Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Saint Hugh of Lincoln ~ One of the great forgotten saints of Britain

Model of Lincoln Cathedral as it existed in the Middle Ages.
It's central spire reached over 500 feet in the air.
Once considered one of the most famous saints of Britain, Saint Hugh of Lincoln is largely forgotten by Catholics today. His crowning achievement, the rebuilding and expansion of the great Lincoln Cathedral, may be seen to this day, though lamentably in the hands of the separated church of England. At one time, Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building in the world, with its central spire (now gone) reaching up to 525 feet in to the air.

Saint Hugh was known for his outstanding sanctity and mercy thanks to his concern for the poor, his love for children, his hospitality, and his defense of the Jews. His kindness, wit and cheerful disposition won him a wide circle of friends, including a wild swan which guarded him while he slept and subsequently became his chief iconographic emblem. Saint Hugh was also famous for delivering a stinging public rebuke to Richard I (the Lionheart), which the king received with grave humility.

To celebrate the feast of Saint Hugh, here are some excerpts from the Vita which was written shortly after his death by Gerald of Wales. The first excerpt details St. Hugh's unique friendship with one of God's creatures.
St. Hugh and his swan.
"About the day or the day after Bishop Hugh was welcomed and enthroned at Lincoln, a [new] swan not seen there before flew in at the bishop’s manor near Stow, some eight miles from Lincoln, a place delightfully covered with woods and ponds.... 
"When the bishop first visited there, this royal bird, remarkable in feature as in size, was brought to him in his chamber to marvel at. It had been tamed without difficulty, as if by its own will. Immediately, the bird took and ate bread from his hand and stayed with him so like a pet that for the time being it seemed to have shed all its wildness. It did not shrink from the bishop’s touch nor the approach or the commotion of the crowd standing all around and gaping.... 
"Also wonderful is that only with the bishop was it friendly or at all tractable. Indeed, it would stand beside its lord to defend him against the approach of others, as I have often seen with amazement. It would cry out, threatening with its wings and beak and trumpeting loudly with a high voice in its natural song, as if declaring that it belonged to the bishop and was entrusted to him alone, as a sign."
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The above excerpt is taken from The Life of Saint Hugh of Avalon: Bishop of Lincoln 1186-1200, by Gerald of Wales, as translated by Richard Loomis. This is the earliest biography of Saint Hugh. Gerald of Wales was a contemporary of his, as well as an admirer, and a first-hand witness to much of what he records.

After his death, Saint Hugh's tomb became a destination for pilgrims, and Gerald records numerous miracles that occurred at the site of the tomb. Another excerpt from the above source may be found at the following video on YouTube entitled: St. Hugh of Lincoln - A medieval account of the miraculous healing of a knight at St. Hugh's tomb. This video relates the tale of a knight, John Burdet of Lindsey, who was cured of paralysis in his arm through the intercession of Saint Hugh of Lincoln. Click here to watch:

An entertaining short story about this miracle may also be found here: The Knight and the Flaming Arrow.

Saint Hugh's tomb was of such renown that it was eventually upgraded with all manner of beautiful decoration. A 17th century source said that at its height, Hugh's shrine was “of beaten gold, and was in length 8ft., and 4ft. broad.” Sadly, the beautiful shrine attracted the avarice of King Henry VIII and it was removed "to our Jewyll House" by the king's order on June 6th, 1540. [Taken from: Notes on Mediaeval Services in England, p. 159]. Other sources maintain that the shrine was subsequently melted down for coinage.

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