Man’s Best Saint? The Bizarre Story of the Canine Folk Hero St. Guinefort

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via marceloefuentes.wordpress.com / ChurchPOP

A knight in a small town in France needed to go hunting and decided to leave his infant son at home sleeping, guarded by his faithful greyhound Guinefort.

Upon returning, the knight was distressed to find his home in complete disarray and the child no where to be seen. He searched his home and found only his dog covered in blood. Enraged thinking that Guinefort had killed his son, the knight drew his sword and killed the dog.

Barely a moment later, the knight heard a child crying. The sound led him to his son, alive and safe, under his bed – with the dead body of a snake nearby.

Suddenly, the knight realized the truth: not only had Guinefort not killed his son, Guinefort had actually saved him by killing the snake, explaining the blood.

Grieved by his mistake, the knight dropped Guinefort’s body into a nearby well, covered it with stones, planted trees nearby, and set up a shrine for the faithful dog.

Veneration of the holy dog grew quickly, with locals turning to the dog for miracles.

“The local peasants… began to visit the place and honor the dog as a martyr,” 13th century Dominican Stephen of Bourbon wrote of Guinefort, “in quest of help for their sicknesses and other needs.”

But Stephen thought this was a bad thing: “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.”

Stephen describes a strange occultish ritual he says developed around the dog’s shrine that involved leaving sick children on straw near a fire that led to the death of many children.

Stephen was an inquisitor with the authority to mete out all sorts of punishments for what could be considered infanticide and witchcraft. But he concluded that the locals were more confused than malicious and simply ordered that they stop performing the dangerous ritual.

The Church never canonized the dog, because dogs don’t have immortal souls and so can’t be saints. So don’t ask for the intercession of St. Guinefort!

Nonetheless, veneration of Guinefort persisted to the 20th century. Even today, if you ask around certain areas of France, you might be able to find people who still tell the story of St. Guinefort.

[See also: The True Story of St. Christina the Astonishing, the Indestructible Miracle-Woman]

[See also: Baptizing with Beer? Sorry, It Was Condemned in the 13th Century]