Contemporary Documents

Gengulphus in Contemporary Documents

It is occasionally stated that the name of Gengulphus appears as a witness in contemporary state documents.  This is entirely without foundation, and is merely a pseudo-fact which has gained a false semblance of solidity through its uncritical acceptance and frequent repetition.

Saint Gangolfus by the Meister von Meßkirch, ca. 1535

The current Wikipedia entry on Gangulphus, for example, exhumes this ancient and flightless canard:

Gangulphus was a Burgundian courtier whose historical existence can only be attested by a single document: a deed from the court of Pepin the Short dated 762. It attests that he was a great landowner, whose family dominated the region and exercised a lot of power.

I can only repeat with painful distinctness that this is nonsense.  Quite apart from the unexplained discrepancy that the same article places the date of Gengulph’s death two years prior to the publication of the charter, the alleged documentary evidence simply does not exist anyway.  Over forty royal charters from the reign of Pepin the Short have survived, and none of them either alludes to the Saint or is witnessed by him.

The earliest document relating to St Gengulphus is the anonymous Vita I of the late C9th or early C10th.

The complete absence of the Saint’s name in contemporary documents is naturally disappointing to his supporters.  Such absence, however, is entirely consistent with the sober view of Gengulph’s social status provided by Vita I  –  namely, that he was not a duke or count, or a courtier ‘whose family dominated the region and exercised a lot of power’,b but rather a country gentleman who went to the wars, and who otherwise lived on his estate and occupied his time in piety, good works, and hunting.

Whilst there are no contemporary documents relating to the Saint himself, we are fortunate in possessing a charter of the emperor Charlemagne, dated 801 and relating to the church at St Gengoux de Scissé,a which provides unquestionable evidence of the early establishment and rapid dissemination of his cultus.

a.  Saône et Loire
b.  These, and similar such claims, are extremely widespread. In a book as recent as Michèle Brocard’s Éloge et pratique des saints guérisseurs (2003), for example, we read (p68) that St Gengoux was ‘comte en Bourgogne, compagnon de Wulfran, gouverneur du Bassigny’ – none of which statements has any foundation. St Wulfran became archbishop of Sens in 682. The date of his death is not securely known and proposals range from 702 to 720. If he survived as late as 720 he might in his extreme old age have bounced the infant Gengulphus on his knee had the occasion arisen – but could not conceivably have been his ‘companion’.

© Paul Trenchard
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Page last revised 15.04.2011