800 the commemeration of our Saint pretty much disappeared!
A very possible reason? St Gengulphus has suffered from the peculiar disadvantage that there are elements in the earliest versions of his biography which subsequent ages have found coarse or indelicate. These concern not the blameless life of the Saint himself but the unusual nature of the miraculous punishments inflicted upon his adulterous wife and upon her paramour, and have been the subject of censorship and criticism.
The Psalterium Foundation is very thankful to Paul Trenchard (author/researcher of all the text in the original site – last edited in 2008/9 – a most serious research effort!) for permission to retrieve this site from Google cache. (It had been offline for almost a decade). And to expand and utilize it as an instrument to inform the public and market our planned recording of the St. Gengoux office in May of 2022 (original planning was for autumn of 2020, but delayed due to uncertainties surrounding Covid-19).
And, for what it’s worth, to encourage – perhaps with great optimism – a revival of the devotion to St. Gengulphus to support those today faced with marital challenges.
We are pleased to include below Paul Trenchard’s own foreword (written in 2006) for the original site location. Please read it – it is well worth it!
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)
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
a Les Manuscrits François de la Bibliothèque du Roi. pp 88-89 (translation: the rather unedifying story of S. Jangon)
b My own italics.
c Baring-Gould s.d. 11th May