All dogs go to heaven
August 24, 2017 7:28 AM   Subscribe

The Cult of Guinefort: An Unusual Saint
In the provinces...the method for making someone a saint was more flexible with room for local input and influence. In this environment, someone could be “sainted” without really meeting the necessary qualifications of the central church. One illustration of such a case is that of the thirteenth-century Saint Guinefort who, as it happens, was a greyhound.

We remember Guinefort, the greyhound who was a saint:
As for the Greyhound Guinefort, the story goes that a nobleman left him in the nursery with his infant son. When the man returned, the cradle was overturned and the child was missing. The dog ran over with blood on his mouth. The nobleman rashly leapt to the conclusion that the dog had attacked his son. He drew his sword and killed Guinefort. Only after the dog was slain did the man find his child alive and well under the overturned cot, alongside the body of a deadly poisonous snake, which Guinefort had killed to protect the child. The nobleman regretted his act and took the dog and buried him in a well, and covered it over with stones.

Later, a shrine to Guinefort was established where the dog was reputedly buried, and children were brought there to be made immune to illness or to be healed through various rituals, such as passing naked babies between the trunks of trees.
Unfortunately, Guinefort's sainthood was eventually revoked by the Catholic Church, his bones excavated and burned, and the trees around his shrine destroyed.

But the idea of the faithful dog is nearly ubiquitous across traditions.
[S]cholars have similarly pointed out that the folkloric tradition of “the faithful dog” is nearly ubiquitous, with disconcertingly parallel stories appearing in Syriac, Arabic, Greek, Persian, and Sanskrit mythological traditions throughout history and across cultures. In short, everybody is convinced that dogs are pretty awesome and frequently have more saintly qualities than humans.
posted by misskaz (28 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
There is a great telling of this story in the children's book The Inquisitor's Tale. The story is great and the illustrations are amazing. One of my son's favorite books in 5th grade.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:37 AM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


I remember hearing something similar as a ghost story? Cautionary tale? as a child, which various unlikely baby-threats in the role of the snake: bear, wolf, snake. The guileless sacrifice of a good dog speaks across many cultures.
posted by ldthomps at 7:50 AM on August 24, 2017


Having lived with a greyhound, I can assure you that they are sweet enough to qualify for sainthood, but far too dumb to save anybody from anything.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:59 AM on August 24, 2017 [11 favorites]


Gelert is a story from Wales that has a virtually identical plot to the Guinefort tale, except with a wolf instead of a snake.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:01 AM on August 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


Thanks for that wiki link, Rosie M Banks - totally forgot that the scene with Tramp and the rat in Lady and the Tramp refers to the same kind of story.
posted by misskaz at 8:08 AM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


Having lived with a greyhound, I can assure you that they are sweet enough to qualify for sainthood, but far too dumb to save anybody from anything.

a friend described her greyhound as being most likely to save you from having room on the couch, or maybe cheese if there's any cheese
posted by dismas at 8:12 AM on August 24, 2017 [27 favorites]


I still recall the day when I was a child at sunday school, and the nun explained that dogs, being animals, have no soul and therefore cannot go to heaven.

I had a loyal and faithful BDE, and the thought of that dog being turned away while some asshole got in was the start of my eventual athieism.

If I ever get around to founding a religion, crimes against dogs will be mortal sins.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:22 AM on August 24, 2017 [13 favorites]


I'm currently living with my second greyhound, which makes this FPP very on brand. I get to take him to the vet in about an hour to continue a months-long attempt to fix some old man health issues he's got (he's almost 11 and has high blood pressure that is being stubbornly resistant to meds), so I'm trying to remind myself how wonderful he is as the bills stack up.

But yeah, I'm also not under any illusions about greyhounds' intellectual capabilities or lack thereof. But they are the sweetest dogs with the bestest snoots, so I'm ok with sainting them. And all dogs.
posted by misskaz at 8:31 AM on August 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


to be healed through various rituals, such as passing naked babies between the trunks of trees.
...and the trees around his shrine destroyed

I get that the church might not be keen on a bootleg saint, especially one that's a dog. But the other part of this, with the focus on the trees as a conduit for holy blessing, sounds pagan as hell.

Is it possible that this tradition, and these trees, pre-dated the tale of Guinefort? That this village and this tradition was druidic, or at least crypto-druid?

"Oh yeah we're good Catholics and follow all the rites. You know, like passing our naked babies between the holy trees. What? You don't do that in your village?"
posted by thecjm at 8:32 AM on August 24, 2017 [10 favorites]


Please add crimes against cats and I am in! Animal cruelty should be a capital crime. Doggy saint is better than some of the creepy human ones.
posted by mermayd at 8:33 AM on August 24, 2017 [6 favorites]


People heaven is made up, but dog heaven is real.
posted by radicalawyer at 8:40 AM on August 24, 2017 [8 favorites]


I get that the church might not be keen on a bootleg saint, especially one that's a dog. But the other part of this, with the focus on the trees as a conduit for holy blessing, sounds pagan as hell.

I have some news for you about Christmas and Easter and basically every other Christian tradition. The Church has always been good at co-opting local ritual into common practice.
posted by Etrigan at 8:53 AM on August 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


"I still recall the day when I was a child at sunday school, and the nun explained that dogs, being animals, have no soul and therefore cannot go to heaven."

This is such a bullshit lazy answer! Animals (and plants!) in Catholic theology have souls, they just have material souls rather than rational souls. Now the catechism has no specific answer on what happens to animals when they die, and there are two schools of thought: that material souls disappear and dissolve while only rational souls are immortal (which is what your lazy nun was probably taught and misunderstood); or that dogs are part of Creation, all of which is beloved by God and inherently good (this is the first friggin' chapter of the Bible, where God repeatedly creates bits of the material world and "saw that it was good"), and since dogs don't have rational souls they aren't capable of sin like humans are, so they're not separated from God in the first place. Heaven is just the reunion of human beings fully with God, conforming their rational souls wholly to God's will and never acting outside that will; dogs never acted outside God's will in the first place, so, no, they don't "go" to heaven, they're already part of God's beloved and obedient and holy Creation, and they're basically already there. Part of the purpose of Creation is to teach mankind God's truths and God's love, and you think God didn't give us dogs to teach us God's love? You, madam nun, are a bad Catholic.

I mean it's a legitimate theological debate. But I certainly know which side I come down on! And what I tell children who ask, because I am not a horrible mean person determined to scar children for life.

"Is it possible that this tradition, and these trees, pre-dated the tale of Guinefort?"

Totally possible! Also possible that it's just its own thing; people create new weird rituals and traditions at an astonishing rate, and with astonishing similarity because some sorts of symbols and actions appear widely in many different cultures (tree-related rituals appear just about everywhere and new ones pop up constantly, people like their trees). It may pre-date local Christianity and be part of an older local religion, or it may just be some weird shit the local Christians got up to and decided totally worked to keep children from getting sick, and, what, you're not going to pass your children through the trees if it might prevent mumps?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:02 AM on August 24, 2017 [40 favorites]


HEY COME TO LYON WE'RE VERY CHRISTIAN HERE WE GOT MAJOR LEAGUE LEGITIMATE SAINTS COME ONE COME ALL LET'S GET CATHOLIC UP IN THIS PLACE YOU NEED A STATION OF THE CROSS WE GOT 'EM ALL HOLY COMMUNION 24/7 COME TO LYON AND GET YOUR CHURCH-APPROVED SALVATION ON

[sotto voce] we got tree rituals and dog cults
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:05 AM on August 24, 2017 [16 favorites]


The mother then ran in also thinking Guinefort had killed her child. The child’s father now quickly took action. He drew his sword and killed the dog. Only then did the family see the infant sleeping peacefully off to the side.

I fucking hate the child's father
posted by superfluousm at 10:02 AM on August 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


I have known a substantial number of greyhounds. While some of them would likely have asked the serpent to make them a sandwich, farted, then rolled over and gone back to sleep, I suspect the majority would have dispatched the threat with alacrity. Dogs are generally not keen on snakes, & many animal behaviorists theorize this may be at least in part due to genetic memory.
posted by sutureselves at 10:20 AM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


Only after the dog was slain did the man find his child alive and well under the overturned cot, alongside the body of a deadly poisonous snake, which Guinefort had killed to protect the child.

wait. the dog killed the snake, THEN the cot was overturned with the snake and the child under it?

this doesn't fuckin add up, Guinefort
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:29 AM on August 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


Loved that comment, Eyebrows. And also a quote, from a strongly traditional cultural group: "Our tradition is very modern"
posted by glasseyes at 10:34 AM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


I am assuming that the cot overturned on child, dog, and snake in the struggle, and then Guinefort wiggled out and pranced around, because he was brave enough to kill a snake but not smart enough to tug the human puppy out too. Which sounds like a greyhound.

Also, who the heck buries a dog in a well? Even if it's currently dry maybe someone will want to deepen the shaft and bring it back into use. Was this dude just too lazy to even dig a dog-sized hole?
posted by tavella at 10:46 AM on August 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


People heaven is made up, but dog heaven is real.

I'm totally for the idea of a wonderful afterlife for all. However it strikes me that one of the difficult problems with eternal life as conceived by the human mind--the ennui of endless days--would be no problem at all for my dog. Every day is a good new day with sniffing and treats and walkies and soccer time and friends!
posted by TreeRooster at 10:50 AM on August 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm with you, mermayd - if crimes against dogs are to be a capital crime, cats must be included!

I'm a huge fan of the James Herriot All Creatures series of books, and one of the things I like best about them is how much the hardscrabble Yorkshire country folk Herriot writes about cherished their animals. Not just dogs and cats, but horses, pigs, and cows. The animals weren't pampered like so many of ours are, but they were loved and cared for.

One of the recurring themes in the series is the comfort pets give to the elderly and disabled. One chapter I will never forget has an old and disabled spinster lady, Miss Stubbs, who owns a number of cats and dogs. When she is dying, Miss Stubbs asks James Herriot if her animals will be with her in heaven. She has heard some preacher say that animals have no souls. Herriot reassures her that he knows that wherever she is going, her pets will be there too, and that if having a soul means the ability to feel love and kindness, animals are better off than many humans. *snif* I tear up whenever I think of that chapter.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:41 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


Aarne-Thompson type 178A

It's one of the most widespread stories.

There is a book about this cult, with a detailed analysis of its meaning and why it was suppressed - The Holy Greyhound. I recall it as quite readable.
posted by jb at 3:10 PM on August 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


The Holy Greyhound by Jean-Claude Schmidtt.

From what I remember, dogs don't go to heaven and thus cannot be saints. Also, the ritual involved the exposure of sickly children as "changelings", if I remember right. But it made sense for their needs.
posted by jb at 3:14 PM on August 24, 2017




And God saw that it was all good dogs, Bront.
posted by The otter lady at 4:14 PM on August 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


Early images of Saint Christopher sometimes showed him with a dog's head, as he was supposed to have belonged to one of the many dog-headed races of men who seem to have inhabited areas that medieval travel writers had heard about but not visited.
posted by Fuchsoid at 5:42 PM on August 24, 2017


In the beginning Dog said “Wurf” with a slight undertone of questioning, but as the light erupted in the east he sighed and knew that it was wurf. Wurf be to all of creation. Leave the fruit alone. Dumbass.
posted by the mascara snake at 11:40 PM on August 24, 2017


Same plot as this bluegrass song: Echo Mountain. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGnPj-Ty2Ew
posted by starfishprime at 8:45 AM on August 25, 2017


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