|THE FAMILY of St Gengulphus: HIS PARENTS, HIS CHILDREN, HIS AUNTS|
itaque Domini Gangulfus alto parentum germine et superbi sanguinis
nobilitate Burgundia extitit oriundus et disciplinis christiani dogmatis
a parentibus adprime eruditus est. |
|The little information we possess concerning St Gengulph’s immediate family is derived |
entirely from Vita I.
Vita I and Hroswitha are unanimous that Gengulphus was born of a distinguished and
noble Burgundian family. His parents are not named. His mother is spoken of only in
her parental role when he was a small child, and as the provider of a strong Christian
influence in his early upbringing. His father is mentioned only obliquely in the
statement that Gengulph’s succeeding at an early age to the paternal estate – an
extensive and valuable property – gave him the opportunity to become an out-
standingly generous benefactor to those in need. Some authorities have identified
the Gengulfus who is mentioned in a charter of year 667 with the father of the saint.
This is most improbable. See His Remoter Ancestry.
Neither Vita I nor Hroswitha indicate that the Saint had any offspring – even when there
are sufficient reasons and opportunities for so doing; as when, for example Gengulphus
separates from his wife in Vita I and makes provision for her tenance. The question of the
succession is explicitly dwelt on in Hroswitha, where we are told that Gengulph,
apparently dilatory in complying with the matrimonial expectations of his people, ‘was
urged by strong representations from his chief courtiers to take to himself a suitable
young woman to join in lawful wedlock as is fitting, lest the noble line of the royal
family should come to an end through lack of issue‘.
Despite this understandable anxiety we hear nothing of an heir on the occasion of his
death. This negative evidence, coupled with the lack of any external historical record
that he left as posterity, compels us to suppose that Gengulph’s unfortunate marriage
After describing Gengulph’s death, and his triumphant entry into glory, Vita I goes on to
tell us what happened to his body:
His two aunts, Willegossa and Willetrudis, had settled at the abovementioned place called
Varennes, which belonged to Gengulph. Here they devoted themselves to the disciplines of
holiness and chastity. When they learned of his death, they hastened to where his lifeless
body lay, accompanied 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. He was buried by
these handmaids of God, in his own church, dedicated in honour of Peter, the Prince of the
Which is exactly as we would expect.
Gengulph has made provision from his own inheritance for the maintenance of his de-
ceased father’s unmarried sisters. We might have expected the quasi-religious life of
these aunts to have attracted the interest of Hroswitha, but she omits all mention of them.
Presumably – having shifted the location of Gengulph’s burial from his native Varennes
and relocated it anachronistically at Toul she could no longer find a convincing place for
them in her narrative.
Vita I touchingly describes their grief at Gengulph’s death: These two felt conflicting
emotions: whilst indeed they knew that they should feel glad for Gengulph, they felt grief
for themselves; and whilst rejoicing at his glorification, they lamented their own
The fact that the names Willegossa and Willetrudis both have elements in common with
Pépin le Bref’s mother (Rotrudis of Trier), the wife of his grandfather (Plectrudis), and
with his maternal grandmother (Willegarde of Bavaria), raises the fragile possibility of a
family relationship. The C13th stained glass cycle representing the life of St Gengulphus which is preserved in the collegiate church of St Gengoult at Toul contains two panels
depicting Gengulph’s aunts. (Editor: image hopefully to follow.)