The Saint Guinefort, the Dog that Became a Saint
Guinefort was a 13th-century French dog that received local veneration as a folk saint after miracles were reported at his grave.
Saint Guinefort From Injustice to “Caninization.”
In Antiquity and the Middle Ages, many animals were regarded as saints, witches, politicians, and even criminals. During the long medieval wintry nights, the dogs used to warm the baronial beds on dark and cold stone castles. Many Medieval vassals applied Dogs among their knights, hoping they could heal their wounds through licking and their healing powers.
In the Physiologus, the early-medieval source of the late medieval bestiary, dogs are praised for having “more understanding than any other beasts,” for knowing their name, and loving their masters unconditionally.
Before the 13th century, when the heroic actions of Guinefort transformed him into a Saint, the Europeans already believed that dogs had “mystical powers.”
A Saint dog, and the adventures in Human Imagination
Between the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th century, there was a small castle remotely located in the diocese of Lyon. It was a modest property that had only a few guard dogs. It was known that Guinefort, a hound, was a loyal family member and that he almost always was left to guard the castle’s infant.
One day the owner of the castle and his wife had to go to a bigger city for their regular grocery shopping. They left their young son alone for a few hours. In their absence, something horrible happened. The poisoning snake entered the room where the child was.
Guinefort noted the dangerous animal and immediately attacked the snake, killing it like a good guard dog. During the heroic feat, the dog spread blood over the child and all over the room.
Hours later, when the couple arrived, they saw the dog bathed in fresh blood. Quickly, they judged that the animal hurt their child. Without hesitating for a second, the man took his swords and cut the head of the poor dog at once.
But soon enough, the couple saw the child sleeping quietly in peace and the head of the snake at the corner of the room.
They realized they had done an injustice towards the loyal animal.
The Difference between Remorse and Redemption
Filled with shame and remorse, and believing they were ungrateful to God’s intercession to save their child. To remedy, they order a funeral for the poor pooch, with all ceremony and high honors, according to the High Celtic traditions from that French region.
In their grief, they committed the dog’s body to a well (as it was the Celtic tradition at the time) planted a grove of trees around it in honor of the brave animal.
It was not long until they decided to leave that place. Therefore, in time, the story of the poor loyal Guinefort became part of Lyon’s folklore. Soon enough, the hound received the title of honor as a “Christian” saint among the peasants. Many people started pilgrimages to the tomb, looking for a miracle in healing their children.
Nobody expected the French Inquisition!
The Catholic Church did not recognize Guinefort as a saint.
In fact, the Dominican Friar Etienne de Bourbon, one of the Inquisition chiefs at the time, did everything in his power to stop and prevent the vast array of superstition created around the figure of Guinefort.
He orders the dog’s bones to be exhumated and burn. He threatened all the peasants with ex-communication and exile for their adoration of the dog.
His pressure may have worked momentarily, on some level, but it did not eradicate the devotion to the saint dog.
To this day, many people continue to make a pilgrimage to visit his tomb and ask him for a miracle of healing.
The Idealistic Idea of Dogs
Dogs in the feudal period were often placed in high regard, especially if they were hunting dogs. In Celtic societies, they had legends and mythologies of various dogs called Bran.
The Name of the great Irish hero CU CHUAILLAIN means the Hound of Ulster.
We also found another dog hero and saint from Cornwall, a Welsh dog hero called Saint Gelert. This dog was part of the life of Prince Llewellyn the great (1173-1240). ‘Gelert’s Bed was the subject of a Poem by W.R Spencer.
There is an apparent connection between Saint Guinefort and Saint Christopher. St Christopher is sometimes called CYNEPHOROS (Greek word for Dog-face), though more often CYNOCEPHALOS (Doghead).
We believe that the medieval story of Saint Guinefort is a widespread misunderstanding. Maybe it is a distorted way to tell the stories and the cult of Saint Christopher.