The Toul Cycle of STAINED GLASS WINDOWS illustrating the life of Saint Gengoult.
(Editor: Looking for good resolution colour photos. B/W good quality images below were made sometime between 1851 and 1914 (!) during a restoration.)
Thus Toul proclaims her good fortune throughout the whole world,
for she harbours in her bosom his sacred relics. [Hroswitha]
The subject of the iconography of St Gengulphus is incomplete without some mention of the extensive representation of his Life which is preserved in a ‘cycle’ of C13th (1260-1270) stained glass in the collegiate church of St Gengoult in Toul (this link was put online June 2020, I believe a private undertaking – an in informative online source of this Gothic building and many more monuments in France!).
All fifteen original scenes have been preserved – although with some degradation and dislocation of their sequence. Today they constitute, in the words of Meridith Lillich, ‘the longest visual cycle of Gengoult’s life in art, not only from the Middle Ages but the Renaissance and Baroque eras as well’.a Apart from some tentatively identified groups in the C12th sculpted frieze at Lautenbach, these windows at Toul are also the earliest representation in art of St Gengulphus and his story. They are paired with the life of Christ in the axial bay (Bay 0 – i.e. center front) in the central window.
This itself is not common. And more so that a final scene of the punishment of St. Gengoult’s wife appears above the christological conclusion (B13 Noli me tangere) of the fifteen windows of Gengulphus – i.e. at the end of the adjacent christological window. There are more windows illustrating the life of St. Gengoult than of the life of Christ! Because both of the lancet-head windows portray an image of Christ – only then do both lancet windows have only one more image of the Christ than of Gengulphus!
The description by Meridith Parsons Lillich writes: “They are unusual as the life of Christ is familiar. Indeed they are unique – the longest visual cycle of Gengoult’s life in art, not only from the Middle Ages but the Renaissance and Baroque eras as well.. The story of the saint is a tale of gossipy charm and crude, folkloric melodrama that seems to have fascinated the glazier a good deal more than the life of Christ. His designs – which could only have been his own inventions – have met the challenge. Legible and entertaining, the Gengoult Master’s lancet achieves a narrative triumph.…..Gengoult can always be identified by his costume: pale green sleeves, a red mantle with a row of white buttons reaching the neck and short red cape with white lining, a soft brown brimless hat, and a halo. Moreover, except for when he is murdered in bed, he is always accompanied by his horse. The horse, which has caused modern authors some confusion in the indentification of scenes, is not so much part of the scenes as it is Gengoult’s attribute, much as the keys of St. Peter. ” a
The scenes closely follow the narrative of Vita I, with the inclusion of the additional story of the Miraculous Lighting of the Lamp which is inserted into a number of manuscripts. The Saint is represented as a young man with fair collar-length wavy hair and a light beard. As noted above, his clothing consists of a round brown brimless hat, a red robe with green sleeves and white buttons at the neck, and a short red cloak with a white lining. He is generally accompanied by a horse. It is to be noted that the Saint is depicted, in accordance with the estimate of Vita I, as a military leader of good social status, but he is given no attribute to suggest that the authors of the window considered him the duke or count of later myth.
The episodesb depicted are as follows:
A2: ST GENGULPHUS LEAVES TO SERVE IN THE WARS
As he and a companion depart on horseback, the Saint turns to take leave of his wife by grasping her hand.
A3: GENGULPHUS ENLISTS IN THE SERVICE OF KING PEPIN
The King, as a figure of authority, is seated and wearing a crown. He holds a banner emblazoned with three golden fleurs de lys. Gengulphus kneels before the King, and the position of their respective hands implies that the King is presenting the banner to Gengulphus, as if to symbolize a military commission. A horse, signalling Gengulph’s rôle as a knight, looks in on the scene through a doorway.
A1: THE MIRACLE OF THE CANDLE
Gengulphus, in his capacity as a trusted bodyguard, sleeps in the presence of the King. The chamberc is represented by a structure of three arches. Whilst Gengulpus sleeps soundly, the King is disturbed by the unaccountable rekindling of a large candle which stands in the centre of the scene. The miraculous nature of the event is represented by the presence of a hovering angel who reaches out to touch the candle. In the written narrative the rekindling of the candle takes place three times.
A4: GENGULPHUS TAKES HIS LEAVE OF THE KING
Gengulph, making a gesture of departure, stands before the King who raises two fingers in a gesture of salutation and of blessing. A page at the edge of the scene holds the reins of Gengulph’s horse.
A6: THE PURCHASE OF THE SPRING d
Gengulphus speaks with the peasant concerning the purchase of the spring which occupies the centre of the scene. Both figures have their right hands raised, as if on the point of striking them together to signal the conclusion of the transaction. The peasant wears the short robes and coif characteristic of his status and carries a cudgel. The Saint is mounted. The presence of an additional horse alludes to the fact that one of the objects of this halt had been to refresh the horses.
A5: GENGULPHUS RETURNS TO HIS WIFE e
Gengulph, leaving his horse, takes a stride towards his wife and embraces her. Behind the wife stands the clerk – her lover – who watches the encounter. His presence reflects the fact that in Vita I the wife’s illicit liaison is first mentioned in connection with the Saint’s return home. The clerk is not, of course, represented as a priest, though his relatively shorter hairstyle may reflect his status as one who had received the tonsure.f
A7: THE ADULTERY OF GENGULPH’S WIFE AND THE CLERK
The lovers embrace, seated within a building indicated by an arch.
A8: GENGULPH LEARNS OF HIS WIFE’S UNFAITHFULNESS
Gengulphus, as a figure of authority, is represented seated at the centre of the scene. A subservient figure kneels to converse with him whilst pointing to a written document which he holds, and which Gengulpus touches as if in acknowledgment. The document is presumably intended to refer to the legal penalties of adultery – to which the Saint does not wish to have recourse. At the other side of the scene the adulterous wife makes as if to depart, and is depicted in posture indicating discomfort and alarm.
A9: TRIAL BY WATER
The Saint and his wife stand at either side of the spring. With a gesture of command the Saint has instructed his wife to plunge her arm into the water. The wife is depicted stooping towards the spring, and withdrawing her scalded arm. The clerk stands behind her watching these events in an attitude of dismay. Although he has no place in the written account of this scene his presence is of symbolical importance because from this point that the drama moves towards his murder of the Saint.
A10: GENGULPHUS SEPARATES FROM HIS WIFE (no image available)
Mounted upon his galloping horseg the departing Gengulphus turns to his wife with his hand raised in a gesture of finality and repudiation. She is portrayed standing beside the clerk – referring to the comment of Vita I that she did not neglect to make use of her new-found freedom to continue to commit adultery with ‘that unspeakable clerk’.
A11: GENGULPHUS VISITS HIS AUNTS
Gengulph is shown dismounted from his horse, and greet his two aunts Willegossa and Willetrudis. He embraces one, whilst grasping the hand of the other. They are depicted as young women standing in a handsome doorway. This scene does not reflect an episode in Vita I, but serves to introduce the two figures who will shortly play a prominent rôle at Gengulph’s burial. Vita I tells us that they devoted themselves to God in an unmarried state – the latter detail being indicated by their uncovered and unbraided hair. A building of ecclesiastical appearance in the background may be an allusion to the Saint’s ‘own’ church, dedicated to St Peter, at Varennes.
A12: THE CLERK’S MURDEROUS ATTACK ON GENGULPHUS
The clerk is represented holding a large sword (Gengulph’s own weapon) with both hands, in the act of delivering a powerful blow. The Saint is shown in his bed, and has stirred just in time for the blow – which was originally intended to strike off his head – to be deflected onto his hip.
A13: PUNISHMENT OF THE CLERK
The clerk is portrayed seated at the garderobe, with his robe hitched up and his drawers around his ankles, whilst his bowels are expelled. His imminent descent into the ‘cesspit of hell’ is alluded to by the presence of a crouching devil who assists the extraction with a rake.
A14: THE FUNERAL OF THE SAINT
The Saint’s body, prior to burial, is depicted lying in state on a bed, attended by his two aunts. One aunt embraces his head in a gesture of solicitude, the other is clasps her hands in an attitude of grief. Their conflicting emotions are specifically referred to in Vita I. At the foot of the scene are two beggars, present as suppliants and mourners, one of whom is a cripple on hand-crutches. Details of Vita I are again referred to: the Saint’s practical goodness to the poor including, specifically, cripples; and the astonishing miracles which were performed even before his body had been buried.
B14: THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WIFE
Vita I describes how the wife’s maidservant rushed with excitement to tell her mistress of the miracles which were being performed at the tomb of the newly buried Gengulphus. The wife in fury retorted ‘If he can work miracles, then so can my arse’. Her impiety was instantly punished by being obliged to break wind every time that she wished to speak. The final panel (long curiously misidentified as the Pilgrims on the Emmaus Road) captures a ‘snapshot’ of this moment. The indistinct figure on the left is the servant delivering her news. The wife, at the moment of her punishment, is holding up her scalded red arm in front of her whilst, with the other arm, she gesticulates toward her backside. A bystander turns his body away from her, whilst turning his head towards her – indicating both disgust and curiosity.
This single scene is placed at the end of the adjacent christological lancet window – there was no more room for the 15th window on left lancet – and maybe a bit embarrassing as well as this last item is most unusual for a finale above a christological window . But amazing that it was able to survive here! More room for St. Gengoult than the Christ! This may account for the above mentioned misidentification as Pilgrims on the Emmaus Road – a possible follower of the ‘Noli me tangere’ scene below B14 at B13.
Meridith Parsons Lillich: “The glazier clearly had no visual model for such an elaborate cycle, the longest in existence, and relied upon the visual ‘language’ of standard Gothic postures and gestures as signifiers to help communicate the story. The designs are therefore, like much of Gothic art, not so much ‘snapshots’ of the story being acted out as they are ideograms in mime of the themes of each incident.” a
a. Meredith Parsons Lillich: – Rainbow like an Emerald – Stained Glass in Lorraine in the Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Centuries, Published for College Art Association, by The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park and London 1991. This book contains a most perceptive and interesting commentary on the the St Gengulphus cycle at Toul, in which the composition of each scene, the disposition of the figures, their postures and gestures are discussed and interpreted in detail. Unfortunately her images of the St Gengulphus windows are black/white in the book. Probably a financial publishing decision.
b. We follow the enumeration of Ms Lillich. Viz: A and B represent, respectively, the left and right lancets of the window containing the St Gengulphus cycle, and the number indicates the present position of the panel counting from the bottom in Bay 0. The order in which each window is described above, however, gives the position that the panel should now be given when and if these are removed, cleaned, restored and repositioned – according to Vita I – in our opinion. For example, the Miracle of the Candle is presently located in Bay 0 / A1. In our descriptive listing this window indicates the placing should be in Bay 0 / A4
c. Not a tent. The usual form of the inserted episode De Lucerna Divinitus Accensa does not suggest that the miracle took place in a tent, and this is not the understanding of the artist in this case either.
d. Ms Lillich raises this interesting possibility that the ‘peasant’ figure may actually represent Gengulph’s servant at the moment of the arrival of the spring at Varennes. This possibility is suggested by the stick that he is holding. But this is not altogether convincing:
a) Gengulphus is mounted, and therefore the first presumption must be that he is on a journey.
b) A second horse is present, suggesting a mounted company – and Vita I explicitly states that the halt at this place was partly necessitated by the refreshment of both his followers and their horses.
c) The peasant’s dress decidedly suggests the dress of a rustic rather than a male servant in a household of some rank.
d) The stick that he holds appears, from its bulbous end, to be a cudgel rather than a staff.
e. Ms Lillich takes this scene to represent Gengulph’s wedding. However:
a) there is a horse present. I entirely accept that the horse may be present as an attribute. But the easier hypothesis – that a journey is being referred to, should be tested to exhaustion first.
b) the clerk is present – contrary to the indication of Vita I that the adulterous attachment developed after the marriage and during Gengulph’s absence at the wars.
c) Vita I introduces the first mention of the clerk in connection with Gengulph’s return.
d) Gengulphus is depicted with the utmost clarity taking a step from the horse and towards his wife – strongly suggesting that the scene represents a greeting following a return from a journey.
e) Ms Lillich states that the ‘event [of Gengulph’s return] ‘is not dwelt on in the text’. This is simply not correct. The pair even have a conversation in which the Saint’s wife berates him for his extravagance and foolishness in purchasing the spring.
f) The woman’s hair is dressed and her head is covered – representing her as a married woman not as a bride – unlike Gengulph’s unmarried aunts in A11 whose attractive hair is unbound and uncovered.
f. The idea that Gengulph’s wife committed adultery with a priest is due to an entirely modern misapprehension of the word clericus.
g. It is a pity that the ‘carriage’ specified in Vita I does not make an appearance in the window.
© Paul Trenchard
all rights reserved
Page last revised 05.04.08; last edited with illustrations and some additional comments 08.06.21