Canonization and Cultus

Now, rightly, Gengulphus takes his place in heaven alongside all those other saints who had been the inseparable spiritual companions of his earthly life. [Vita I]

The beginnings of the modern and centralized process of canonization are to be found in the C12th.x Prior to that it lay within the competency of the local bishop to make canonical investigation into a saint’s ’cause’, and to approve a cultus within the territory over which he had jurisdiction. This would involve the insertion of the saint’s name into the local calendar, and the provision of suitable texts for the celebration of the Mass and the offices of that day.  The saint’s bodily remains would generally be taken up for the purposes of honourable preservation and to permit their veneration as relics by the faithful. Such a locally approved cultus might then commend itself elsewhere and thus become established over a wider area.

Whilst, in the case of St Gengulphus, we know nothing of the process of his canonization, we do have early documentary evidence of his cultus. A charter of the emperor Charlemagne, dated 801 and preserved in the cartulary of the canons of the Cathedral of St Vincent at Mâcon,a reveals the existence of a church dedicated to the Saint at St Gengoux de Scissé b in that diocese.  As this dedication occurs less than 40 years after the widely accepted date for the Saint’s death, and in a different diocese, and at a distance of some 220 km from his place of burial, it provides significant evidence for the early establishment and rapid spread of his cultus.

St Gengoux de Scissé. One of the most ancient dedications to St Gengoux (801 AD).

This rapid development accords well with the narrative of Vita I which describes an immediate popular response to the death of the Saint, and the manifestation of miracles both before and after his burial: 

Learning of the death of the blessed man, [his aunts] 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 dazzling miracles…

… After the servant of God had gone the way of all flesh, at the very place to which they had 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.

Devotion to St Gengulphus subsequently extended itself in a broad band across Europe from Switzerland to the Netherlands, including the northern and eastern parts of France, south-west Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. In this area are found a great number of places of worship dedicated to him, ranging from the great churches at Toul, Trier and Bamberg, to ordinary parish churches and obscure oratories. A dedication to St Gengulphus is occasionally shared with another saint as at Freistroffc and at Maconge.d Sometimes, as at Rémérangles and in the former cathedral of Cambrai, a chapel dedicated to him is found within a larger church. Relics of the Saint are found throughout this area.

Devotion to St. Gangolphe was re-emphasized very locally in the reconstruction of a former wooden Chapel to that of stone dedicated to the Saint in the mid C15th in Schweighouse-Lautenbach (Alsace) with a wonderful short fresco serial (and other images) of our Saint’s life in the choir of the chapel.

La fresque illustrant Saint Gangolf qui achète la source, dans le choeur de la chapelle Saint-Gangolphe de Schweighouse-Lautenbach,

Whilst a great number of these places of worship are Roman Catholic, dedications to him are also retained in the Lutheran, and the Reformed traditions. His feast day is also noted on the calendars of some Eastern Orthodox churches which have jurisdictions in France.

His cultus is that of a martyr, not a hermit. The entry in the Roman Martyrology says simply: Varennis, in Gallia, sancti Gangulphi Martyris.x The idea that Gengulphus parted from his wife to become a hermit is a relatively recent misconception. Not only does Vita I twice makes the explicit statement that St Gengulph did not embrace the religious life, but the various details of his life subsequent to his separation from his wife make it abundantly clear that it was not the author’s intention to convey, even implicitly, the impression that St Gengulphus lived the life of a hermit.e

Hroswitha likewise, who loses no opportunity of heightening the miracles, prayerfulness and sanctity of her subject, knows nothing of a tradition that he became a hermit, and the matter can safely be dismissed as having no historical basis.f

In addition to the churches under his patronage, Gengulph’s name is frequently associated with water sources. These range from simple springs to more monumental constructions. Many of them, as at Vougrey and Chasséricourt, have been attributed with miraculous properties and are, or have been, resorted to for the healing of a diversity of ailments.

The spring and tree at Zimming associated with St Gengulphus. Auteur: Fr Folschweiller

At  Zimming (Moselle) a remarkably large and ancient oak tree which stands adjacent to a chapel, spring, and cross associated with Gengulphus, is alleged to have sprung from the Saint’s staff. This tradition is also found localized elsewhere.g


x. There were, however, occasional examples of formal canonization by the Holy See in earlier times. One such case is that of St Gerard of Toul, who as bishop of that place had been instrumental in the promotion of the cultus of St Gengulphus.
a. Ragut.  No LXVIII
b.  …villam Siciaci cum ecclesia Sancti Jangulfi.  In the present département of Saône et Loire.
c.  Moselle. Our Lady and St Gangolph.
d. Côte d’Or. St Gengoux and St Anne.
x. Martyrologium Romanum 1998.
e. Viz:  he lives in a busy household, with a retinue of servants, and sleeps with his sword over his bed.  The author explicitly comments that he continued to order his life according to his ‘customary goodness’  –  and does not take this opportunity to state that Gengulph embrace further or different disciplines.
f. Hroswitha in fact does not allude to a tradition that Gengulphus parted from his wife at all – rather that, whilst generously forgiving her, he insisted merely on a separation a thoro.
g. E.g. at Nelling (57).

© Paul Trenchard
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Page last revised 29.10.08