St. Guinefort the Heretic

 

Guinefort was a French greyhound who lived in the 12th century. By the 13th century, The Inquisitor Etienne de Bourbon discovered a sort of cult that had grown up around the dog’s legend. Inquisitor Etienne died in 1268. This is from a modern translation of Anecdotes historiques…d’Étienne de Bourbon:

“…I made inquiries and at last heard that he was a certain greyhound killed in the following way. In the diocese of Lyons, close to the vill of the nuns called Villeneuve, on the land belonging to the lord of Villars-en-Dombe, there was a certain castle whose lord had a baby son from his wife. But when the lord and lady and the nurse too had left the house, leaving the child alone in his cradle, a very large snake entered the house and made for the child’s cradle. The greyhound, who had remained there, saw this, dashed swiftly under the cradle in pursuit, knocking it over, and attacked the snake with its fangs and answering bite with bite. In the end the dog killed it and threw it far away from the child’s cradle which he left all bloodied as was his mouth and head, with the snake’s blood, and stood there by the cradle all beaten about by the snake. When the nurse came back and saw this, she thought the child had been killed and eaten by the dog and so gave out an almighty scream. The child’s mother heard this, rushed in, saw and thought the same and she too screamed. Then the knight similarly once he got there believed the same, and drawing his sword killed the dog. Only then did they approach the child and find him unharmed, sleeping sweetly in fact. On further investigation, they discovered the snake torn up by the dog’s bites and dead. Now that they had learned the truth of the matter, they were embarrassed (dolentes) that they had so unjustly killed a dog so useful to them and threw his body into a well in front of the castle gate, and placing over it a very large heap of stones they planted trees nearby as a memorial of the deed…

“But the peasants, hearing of the dog’s conduct and of how it had been killed, although innocent, and for a deed for which it might have expected praise, visited the place, honoured the dog as a martyr, prayed to it when they were sick or in need of something, and many there fell victim to the enticements and illusions of the devil, who in this way used to lead men into error…

“We had the dead dog disinterred, and the sacred wood cut down and burnt, along with the remains of the dog. And I had an edict passed by the lords of the estate, warning that anyone going thenceforth to that place for any such reason would be liable to have his possessions seized and then sold.”

Note from Michael: This story has appeared in dozens of versions over thousands of years. Sometimes, the snake is a wolf, and sometimes the basic facts remain the same but it takes place in Ireland or Scotland, and the inquisitor is a bishop. Aesop told a similar tale about a Greek farmer. The earliest version is probably “The Brahmin and the Mongoose”, an Indian folktale. The basic theme of this story is also present in Mark Twain’s classic A Dog’s Tale, in which the dog makes it very clear he is a Presbyterian. Whatever the facts were behind the dog Guinefort and the inquisitor Entienne, worshippers of St. Guinefort remained active until the early 20th century, and they celebrated St. Guinefort Day on August 22nd.

2 thoughts on “St. Guinefort the Heretic

  1. Michael-I love these stories, laced with history, touched by mythology.Like religions, told again and again from a different perspective – meant to enlighten us? Thank you !

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