Feast of St. Hugh of Lincoln, Bishop and Confessor 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My Brethren in Christ Jesus, blessings, as we celebrate today the Feast of St. Hugh of Lincoln, a Twelfth Century A.D. Carthusian monk and Bishop in the Kingdom of England. After the martyr Thomas Becket, St. Hugh was the best known of the English Saints by the time of the Protestant Reformation. He was favored by both Protestants and Catholics in the centuries that followed, as he was noted by Christians across the denominational spectrum for his prayerful adherence to duty and independence from political influence. He was a master builder and restorer of the Carthusian Charterhouse in Witham, Somerset, where he served as its first Prior, and also of the Cathedral in Lincoln after being elected to the Episcopacy there. Though he cultivated close and abiding relations with Kings Henry II, Richard I, and John, from which he obtained considerable royal patronage for Church properties, he never compromised his political independence even to the point of excommunicating a corrupt royal forester and refusing to seat Henry’s nominee as a prebendary or administrative canon for the Cathedral. While Hugh served as the Bishop of Lincoln, a small English boy in the area was found dead. A rumor spread that the boy had been kidnapped, tortured, and killed by local Jews. The boy, also named Hugh, came to be known as Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln. His veneration inspired pogroms against Jews throughout England, and the Bishop took a public stand in favor of protecting Jews in Lincoln from the persecutions. While rebuilding and expanding the Cathedral in Lincoln, which had been damaged in a strong earthquake, and while expanding St. Mary Magdalen’s Church, Oxford, the Bishop refused the demand of the King for 300 Knights for use in the King’s ongoing war in France. Royal agents in return seized all of his revenue, and yet he continued to be a celebrated figure in society and a much-respected royal diplomat to France. The well-bred, the poor, and the outcasts continued to champion him for the blessedness he exhibited in his work and in his personal behavior, and so he stood apart from and was never totally beholden to any one class or faction in his time. It is perhaps for this reason primarily that his veneration has remained popular over the centuries and is an icon of possible future rapprochement between the Anglican and the Roman Catholic branches of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

And yet for all this Hugh remains a man of his own century. He promoted the veneration of the holy relics of the Saints even to the point of trying to bite into them. While staying as a guest at the Abbey of Fecamp, Hugh requested to view the arm of St. Mary Magdalen, which the monks had wrapped with cloth bandages and had never dared to open. To their dismay, Hugh took out a knife, cut away the bandages, and tried to cut off a portion of the arm. It was too hard to slice with the knife, and so he bit into it with his teeth. Hugh managed after considerable struggle to bite off two pieces which he entrusted into the care of his biographer. When asked why he had done that, he replied: “If a little while ago I handled the sacred body of the Lord with my fingers in spite of my unworthiness, and partook of it with my lips and my teeth, why then should I not treat the bones of the Saints in the same way…and, without profanity, acquire them whenever I can?” For all of his sophistication, there is a very simple and straightforward piety that explains his view of holy relics. For Hugh, as it should be for all Christians, there is no unpassable border between the sacred and the profane worlds. The profane is made sacred in faith and by grace – a reminder that all of creation groaneth for the coming of the Lord. Hugh lived as if whatever is built now by mortar and brick, or financed by royal patronage, can and will be redeemed by the Lord into Charterhouses and Cathedrals appropriate to the Father’s Kingdom. Royal patronage is not the end, but rather is one of many tools that may be put to the service of the faith. Keep the focus on God, and the world will be put into its proper perspective. Live for the Lord, and a man will neither covet nor fear whatever a King in this world may dispense.

St. Hugh of Lincoln is depicted in icons beside a white swan. This is in reference to the swan at Stow, Lincolnshire, the site of the palace set aside for the Bishops of Lincoln. Apparently, that swan had a deep and abiding friendship with the future Saint even to the point of guarding him as he slept. The swan would follow him throughout the day and fight back against anyone who dared get too close to him. With his swan at his side, Hugh loved and visited all the animals in the monastery gardens. The ease with which Hugh interacted with the animals was seen even then as a sign of his sanctity. Hugh was a man of his times, and yet his sincerity and gentleness can inspire any one of us endeavoring to do the work of God in a fallen world. Like Hugh, we as Christians also may look for blessedness in what is discarded as profane, or written off as weak, or even shunned and despised as ugly. He said once: “The kisses of St. Martin healed the bodies of the lepers; but with me it is the other way, the kisses of the lepers heal my sick soul.” By the grace of God, let us pray that we too shall seek God in whatever we do in this world; for it is in this way that we may be in the world, but not worldly, and feast with Kings, but not favor them any more than we do the vagabonds.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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