Saint Guinefort

. 353. Further on the said error of heretical depravity, something must be said about the superstition of the vain cult of divinations, incantations, oracles, the diverse devilish delusions by which the Devil attacks the Christian people, drawing after him with the tail of fallacious seduction innumerable souls of the stupid. There is an infinite number of these…

Master Jacques [de Vitry]: When the king of Castille mustered an army to go against the Saracens, a flock of tiny crows met the army. Some of the king's knights advised him to go back, saying that evil would arise, they would be defeated by the enemy if they went on. They claimed to have learned this from the prattle of the crows and the way they were flying around. The king answered them with some mockery: "These crows are hardly four years old, while I have campaigned against the Saracens for more than twenty years and know the science and means of warfare better than them. Maybe they have come from another region where they were born and brought up. So they will not know how to tell us much about the Saracen problem, which I have known and lived through. You ought better to put your trust in me than them." And despising their advice, he went on to defeat the Saracens.


354. I also heard of a Spanish schoolman who believed in auguries. He was all ready for a journey to return to his homeland, when one of his companions stopped him from leaving by crowing outside the house door as if he was a crow. He thought it was an evil omen!


355. Master Jacques also tells of a man who gave lodging to a countryman at fair time. When the guest wanted to leave, his host finding him profitable made a noise with a bladder and when the countryman heard it he said it was a bad omen and came right back. The host only let him go when other guests arrived.


356. He tells also of an old woman who fell sick and was warned to make confession. She said she was sure she would live another five years because she had heard on Mayday le cucu as if calling to her five times. When she was again admonished [to confess], she could no longer speak and just called out cucu, gesturing with her five fingers. And so she died deceived without viaticum [the last rites]or confession.


357. It is not just demons that seduce men but also those who hold themselves out as diviners since they really know nothing of the future. I have heard of a woman who owned a great enclosed manor, with at the furthest end her house where she would speak with visitors. In the beginning she lived in the house with her household (familia). When her people indicated that strangers were coming to her, she would lurk in her chamber to hear why they were traveling and where they were coming from and other details (circumstancias) which her people astutely asked about. When she had heard all this, she hurried to another house by secret ways, working out en route how she would answer them. Someone from her household would lead the travelers by a roundabout route to the other house, making believe that it was very far away. Then when she met them she would greet them by their proper names and tell them the reasons for their journey, where they had been and other stuff. They thought she had total foreknowledge and had divined all this.

I heard of another woman that she had her rogues (ribaldos) out on the roads to question travelers and give her advance knowledge about them.


370. The sixth thing to say is about insulting superstitions, some of which are insulting to God, others to man. The superstitions which attribute divine honors to demons or any other creature insult God. Idolatry is one example, or when wretched women sorcerers seek salvation through the adoration of saddles (sambuca) to which they make offerings, through the condemnation of churches and relics of the saints, through carrying their children to ant-hills or other places in search of healing.

This is what they did recently in the diocese of Lyons. When preaching there against sorcery and hearing confessions, I heard many women confess that they had carried their children to St. Guinefort. I thought he was some saint. 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 castle was in due course destroyed by divine will, and the land reduced to a desert abandoned by its inhabitants. The local peasants hearing of the dog's noble deed and innocent death, began to visit the place and honor the dog as a martyr in quest of help for their sicknesses and other needs. They were seduced and often cheated by the Devil so that he might in this way lead men into error. Women especially, with sick or poorly children, carried them to the place, and went off a league to another nearby castle where an old woman could teach them a ritual for making offerings and invocations to the demons and lead them to the right spot. When they got there, they offered salt and certain other things, hung the child's little clothes (diapers?) on the bramble bushes around, fixing them on the thorns. They then put the naked baby through the opening between the trunks of two trees, the mother standing on one side and throwing her child nine times to the old woman on the other side, while invoking the demons to adjure the fauns in the wood of "Rimite" to take the sick and failing child which they said belonged to them (the fauns) and return to them their own child big, plump, live and healthy. Once this was done, the killer mothers took the baby and placed it naked at the foot of the tree on the straws of a cradle, lit at both ends two candles a thumbsbreadth thick with fire they had brought with them and fastened them on the trunk above. Then, while the candles were consumed, they went far enough away that they could neither hear nor see the child. In this way the burning candles burned up and killed a number of babies, as we have heard from others in the same place.

One woman told me that after she had invoked the fauns and left, she saw a wolf leaving the wood and going to the child and the wolf (or the devil in wolf's form, so she said) would have devoured it had she not been moved by her maternal feelings and prevented it. On the other hand, if when they returned they found the child alive, they picked it up and carried it to a swiftly flowing river nearby, called the Chalaronne [tributary of the Saône], and immersed it nine times, to the point where if it escaped dying on the spot or soon after, it must have had very tough innards.

We went to the place and assembled the people and preached against the practice. We then had the dead dog dug up and the grove of trees cut down and burned along with the dog's bones. Then we had an edict enacted by the lords of the land threatening the spoliation and fining of any people who gathered there for such a purpose in future.


371. Another of the things insulting to God is when prophecies are made from the sacraments or sacramental things or sacred things pertaining to the divine services. There was an exemplum of this placed above in the section about sacrilege and irreverence to holy things [s. 317], about the peasant who retained Christ's body in a beehive to examine the bees.

I have also heard that when a certain woman from the diocese of Lyons at her Easter communion had retained [in her mouth] Christ's body to do sorcery with, she wound it in cloth and put it in her purse. Then while she was asleep she saw a most beautiful choir descending from Heaven adoring a very beautiful youth and taking him back to the heavens with them. She was so terrified and excited by this vision that she determined never to admit what she had done. But she was soon struck by an amazing pain and could not find Christ's Body where she had put it. She now felt her feet and hands unbearably wrenched about. As a result she turned to penitence, called the priest, confessed her sin with weeping and bitterness and was restored to health.

Medieval Sourcebook:
Stephen de Bourbon (d. 1262):
De Supersticione: On St. Guinefort