St. Guinefort is Believed to Protect Children From Danger — And He Was a Dog
They say a dog is a man's best friend. But one certain dog, at least according to residents of the Dombes region in France, was the divine right-hand of the holy spirit. For hundreds of years, Guinefort was celebrated as a saint who protected children from illness and danger. The fact that Saint Guinefort was a greyhound? Minor detail.
A Greyhound Of Greatness
The legend of Guinefort the greyhound takes places sometime around the 12th or 13th century. Guinefort's owner, a wealthy knight, and his wife left their infant in the care of a nurse for the day. When they returned home, they found chaos in the nursery: an overturned crib, and a bloody-muzzled family pet. With no sign of the infant in sight, the knight concluded that the greyhound had killed the baby, so the knight — brace yourself — killed Guinefort. But then, the knight heard the infant cry from beneath the overturned crib, and noticed a dead, bloody snake in the nursery too. The baby was alive, well, and protected. Talk about jumping to conclusions. (Also, we hope he fired that nurse.)
The knight had unjustly killed the dog, who, in case you missed it, killed the cobra (a traditional symbol of evil) to save the kid. Feeling what could only be insurmountable shame and grief, the knight buried Guinefort in a well and planted trees around it to create a memorial for the heroic pup. Word of the loyal dog's tale got out, and townspeople came to Guinefort's shrine in hopes of healing their sick children and protecting them from danger.
Dog Or Human?
The local rituals continued for about one hundred years, until a friar named Stephen of Bourbon got wind of it all and tried to shut it down. He said that the veneration of a dog was heathen, and people praying to this greyhound saint were invoking demons. Dramatic much? The friar dug up the body of the dog, burned it, and chopped down the trees surrounding the memorial. C'mon man, not the dog!
Still, the cult of Guinefort carried on. In 1879, a folklorist named Vayssière passed through "Saint Guinefort's wood" and found the site of his burial still intact. Nearly a century later, Jean-Claude Schmitt, a modern historian, found evidence of the greyhound-worshipping practice still alive after World War I. Upon his research, Schmitt traced this legend back to an obscure human saint named Guinefort. Nearly nothing is known about this hazy figure, but the few salient details we do know is that his feast day is August 22, and that he was known as a protector of sick children. Still, a quick internet search will exclusively result in the fantastical tale of the greyhound "saint." Whether or not the dog version is true is all dependant on what you want to believe.
For more on this fascinating story, check out the book "The Holy Greyhound: Guinefort, Healer of Children since the Thirteenth Century."