Saint of the Day – 17 November – Saint Hugh of Lincoln O.Cart. (1135-1200) Carthusian Monk, Bishop of Lincoln, England, Confessor, Exorcist, Diplomat, Social Reformer and Protector of the poor and unjustly treated. Born in c 1135 at Avalon Castle, Burgundy, France and died on 16 November 1200 at London, England of natural causes. Patronages – sick children, sick people, swans, shoemakers. Also known as – Hugh of Avalon, Hugh of Burgundy. St Hugh was the first Carthusian Monk to be Canonised.
The Roman Martyrology states of him today: “In England, St Hugh, Bishop, who was called from a Carthusian Monastery to the government of the Church of Lincoln. He ended his holy life in peace, renowned for many miracles.“
Hugh was born at the Château of Avalon of a noble family, the son of Guillaume, Duke of Avalon. His mother died when he was eight, years old and because his father was a soldier, he was sent away for his education. When his father returned from military excursions, he retired from the world to the Augustinian Monastery of Villard-Benoît, near Grenoble and took his son Hugh, with him.
In 1140 Hugh joined the Carthusian Order at the age of 20 at Grande Chartreuse. He was highly regarded for his intellectual ability, his integrity and kind and caring nature. In 1175, at the request of Henry II, he was sent to England to found the first English Charterhouse at Witham in Somerset, which he did in the face of obstacles of all kinds. It flourished so well under his care, that in 1181 the King chose him to be Bishop of Lincoln. Hugh was reluctant to leave the monastic life but agreed and moved to Lincoln in 1186. He set about rebuilding the part of the Cathedral which had been damaged in an earthquake the previous year.
The Diocese was vast and Hugh travelled ceaselessly on horseback, ministering to the needs of the people. He stayed at small diocesan manors, as he travelled through the countryside. The most central of these was what has become Buckden Towers which he built, halfway between Lincoln and London. As a Bishop, he was exemplary, constantly in residence or travelling within his Diocese, generous with his charity, scrupulous in the appointments he made. He raised the quality of education at the Cathedral school and began the restoration of the Cathedral, which had been damaged by fire.
Hugh was known for his love of justice and his kindness to the oppressed, children and animals. Throughout his ministry he tended to lepers and in 1190 he risked his life to protect a group of Jews from violence. He also upheld the rights of the peasants against the King’s harsh and unjust forestry laws. Although he was highly principled and outspoken, his conciliatory nature and sense of humour helped him to win over his opponents.
As one of the premier Bishops of the Kingdom of England Hugh more than once accepted the role of diplomat to France for Richard and then for King John in 1199, the latter trip took great toll on his health. He Consecrated St Giles’ Church, Oxford, in 1200. There is a Cross consisting of interlaced circles cut into the western column of the tower that is believed to commemorate this. Also in commemoration of the Consecration, St Giles’ Fair was established and continues to this day each September. While attending a national Council in London, a few months later, he was stricken with an unnamed ailment and died two months later on 16 November 1200
Hugh was held in great affection by everyone from peasants to monarchs and on his death at the age of 60, he was greatly mourned. At his magnificent funeral the Kings of England and Scotland helped to carry the bier. He was buried in Lincoln Cathedral and Canonised on 18 February 1220 by Pope Honorius III.
St Hugh is usually depicted as a Bishop, sometimes as a Carthusian. In either case he is accompanied by a swan, the swan of Stow, Lincolnshire (site of a palace of the bishops of Lincoln) which had a deep and lasting friendship with the Saint, even guarding him while he slept. The swan would follow him about, and was his constant companion while he was at Lincoln.as it was reported that a fierce swan at his manor at Stow became very tame and attached to him, eating from his hand and yet, the swan would attack anyone else who came near Hugh!
At Avalon, a round tower in the Romantic Gothic style, was built by the Carthusians in 1895 in Hugh’s honour on the site of the castle where he was born.