Friday, 27 September 2013

St Hugh of Lincoln

This is one of my favourite medieval saints, for two reasons: he had a pet swan and he quelled an anti-Jewish riot. He was the Bishop of Lincoln from 1186 until his death in 1200, and he was quickly made a saint after that.
The swan lived at his manor of Stow, and this is what Gerald of Wales (who wrote a Life of Hugh, and knew him personally) says:

"When he fed it, the bird used to thrust its long neck up his wide and ample sleeve so that its head lay on his breast; for a little while it would remain there, hissing gently, as if it were talking fondly and happily to its master and asking something from him...."

This is the Jew's House, which may also have been a synagogue, and which was certainly there at the time Hugh was Bishop - it may have been somewhere near here that Hugh faced down an anti-Jewish mob, at considerable risk to his own life. It was one of the riots that took place all over the country where there were settlements of Jewish people just after King Richard the Lionheart was crowned, in 1189.

When he died in 1200, in London, his body was brought back to Lincoln, and this is how David Hugh Farmer describes it in his book Saint Hugh of Lincoln:

"When they arrived 'at the foot of the hill almost a mile from the city', they were met by the Kings of England and Scotland, the archbishops of Canterbury, York and Ragusa (now Dubrovnik - what was the archbishop of Dubrovnik doing in England?), bishops, abbots, magnates, nobles, clergy and people in an immense crowd that had seldom been seen before. The king of England and other magnates carried the coffin on their shoulders: the king of Scotland, William, was so overcome with grief that he stood behind.
At the entrance to the city of Lincoln the king and bishops gave way to other bearers, and they in their turn to others and to others again, in spite of the heavy rain and deep mud."

I've always rather admired King John for doing this, and now I've actually walked the route that the coffin took I'm even more impressed. He didn't help to carry it up the steepest slope - that comes inside the city wall - but he still went quite a distance, and partly up hill.

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