Saint of the Day – 29 April – St Hugh of Cluny (1024-1109) St Hugh the Great, Priest, Abbot of Cluny from 1049 until his death., founder-builder of numerous Monasteries, Convents , Hospitals and the biggest Church in Europe prior to the building of St Peter’s, apostle of the poor, the sick, the marginalised by the feudal system, ecclesiastical Reformer, holy father to his Monks and servant to all who needed him,. He was one of the most influential leaders of the monastic orders from the Middle Ages. Born on 13 May 1024 at Semur-en-Brionnais, Brionnais (now Saône-et-Loire), in the Diocese of Autun, France as Hugues de Semur and died on 28 April 1109 at Cluny Monastery, Brionnais (now Saône-et-Loire), France. Patronage – aganst fever. Also known as Hugh of Semur.
Saint Hugh was a Prince related to the sovereign house of the Dukes of Burgundy and received his education under the tutelage of his pious mother and by the solicitude of Hugh, Bishop of Auxerre, his great-uncle. From his infancy he was given to prayer and meditation and his life was remarkably innocent and holy.
One day, hearing an account of the wonderful sanctity of the Monks of Cluny under Saint Odilo, he was so moved, that he set out at that moment and going there, he humbly begged the monastic habit. After a rigid novitiate, he made his profession in 1039, at the age of sixteen years. His extraordinary virtue, especially his admirable humility, obedience, charity, sweetness, prudence and zeal, gained him the respect of the entire community.
At the death of Saint Odilo in 1049, though Saint Hugh was only twenty-five years old, he succeeded to the government of that great Abbey, which he continued for sixty-two years. During those years, the role of Cluny was immense. From it came four very illustrious Popes, including Pope Urban II and Pope Pascal II, both disciples of Saint Hugh.
The King of Castille, Alphonsus VI, owed his deliverance from an imprisonment to the prayers and intervention of Saint Hugh. A Count of Macon entered the Monastery with thirty knights and a great many servants, while the Countess, his wife, retired to a convent founded by Saint Hugh. Donations of large terrains were made to this Abbey, permitting innumerable foundations. Abbot Hugh built the third Abbey Church at Cluny, the largest structure in Europe for many centuries.
Pope Urban II gave Saint Hugh the right to wear pontifical ornaments for the solemn feast days.
For the Monks under his care, Hugh was a model of fatherly forethought, of devotion to discipline and prayer and of unhesitating obedience to the Holy See. In furtherance of the great objects of his order, the service of God and personal sanctification, he strove to impart the utmost possible splendour and solemnity to the liturgical services at Cluny. Some of his liturgical ordinances, such as the singing of the Veni Creator at Tierce on Pentecost Sunday (subsequently also within the octave), have since been extended to the entire Roman Church. He began the magnificent church at Cluny — now unfortunately entirely disappeared — which was, until the erection of St. Peter’s at Rome, the largest Church in Christendom, and was esteemed the finest example of the Romancsque style in France.
Hugh gave the first impulse to the introduction of the strict cloister into the Convents of nuns, prescribing it first for that of Marcigny, of which his sister became first prioress in 106 and where his mother also took the veil. Renowned for his charity towards the suffering poor, he built a hospital for lepers, where he himself performed the most menial duties. It is impossible to trace here the effect which his granting of personal and civic freedom to the bondsmen and colonists feudatory to Cluny and the fostering of tradesmen’s guilds — the nuclei from which most of the modern Cities of Europe sprang — have had on civilisation.
In the case of comparatively few of our Saints has the decision of their own and subsequent ages, been so unanimous, as in that of St.Hugh. Living in an age of misrepresentation and abuse, when the Church had to contend with far greater domestic and external inimical forces ,than those marshalled by the so-called Reformation, not a single voice was raised against his character — for we disregard the criticism of the French Bishop, who in the heat of a quarrel, pronounced hasty words, afterwards to be recalled and who, was subsequently one of Hugh’s panegyrists.
In one of his letters Pope Gregory declares that he confidently expects the success of ecclesiastical reform in France through God’s mercy and the instrumentality of Hugh, “whom no imprecation, no applause or favours, no personal motives can divert from the path of rectitude” (Gregorii VII Registr., IV, 22). In the “Life of Bishop Arnulf of Soissons,” Arnulf says of Hugh: “Most pure in thought and deed, he is the promoter and perfect guardian of monastic discipline and the regular life, the unfailing support of the true religious and of men of probity, the vigorous champion and defender of the Holy Church” (Mabillon, op. cit. infra, saec. VI, pars II, P. 532). And of his closing years Bishop Bruno of Segni writes: “Now aged and burdened with years, reverenced by all and loved by all, he still governs that venerable Monastery with the same consummate wisdom — a man in all things most laudable, difficult of comparison,and of wonderful sanctity” (Muratori, “Rerum Ital. script.”, III, pt. ii, 347).
Emperors and Kings vied with the sovereign Pontiffs in bestowing on Hugh marks of their veneration and esteem. Henry the Black, in a letter which has come down to us, addresses Hugh as his “very dear father, worthy of every respect,”,declares that he owes his own return to health and the happy birth of his child to the Abbot’s prayers and urges him to come to the Court at Cologne the following Easter to stand sponsor for this son (the future Henry IV).
Hugh was chosen by the Kings and Princes of the various Christian kingdoms of Spain as arbiter to decide the question of succession. When Robert II of Burgundy refused to attend the Council of Autun (1065), at which his presence was necessary, Hugh was sent to summon the Duke, and remonstrated with him, so eloquently, in the interests of peace that Robert accompanied the Abbot unresistingly to the Council, became reconciled with those who had put his son to death and promised to respect ,thenceforth, the property of the Church.
William the Conqueror of England, shortly after the Battle of Hastings (1066), made rich presents to Cluny and begged to be admitted a confrater of the Abbey like the Spanish kings. St Anselm of Canterbury, was one of the many Bishops, who consulted Hugh in their difficulties and trials and, on three occasions — once during his exile from England — visited the Abbot at Cluny.
In the spring of 1109, Hugh, worn out with years and labours and feeling his end approaching, asked for the Last Sacraments, summoned around him his spiritual children and, having given each the kiss of peace, dismissed them with the greeting: Benedicite. Then, asking to be conveyed to the Chapel of our Blessed Lady, he laid himself in sackcloth and ashes before her Altar and thus breathed forth his soul to his Creator on the evening of Easter Monday (28 April).
His tomb in the Abbey Church was soon the scene of miracles,and to it Pope Gelasius I made a pilgrimage in 1119, dying at Cluny on 20 January. Elected at the Monastery on 2 February, Callistus II began immediately the process of Canonisation, and, on 6 January, 1120, declared Hugh a saint, appointing 29 April his feast-day.
In honour of St.Hugh ,the Abbot of Cluny was ,henceforth, accorded the title and dignity of a cardinal. At the instance of Honorius III the translation of the Saint’s remains took place on 23 May 1220 but, during the uprising of the Huguenots (1575), the remains and the costly Shrine disappeared with the exception of a few relics.