This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

November 17 -- Feast of Big Saint Hugh of Lincoln

I'm getting later every day with my posts.  It's hardly his feast day anymore and I've only begun to write.  Mea culpa. 

I nearly missed out on Big Saint Hugh because he was just listed as Hugh of Lincoln.  Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, you may remember, was one of the children whose murders triggered murderous anti-Jewish reactions collectively described as blood libel.  Little Hugh was killed in 1255.  Big Hugh, who was appointed bishop of Lincoln in 1186, had been an outspoken defender of Jews, even taking to the street to shut down some mob action.  Too bad he died a half century before Little Hugh got killed or more bloodshed might have been averted. 

Hugh was apparently the second most famous saint in Britain (after Thomas Becket).  He is generally depicted with the swan he kept as a pet and guard-bird.  Having been chased by a goose once, and having heard that a swan can break a man's arm if it feels threatened, I can imagine this was a fairly formidable sentry.  Moreover, I don't think this is one of those miraculous deer-with-the-crucifix-antlers stories.  I see no reason to doubt that a swan could be imprinted as a signet and then follow the bishop around as if he were family. 

My cup runneth over - hoc est corpus
Hugh's dad moved into a monastery when Hugh's mom died, and he brought the boy with him.  Sort of a rough thing for a kid, but Hugh took to the life and rose through the ranks pretty quickly.  He was a deacon at age nineteen, and by twenty he had jumped from the Benedictines to the Carthusian mother house in Grande Chartreuse.  When Henry II endowed a Carthusian monastery as part of his penance for the murder of Becket, he had trouble getting it off the ground.  Hearing of the impressive skills of Hugh over there in the mother house in France, he put in a request.  Hugh had no wish to go to England to be a prior, and probably no wish to serve a king who had just killed his archbishop.  Nonetheless, those vows of obedience are clad in iron, so off he went. 

His monastery abutted the royal hunting lands, so he often got the opportunity to jawbone Henry II about the empty bishoprics around the country.  Henry had been slow to see the appointment of bishops since he could administer the lands in the Sees and collect rents for himself.  In fact, Lincoln itself had been vacant for eighteen years before Hugh was elected to it.  As soon as he was installed, he excommunicated the royal forester, presumably for some better reason than showing his independence from his old hunting pal Henry (though that was a felicitous side effect). 

He oversaw many building projects, traveled throughout his See constantly, and was generous to the poor, abstemious in his own habits, and unimpeachable in his appointments.  In short, he was just the sort of bishop to polish the dimming reputation of the Church.  Because he was so scrupulous, he eventually became trusted by the Crown, advising King Richard I after he succeeded Henry, and then leading a peace mission on behalf of King John. 

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