Hugh of Lincoln, O.Cart, (also Hugh of Avalon or Hugh of Burgundy; 1135/1140 – London, 16 November 1200) was, at the time of the Reformation, the best-known English saint after Thomas Becket.
Hugh was born at the château of Avalon, at the border of the Dauphiné with Savoy, the son of Guillaume, seigneur of Avalon. His mother Anne died when he was eight, and because his father was a soldier, he went to a boarding school for his education. William (Guillaume) retired from the world to the Augustinian monastery of Villard-Benoît, near Grenoble, and took his son Hugh, with him.
At the age of fifteen, Hugh became a religious novice and was ordained a deacon at the age of nineteen. About 1159, he was sent to be prior of the nearby monastery at Saint-Maximin, presumably already a priest. From that community, he left the Benedictine Order and entered the Grande Chartreuse, then at the height of its reputation for the rigid austerity of its rules and the earnest piety of its members. There he rose to become procurator of his new Order, in which office he served until he was sent in 1179 to become prior of the Witham Charterhouse in Somerset, the first Carthusian house in England.
Henry II of England, as part of his penance for the murder of Thomas Becket, in lieu of going on crusade as he had promised in his first remorse, had established a Carthusian charterhouse some time before, which was settled by monks brought from the Grande Chartreuse. There were difficulties in advancing the building works, however, and the first prior was retired and a second soon died. It was by the special request of the English king that St. Hugh, whose fame had reached him through one of the nobles of Maurienne, was made prior.
Hugh found the monks in great straits, living in log huts and with no plans yet advanced for the more permanent monastery building. Hugh interceded with the king for royal patronage and at last, probably on 6 January 1182, Henry issued a charter of foundation and endowment for Witham Charterhouse. His first attention was given to the building of the Charterhouse. He prepared his plans and submitted them for royal approbation, exacting full compensation from the king for any tenants on the royal estate who would have to be evicted to make room for the building. Hugh presided over the new house till 1186 and attracted many to the hermitage. Among the frequent visitors was King Henry, for the charterhouse lay near the borders of the king's chase in Selwood Forest, a favorite hunting ground. Hugh admonished Henry for keeping dioceses vacant in order to keep their income for the royal chancellery.
In May 1186, Henry summoned a council of bishops and barons at Eynsham Abbey to deliberate on the state of the Church and the filling of vacant bishoprics, including Lincoln. On 25 May 1186 the cathedral chapter of Lincoln was ordered to elect a new bishop and Hugh was elected. Hugh insisted on a second, private election by the canons, securely in their chapterhouse at Lincoln rather than in the king's chapel. His election was confirmed by the result.
Hugh was consecrated Bishop of Lincoln on 21 September 1186 at Westminster. Almost immediately he established his independence of the King, excommunicating a royal forester and refusing to seat one of Henry's courtly nominees as a prebendary of Lincoln, but softened the king's anger by his diplomatic address and tactful charm. 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. Hugh was also prominent in trying to protect the Jews, great numbers of whom lived in Lincoln, in the persecution they suffered at the beginning of Richard I's reign, and he put down popular violence against them in several places.
Lincoln Cathedral had been badly damaged by an earthquake in 1185, and Bishop Hugh set about rebuilding and greatly enlarging it in the new Gothic style; however, he only lived to see the choir well begun. In 1194, he expanded the St Mary Magdalen's Church, Oxford.
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, a trip that ruined 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. He was buried in Lincoln Cathedral.
Bishop Hugh was responsible for the building of the first (wooden) Bishop's Palace at Buckden in Cambridgeshire, half way between Lincoln and London. Later additions to the Palace were more substantial and a tall brick tower was added in 1475, protected by walls and a moat, and surrounded by an outer bailey. It was used by the bishops until 1842. The Palace, now known as Buckden Towers, is owned by the RC Missionary Congregation known as the Claretians and is used as a conference Centre. A Catholic church, dedicated to St Hugh, is located on the site.
Hugh was canonised by Pope Honorius III on 17 February 1220, and is the patron saint of sick children, sick people, shoemakers and swans. Hugh is honored in the Church of England and in the Episcopal Church (USA) on November 17.
Hugh's Vita, or written life, was composed by his chaplain Adam of Eynsham, a Benedictine monk and his constant associate; it remains in manuscript form in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Hugh is the eponym of St Hugh's College, Oxford, where a 1926 statue of the saint stands on the stairs of the Howard Piper Library. In his right hand, he holds an effigy of Lincoln Cathedral, and his left hand rests on the head of a swan.
At the site of Avalon, a round tower in the Romantic Gothic style was built by the Carthusians in the 19th century in Hugh's honour.
Hugh's primary emblem is a white swan, in reference to the story of the swan of Stowe 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. Hugh loved all the animals in the monastery gardens, especially a wild swan that would eat from his hand and follow him about and yet the swan would attack anyone else who came near Hugh.
A number of churches are dedicated to St. Hugh of Lincoln including: Episcopal Churches in Elgin, Illinois; and Allyn, Washington; and St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church, Huntington Station, New York.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- British History Online Bishops of Lincoln accessed on 28 October 2007
- King, Richard John Handbook to the Cathedrals of England: Eastern Division (1862) (On-line text).
- La tour d'Avalon accessed on 28 October 2007 – In French
- Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (Third revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-56350-X.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Saint Hugh of Lincoln.
- Patron Saints Index: St. Hugh of Lincoln
- Picture of St. Hugh with his swan.
- Friends of Buckden Towers
- The RC Parish of St Hugh of Lincoln Buckden and St Joseph in St Neots
Walter de Coutances
Bishop of Lincoln
William de Blois