A leading figure in the 12th century proto-Renaissance, Hugh of Lincoln has suffered a spectacular historical decline, going from being one of the most famous saints in English history at one point to a virtual unknown today.
He was born in Avalon in southern France around 1135. His father was the local lord and a soldier, who later retired to a monastery near Grenoble. Hugh’s mother died when he was sent to boarding school, becoming a religious novice at 15 and a deacon four years later.
In 1159, Hugh was sent to a nearby Benedictine monastery in Saint-Maximin, after which he left the order to enter the Grande Chartreuse, the head monastery of the Carthusian order, just outside Grenoble.
In this famously austere environment he rose to become procurator, before being sent to Witham Charterhouse priory in Somerset, the first of the Carthusian houses in England.
At the time, the kingdom was part of Anjevin Empire of Henry II, who, despite introducing the jury system, is probably best remembered for the murder of St Thomas Becket, by four knights. As part of his penance Henry established a Carthusian charterhouse (it was either that or go on crusade). The project was riddled with the sort of problems that afflict building work, with one prior having to retire and the second dying soon after.
It was at this point that Hugh was called for to sort things out. Eventually, after some string-pulling, Hugh got the things fixed, and in January 1182 a charter of foundation was endowed. For four years he ran the house, attracting many recruits and visitors, including the king.
Then, in 1186, he was chosen as Bishop of Lincoln, a role in which he excelled. Generous and kind to his flock, he was also firm in standing up to the Crown. He also helped to improve education in the country and protected the Jews of Lincoln during the persecutions that begun during the Lionheart’s reign.
He also rebuilt Lincoln Cathedral, which had been damaged in 1186, and consecrated St Giles’s in Oxford in 1200. But he was also overworked, taking on the thankless task of being a diplomat for the new king, Richard’s appalling brother, John, and he died on November 16 1200.
Canonised 20 years later, St Hugh was very well known in the later medieval period but became less so after the Reformation.
He is the patron of sick children, shoemakers and swans.
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