The Legend of Saint Guinefort
In medieval Europe, greyhounds had a noble and prized status. Greyhound imagery was used in heraldry to symbolise majesty, courage and loyalty, and ownership was reserved exclusively to the nobility. Commoners found in possession were liable to harsh penalties. In Wales during the reign of King Hywel Dad, killing a greyhound was punishable by death.
Guinefort lived with a noble family in medieval France, near the village of Neuville. One day while the knight and his wife had gone out, the nurse left their baby son in its cradle in the care of Guinefort while she went about her duties. Guinefort saw a snake come into the room and slither towards the young child. He lunged at the snake and a bitter fight ensued. During the bloody fight the cradle was knocked over and Guinefort was bitten several times by the snake, but he eventually tore the snake apart and was awarded victory over his aggressor.
When the knight and his wife returned, the nurse went to fetch the child. On entering the room and seeing blood splattered all over the walls and the cradle knocked to the floor, she screamed. The child's mother, seeing Guinefort lying on the floor covered in blood, assumed he had attacked their son. She screamed to her husband that Guinfort had attacked their child. The knight rushed in to see the macabre scene and drew his sword instantly, killing Guinefort. Only after this did the knight and his wife see their child asleep and safe behind the cradle.
With great remorse, knowing that his actions were unjust, and that Guinefort had in fact protected the knight’s heir and saved him from a certain death, and fearing the repercussions of his rash actions, the knight gathered up Guinefort’s body and buried him in a well in the garden. He planted trees as a memorial to the hound that had saved his son’s life.
It wasn’t long after that the local peasants, hearing of this brave greyhound, started visiting his place of burial, and rituals developed around his grave. According to the customs of the time, Guinefort was venerated as a local saint and locals started praying to him to help save their own children.
When the Catholic church heard of the fame and following of this local saint, they were so worried about his influence that they dug up his grave, destroyed his remains and chopped down all of the trees, completely desecrating Guinefort’s memorial. Yet the legend of this brave greyhound has persisted through the centuries.
The feast day of Saint Guinefort is held on 22 August.