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Moments in Time St. Guinefort

By Gary Macy

Human beings had no monopoly on sanctity in the Middle Ages, as Bernard Hamilton relates in his delightful book, Religion in the Medieval West: “Thus, shortly before 1261, the Dominican inquisitor, Stephen of Bourbon, discovered that women in the Dombes, a region in southeast France, venerated St. Guinefort as a child-healer. Stephen was much edified by this until he was told that this saint was not, as he had supposed, a holy man, but a greyhound. A legend was associated with this hound, which is common to most Indo-European peoples: He had defended his master’s child against a wild beast (in Guinefort’s case, a huge snake), but had been suspected by his master of killing the child and had been wrongly stabbed to death by him.” (An expurgated version of this story still survives in the Walt Disney movie, “Lady and the Tramp.”) Stephen of Bourbon’s reaction was to immediately disinter and burn the poor dog saint’s bones. This may have been hasty -- I have known some rather saintly animals. Too bad Stephen wasn’t a Franciscan. Things might have gone differently for St. Guinefort.

Gary Macy is a theology professor at the University of San Diego. His e-mail address is macy@pwa.acusd.edu

National Catholic Reporter, October 13, 2000