The Tale Of Delirious Bishop Gunther

A man named Gunthar was the seventeenth person to fill the role of bishop of Tours, or technically the eighteenth if a pair of co-bishops who reigned over the church of Tours between 520 and 521 are counted individually (but they are traditionally not). To many, Gunthar lived a life worthy of becoming a bishop—in his prime, he was a respectable clergyman, an able abbot of Saint Venantius monastery, and a reliable negotiator for both the church and the state. With a record such as this, he could have gone into retirement with a positive reputation. Yet, when Gunthar was named bishop of Tours in 552, he was well past his prime. Bishop Gunthar, unfortunately, took up his position when he was an incapable old man, physically unable to accomplish many of his tasks, and visibly descending into dementia. One of Gunthar’s future successors, Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), commented on the decline of the aging bishop’s mental capacity, writing, “He became almost half-witted. This weakness so affected his reason that he was unable to recognize guests whom he knew very well, and he would assail them with insults and abuse” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, X31). Bishop Gunthar’s body soon followed his mind into decline. He died near the end of his second year as bishop in 554.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Head of a Bishop, by Gaetano Gandolfi (c. 1734–1802), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).

 

Sources:

  • The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.

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