Archive for November, 2011

From the sound of his vita, Hubert was pretty much your average member of the medieval nobility. Perhaps that is why, though mainly forgotten now, he was a popular saint in the Middle Ages, if not “The Popular Saint of the Middle Ages.”

Hubert was the eldest son of the Duke of Aquitaine, which is to say that he was one of the most powerful nobles in early medieval Europe.  He liked to drink.  He liked to hunt.  He was agreeable and gracious, so much so that he seems to have easily insinuated himself into the royal households of Francia, circa 675-680.  Naturally he married well.  Success, medieval-style, was not just assured, but attained.  Then he went and ruined everything by getting religion.

Out hunting on Good Friday, he pursued a stag—a buck  for American hunters.  As he did, it stopped and turned toward him, unusual behavior then and now amongst the family Cervidae.  In its antlers there was a crucifix, and Hubert heard a voice say to him, “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell.”  Apparently a quick study, Hubert made an umimpeachable response:  “Lord, what wouldst thou have me do?”

What the Lord had Hubert do was not turn to vegetarianism or non-violence, but go and find a spiritual director, Bishop Lambert of Maastricht.  As wives tend to do in the lives of medieval saints, Hubert’s conveniently died, allowing him to become a priest, make a pilgrimage to Rome, and on his return become bishop in Lambert’s place. (Lambert had been murdered by some of Hubert’s old cronies.)

Hubert’s greatest efforts during his bishopric seem to have been devoted to the conversion of those pagans remaining in the forest of Ardenne and perhaps this and the deer explain a little something of Hubert’s appeal to medieval people.  Medievals were not sentimental about the forest.  It was not something to be preserved, but defeated, as it was always attempting to defeat them. They lost animals and children in the darkness of the woods; cf., if you would, any of Grimm’s fairy tales.

Hubert’s encounter with the miraculous stag seemed on this side of the probable for anyone who spent much time in the medieval woods.  His mission to the pagans still residing within the Ardennes, then a forest considerably larger than it is today, shows Hubert was a fighting saint, someone who was willing to sally into the dark places and overcome the strange and evil things that were there.

Hubert’s popularity caused many to choose him as a patron. His fighting spirit, and his noble lineage, explains why Hubert was the namesake of several military orders in the Middle Ages.  No prizes for figuring out or why he was the patron saint of hunters, huntsmen, trappers, dogs, forest workers, and hunting and why there are so many splendid recipes of game dedicated to celebrating his feast day.  What exactly smelters found in him is a mystery to me, unless it is that medieval metalworking tended to be located out where the iron was found and charcoal could be made, which meant that it was done out on the edge of the wilderness.

But why Hubert became the patron saint of mathematicians stumps me completely.  Not the sort of chap, I would have thought, whose homework you wanted to copy when you were struggling with geometry.

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The Church Triumphant

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Completing the Halloween run up and then decrescendoing tomorrow into the commemoration of All Souls is the feast of All Saints. In the medieval  church, All Saints’ Day  was a significant festival celebrating the faithful who had attained heaven, the Church Triumphant.  The next day, All Souls’ Day was the commemoration of…well…every other Christian who had died, the Church Penitent.  All Saints’ was festive, and All Souls’ tended to be a grimmer with requiem masses and much repenting and worrying about where a relative was in Purgatory. In the secular culture, though, All Souls seems to have had a stronger pull. That makes sense. Hey, Francis and Ambrose, to name a couple of awesome saints, were lovely guys and great examples of faith, but when it comes down to celebrating someone you never met or thinking about how much you miss your father/mother/daughter/son/ grandmother/uncle, etc. and wondering where they are on the salvation spectrum…where do you think you are going to focus your time, energy, and attention?

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

In the Lutheran church, however, most Protestant ones when it comes to that, all baptized and believing Christians are saints. Apart from high, high churches, like the Anglo-Catholics,  Protestants don’t celebrate  All Souls. Commemorations of the dead are held on All Saints and are held in the sure and certain faith that these saints have received the gift of redemption through grace and will not have to work off time served in Purgatory.  All Saints is then a jolly affair focusing as it does on the salvation given to the great Church triumphant.

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Or at least  I think so, but that could be because the hymn sung on that day is so splendid. “For All the Saints” was written by William Walsham How, then a rural dean in Shropshire, England, in the 1860s.  How eventually became a suffragan bishop in London and then the Bishop of Wakefield, and apparently he was quite good at what he did, but had he been half as competent as Bishop Proudie, this hymn would have made up the difference.  The tune is actually relatively modern too, having been written by Ralph Vaughn Williams, and the combined effect is electrifying. How wrote it as a processional hymn– hence the 11 verses that allow even the Anglo-Catholics to get around the whole church in procession–but verses 3-5 are typically omitted in most hymnals.  Apparently even modern Lutherans find 11 verses daunting. (And I shall wax eloquent on THAT topic of shame around Christmas.) Let the Methodists, remembering their heritage of terrorizing people with close harmony singing and getting their tonality on, take it away ! (The hymn starts @ the :17 mark and wraps up around 5:03.)  May you, dear saint, sing along and celebrate the foretaste of the feast to come.

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

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