A Saint Gengulfa ?

A Female Version of St. Gengulphus?

Well, it does appear that an effort was made in Victorian English literature to introduce such a female figure. By Ms. Rhoda Broughton – (29 November 1840 – 5 June 1920) – a Welsh novelist and short story writer. Her early writings earned her a reputation for sensationalism, which meant her later, stronger work tended to be neglected by critics, although she was described as a queen of the circulating libraries.

Twilight Stories is a collection of short ghost stories by Rhoda Broughton. Broughton uses the tales to comment on taboo subjects such as female sexuality and women’s attitudes to money, as well as developing her interest in psychology and otherness, whilst consolidating her reputation as a sensational writer who never failed to tell a gripping tale. Originally published as Tales for Christmas Eve

St Gengulfa appears in the short story – The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth – a story set as an epistolary exchange between two upper middle class ladies. And one of the correpondent’s name is Cecilia. The story dates from 1868. The relevant bit of text reads:

So lay aside that scepticism, which is your besetting sin, and give unfeigned thanks to St Brigitta, or St Gengulpha, or St Catherine of Siena, or whoever is your tutelar saint, for having provided you with a palace at the cost of a hovel, and for having sent you such an invaluable friend as,
Your attached, Elizabeth De Wynt.

There are other occurrences where St. Gengulpha is referred to in other fictional stories by Ms. Broughton, one in which a chapel/church of St. Gengulpha is mentioned – complete with a Vicar and choir boys. Here it is:

Extract from Broughton’s novel: Lavinia

What are we to make of this? Is a St. Gengulpha a historic person or a fictional person and a concoction of Ms. Rhoda Brouthon’s imagination.

The answer is the latter. And for the underlying reasons and arguments:

1. There is no female St Gengulphus in antiquity, and in fact such a name cannot even exist because the – wulf / – ulphus is a distinctly male element in Germanic names (as Gengulphus is). See: https://www.gengulphus.com/the-name-gengulphus/

2. There is no St Gengulpha in the recent period, as can be verified from e.g. the Roman Martyrology – several manuscripts/editions (including local editions in places where Gengulphus was popular) were consulted dating from the C12th to C18th by the editor of this website.

3. Prior to the mid C19th the name Gengulphus barely appears in any English texts at all.  Mention of a relic at Durham, and a reference in a Scottish chronicle and little else.  So the name was in no sense known or current in UK.

4. The name begins to receive attention and to be known in the Anglophone world from the publication of Barham’s Lay of St Gengulphus, and Beddoes’ ludicrous poem.  These two were published at almost exactly the same time (ca. 1837). See: https://www.gengulphus.com/st-gengulphus/

5. So, ‘Gengulpha’ is a concocted name, based humourously on the newly-popularized figure of Gengulphus.  Perhaps because of a perceived similarity to the saint  –  presumably in his character as a wronged spouse.

6. Or (and our oracle in Burgundy and author – Paul Trenchard – of much of the material on this website tends to think that this is more probable) because of a perceived correspondence with Gengulphus’s wife  –  an adulterous wife, punished with incontinent farting (the miraculous punishment imposed on the unfortunate woman).  The traditional name of Gengulphus’s wife (Ganea) was not, at this point in time, generally known, or available in any published source, as far as we know.  So, Paul’s suspicion is that the proposal of Gengulpha as the name of a tutelary saint, is simply a flippant, but covert way, of saying that the correspondant was known to have taken a lover – as Madame Gengulphus had done in her day!

In cricket terms: Howzat? – for an analysis? The editor welcomes any comments or insights.