In the 6th century, likely in the second half, a gruesome double-homicide occurred in a peaceable town of France. The crime uncannily occurred in a house that stood near a monastery—in fact, the dwelling was said to have been technically on church property. Inside the home, tables and other flat surfaces were littered with containers of foods and drink, as if the inhabitants of the house were having a merry feast. The banquet, however, was brutally and mercilessly cut short, for in the bedroom there were two mutilated bodies; a man and a woman. Cause of death was apparent to all who viewed the corpses—the two victims had been hacked to death with a sharp wedge-shaped weapon. The murder weapon, perhaps found at the scene or discovered later, was determined to have been an axe.
Both of the victims were quickly identified. The murdered woman was the lady of the house, who lived at the property along with her husband. It was not her husband, however, who lay dead beside her. Despite the male victim’s lack of association with the home, his body, too, was still easily identified. After all, he was a well-known figure in the that town—in fact, he was none other than Abbot Dagulf, the man who ran the local monastery. Then, as now, the authorities believed that family was the likely culprit; in particular, the widower of the slain woman was the prime suspect.
As the abbot and the married woman were murdered together in a bedroom during a night of merriment, the story was self-evident for all to see, but when the authorities of the town arrested the husband, he confessed to what had occurred and confirmed the suspicions of all who had witnessed the scene. News of the crime spread to the city of Tours, where Bishop Gregory (c. 539-594) committed the tale to writing. The abbot and the woman, Gregory wrote, had “sat drinking until they were quite tipsy, and then they lay down together in one bed. As they slept the husband returned home. He lighted some straw, raised his axe and killed them both” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 8.19). Curiously, Gregory of Tours showed little sympathy for the victims, and did not offer any criticism against the actions of the scorned husband. Bishop Gregory also neglected to tell his readers about the legal consequences of the double-murder. In place of commenting on the punishment of the murderer, he opted to use the morbid story as a teaching point for clergymen, reminding them of the dangers of breaking their vows.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (The Golf Book – caption: ‘Calendar scene for March: gardening and felling trees.’ housed in the British Library (marked Add. 24098, f.20v),[Public Domain] via Flickr and Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.