Canis Sanctus

In which an unusual saint is commemorated

During the four years we spent in Rome (August 2007 – July 2011) I ended each post with the name of the Saint who was being commemorated by Big Ben and the boys across the Tiber.  On Tuesday past my friend Richard mentioned that it was the day of a Saint who’s name I found lacking on any of my postings for August 22:  Saint Guinefort.  It appears the only Saint I ever honour on that day was Santa Maria Regina.  And a check for a Saint Guinefort turned up nothing – but foolish me I was using a list of “recognized Saints” and for some reason Guinefort had never received the official approval of Holy Mother Church.

Why you might ask?  While I found his actions saintly in the extreme – particularly when compared with a few of the more recent hastily canonized lot –  the gang across the Tiber did not agree.  It appears they had a problem with Guinefort.  The only problem I can see is that he was  … well… a dog.  No I don’t mean his character was cadish or bad, I mean he was a dog – Canis lupus familiaris – your average household hound!

St Roch bearing the sign of pestilence is comforted by an angel and brought bread by the faithful Gunifort. – The Golden LegendJacobus de Voragine, A.D. 1275

According to the Golden Legend during a time when the Black Death was stalking the cities and towns in the North of the Italian peninsula St Roch tended to the sick and the dying.  While in the town of Piacenza he fell ill of the pestilence and was driven into the wilderness by the local authorities.  When all others had forsaken him his faithful dog Guinefort brought him food every day until he recovered.  The dog, a splendid greyhound,  followed Roch when he returned to his hometown of Montpellier.  Upon the death of the Saint the hound found his way into the household of a noble family near Neuville in the Dombes region.

Shortly thereafter the Dame of the house was delivered of a beautiful  baby boy who was much treasured by his dotting parents.  Guinefort proved as devoted to the newborn as he had been to his beloved Saint and guarded the boy faithfully.

One day the Lord was called to the village on business and his lady went with him to distribute alms amongst the poor.  The baby was left under the care of the wet nurse and the watchful eye of Guinefort.  The nurse fell asleep but was awakened by a dreadful noise – to her horror the cradle was overturned, the infant missing, and Guinefort and the room were smeared with blood.  The horrified woman began screaming that the dog had devoured the child.  The returning Lord and Lady were greeted first by the wailing Nurse then by an unimaginable scene: an upended empty cradle, walls and floor spattered with gore, and a howling hound blood dripping from his jaws.   Believing that indeed Guinefort had eaten his only child the good man drew his sword and slew the hound.  As the dog gave his dying yelp it was answered by an infant yowl.  There under the cradle was the crying baby and beside it the mangled and bloody body of a viper.  The slain dog’s body showed signs of many bites from the struggle proving that he had been protective of his small charge to the very end.

The remorseful Lord took the body of his faithful hound and placed it in a well, filled the well with stones and planted a grove of trees around it as a shrine to Guinefort.

An early woodblock tells the story of the martyrdom of the faithful Gunifort at the hands of his angry master.

The local peasants, upon hearing of Guinefort’s bravery from others in the manor, began to visit the site and lay small tokens of their admiration.  Eventually they began to pray to Guinefort to intercede for their own children when they were sick or in danger.  Many rituals – some held over from earlier pagan times – would take place at Guinefort’s impromptu shrine.

Stephen of Bourbon, a Dominican preacher, passed through the area in the mid-13th century and observed the rituals around the veneration of Saint Guinefort.  The holy brothers of the Order of Preachers were never known to honour or tolerate anything that strayed from the orthodoxy of Rome and Stephen was no exception.  He saw the work of the Devil in the local tradition and is said to have had Guinefort’s body disinterred and burned, the well destroyed and the trees chopped down.  Edicts declared that anyone invoking the aid of the “dog” would have all their worldly goods sold.

Other attempts were made to wipe out devotion to Guinefort when Protestant reformers held the veneration of a “dog” up as an example of the corruption and errors of the Church of Rome.  The Vatican was quick to agree and again attempted to quash any practices that would give the other side ammunition.

But folk traditions are not so easily wiped out and traces of the cult could be found right up until the late 1930s. The faithful of the region had fashioned a Saint and created rituals which served their immediate needs and fears.  Infant death was a very real threat well into the mid-twentieth century and if praying for the intercession of a faithful hound would restore a child to health then neither the censure of Rome nor the ridicule of heretics could destroy faith in that Saint.

Myself I think I would trust more in a faithful dog having the ear of God than many of the humans who have been canonized over the last two thousand years.

On this day in 1537: The Honourable Artillery Company, the oldest surviving regiment in the British Army, and the second most senior, is formed.

The Piano in the Park

The walkway leading to the Confederation  Landing gardens and the Hillsborough River with the Park on the left and Peake’s Quay on the right.

It’s strange that you can pass something on a daily basis and not really think much about it.  Case in point the brightly painted upright piano in the open bandstand at Confederation Landing.  Nora and I pass it almost every day – except when it rains – on our walks (more about them later in the week) but it was only this past few days that I have paid it any mind.  Normally all that is heard from it are random series of jarring notes and cords.  Sometimes it bears a passing resemblance to chopsticks but more often it is just a series of random bangings by some five year old to the feigned delight of an exhausted parent.


But as we walked by it Sunday morning there was a young lad sitting on the log stool and playing a Chopin waltz.  Any imperfects in the sound drifting over the bricked walk were the result of the badly tuned piano and not the talent of the young player.   A glorious sunny morning,  a cool breeze from the Straits, and Chopin on the piano.  Talk about your idyllic existence – but lest we get all sentimental there was also Nora staining at the leash and barking at another dog.

100 years ago, Canada produced beautiful pianos. Now we send them to the dump.

Later that morning the radio was tuned, as it is every Sunday, to The Sunday Edition on CBC.  Though I have many bones to pick with our national broadcaster’s sloppy web reporting it is still unsurpassed in it’s radio documentaries and interviews – particularly those on weekend radio.  Being as it is summer the August 20th edition was a mixture of new items and some repeats.  New were an interview with Leonard Zeskind on the Rise of White Supremacy in the U.S., astronomer Don Hladiuk on the Magic of Witnessing an Eclipse, and a study of our obsession with Stuff.  Then two repeats from earlier in the year: a  thoughtful essay on dealing with dying, and the sad fate of the upright piano in modern times.

The last reminded me of that colourful upright in the bandstand and how it had been saved from the fate that Willow Yamauchi described in End Notes*.


Our Landing piano is an new addition to life on the waterfront and was the brain child of David Sheppard.   In an item on the CBC** he expressed the hope that more “public pianos” will appear around town.

I haven’t discovered the history of this old upright other than what is indicated in the CBC article.  It is identified as a Mendelssohn which means it was made in Canada by one of the leading manufacturers of pianos in the early 1900s.  The company was formed by Henry Durke and David Best by amalgamating a failed piano company and Best’s piano string and hammer factory.  Durke  prided himself on producing a moderately priced piano and advertised it in the Canadian Music Trades Journal as “made in Canada, by Canadian workmen, for use in Canadian homes.”  Between 1900 and it’s acquisition by the Bell Piano and Organ Company of Guelph Mendelssohn produced 25,000 pianos.  Perhaps our bandstand upright was one of that 25,000.

*A right click will take you to the full documentary.

**And another right click will give you some of the background on our “public piano”.

On this day in 1849: The first air raid in history. Austria launches pilotless balloons against the city of Venice.

Lunedi Lunacy

Hey! There was a solar eclipse – somewhere! – so get orf me!


So I’m a bit late…  what’s yer problem?  Had a few other things to do!  You young ones just don’t understand.  And bloody hell, while yer at it – get the hell off my grass!

On this day in 1961:   Patsy Cline returns to record producer Owen Bradley’s studio in Nashville, Tennessee to record her vocals to Willie Nelson’s “Crazy“, which would become her signature song.


Raven Steals the Sun

In this remarkable carving Bill Reid tells the story of Raven coaxing humans out of a cockle shell found on the beach in what is now Haida Gwaii.

Central to the iconography of Haida culture is the figure of the Raven or Yháal.   A complex creature – part trickster, part benefactor he is held as the bringer of much that made up the world of Haida Gwaii including the Islands themselves.  Robert Bringhurst, the writer and translator of Haida stories, acknowledges that Raven has never created anything but created the world by stealing, exchanging, redistributing, and generally moving things around.  He is greedy, lecherous, and conniving; but he is also helpful and as well as releasing the first humans from their imprisonment in a cockle shell, he brought them to fresh water, salmon, lodging, and light.

Two things reminded me of the Raven today and led me to revisit the story of how the Raven stole the Sun and brought light into the world.   The first was the impending solar eclipse here in North America;  the second was a photograph my friend Kate posted on her Facebook page.

This stunning photo was originally posted by Aaren Purcell on her Facebook page.  I am not sure if this is one she took herself but it is a stunning evocation of the Raven’s thievery.


There are many versions of the legend but the one I enjoy the most is Robert Bringhurst and Bill Reid‘s retelling in their The Raven Steals the Light, published by Douglas & McIntyre in 1984.  Though there has been some controversy around Bringhurst’s work but I will leave that discussion to better minds than mine – I find this a fine telling of the story of how we were given the gift of light!

Before there was anything, before the great flood had covered the earth and receded, before the animals walked the earth or the trees covered the land or the birds flew between the trees, even before the fish and the whales and seals swam in the sea, an old man lived in a house on the bank of a river with his only child, a daughter. Whether she was as beautiful as hemlock fronds against the spring sky at sunrise or as ugly as a sea slug doesn’t really matter very much to this story, which takes place mainly in the dark.

re14_01bBecause at that time the whole world was dark. Inky, pitchy, all-consuming dark, blacker than a thousand stormy winter midnights, blacker than anything anywhere has been since.

A right click on  Bill Reid’s beautiful illustration will reveal how that dark was dispelled when the Raven stole the Sun.

In some versions of the story the Raven had white feathers but when he flew through the smoke hole of the old man’s dwelling the soot turned his feathers black and as a reminder of his trickery they have remained so to this day.

On this day in 1911:  The Mona Lisa is stolen by, Vincenzo Perugia, a Louvre employee.

On This Island

Today we are celebrating the Acadian National Day here in the Maritimes and to mark that event there is music, food, dancing, crafts, and festivities are taking place here in Charlottetown and in the Evangeline region. Tonight at Porte-la-Joye, the original French settlement on Île Saint-Jean there will be fireworks. I thought I would repost this entry from last year as a reminder of the history of the Acadian people here on Prince Edward Island.

Willy Or Won't He

I have freely admitted that my knowledge of Prince Edward Island was minimal when I first visited back in August of 2015 and has only slightly improved since my full-time arrival in September of this year.  Oh I knew that the Charlottetown Conference had been held here in 1864 but I didn’t know that Island did not join the Confederation until 1873 nor did I know the conditions for it joining.

And of the Island’s earlier history I was even less aware.  I had vaguely heard of the Mi’kmaq in history class but have yet to discover the history and culture of the First Nations people of the Island.  Of course it stood to reason that it had been under French control at one time but I had not realized it was part of what was called Acadia and was known as Île Saint-Jean.  Nor had I realized that there…

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