A Brief History
On May 30, 727 or 728, we mourn the passing of one of the great characters in history, one of our favorite Saints, Saint Hubert, also known as Hubertus, the first bishop of Liège in what is now Belgium. While a number of Merovingian Kings and Queens actually became saints, such as Balthild, Clotilde and Dagobert II, some of the subjects of the Merovingian dynasty also became saints as well and arguably the most famous of such people is St. Hubert, the patron Saint of Hunting and so much more. In fact, the true greatness of St. Hubert will become apparent by the end of this account!
Historical works about St. Hubert began about 3 decades after his death. Medieval people of Europe venerated this beloved Saint as the works about him show. Born (possibly) in Toulouse, in France possibly in 656, Hubertus was the son of the Duke of Aquitaine. As a boy Hubertus was sent to the court of the King of Neustria, Theuderic III, in Paris. (Neustria was the Kingdom of Western France at the time.) At the royal court Hubertus engaged in the sport of hunting and developed a deep love of this pursuit. He later moved on to the court of Austrasia at Metz, a part of the Merovingian Kingdom of the Franks in the Northeastern part of the land. While Hubertus and others chafed under the mean spirited rule of the mayor of the palace at Paris, Pepin of Herstal, the mayor of the palace at Austrasia took a fond liking to Hubertus and made him the grand-master of the house. It was there that Hubertus took Floribanne, daughter of the count of Leuven as his wife. They had a son, Floribert of Liège, who later became the Bishop of Liege, as the post of Bishop was one that was often passed on down the family line in a manner similar to the succession of monarchs. In fact, bishoprics were de facto fiefs within the Merovingian kingdoms.
Sadly, the wife of Hubertus died in childbirth, causing the grief stricken man to go off into the forest and engage in constant hunting as a diversion from his grief. During this period Hubertus also “found God,” so to speak, a conversion to a life of piety triggered by a miraculous event. While others were in church at mass for Good Friday, Hubertus was out hunting when he pursued a magnificent stag that stopped and looked directly at the baffled hunter. The stag had a crucifix between its antlers and a voice reached the stunned man, saying, “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell.” Hubertus dismounted from his horse and lay face down on the ground, beseeching God to tell him what to do. Rather than ordering Hubertus directly, God told him to “Go and seek Lambert, and he will instruct you.” (Here we must say that this account of the humbling of St. Hubert vis a vis the Stag is a story not found in the early accounts of the life of St. Hubert. This account does not appear until the 15th Century and may be a conflation of the legend of Saint Eustace or Placidus.)
It was during his encounter with the miraculous deer that Hubertus received his instructions about ethical hunting practices, directly from the stag (or “Hart,” if you will). This legacy of ethical hunting practices is followed today by French Hunting Masters and their auxiliary followers, as well as those who hunt from horseback with hounds (chasse à courre). Rules laid down by St. Hubert are followed to this day by ethical hunters, who of course venerate this notable Saint. More on the connection of St. Hubert and hunting later.
Hubertus followed the instructions of God (a good idea, n’est-ce pas?) and traveled to Maastricht (in what is now the Netherlands) to seek the guidance of Lambert, the Bishop. Under the kind tutelage of Lambert, Hubertus renounced his earthly goods, titles and claims, giving himself to God. He even turned over his son to his younger brother. Hubertus entered the seminary and was ordained a priest. Unfortunately, when Hubertus made a pilgrimage to Rome, Lambert was assassinated while Hubertus was gone. Miraculously, the Pope had a vision of the murder of Lambert as it was happening, and took the sign to deem Hubertus as the successor to Lambert as the Bishop of Maastricht. While serving as Bishop of Maastricht, Hubertus gave his considerable income from his position as head of the local church to the poor, and was renowned as an eloquent sermonizer. Following instructions received in a vision, Hubertus had the remains of Lambert removed and transported for final rest at Liege. St. Hubert’s ministry was also notable for his work evangelizing among the still pagan people of the forests of the Ardennes surrounding the area as well as other nearby regions.
St. Hubert died of natural causes, reportedly peacefully, in 727 or 728, and was buried in Liege, his remains later moved to the Benedictine Abbey of Amdain (or Andage) located in Hubert’s beloved Ardennes. The town containing Hubert’s resting place is now called Saint-Hubert, in the Walloon region of Belgium. Both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church venerate St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, hunting and the hunt, archers, forest workers, trappers, metal workers, smelters and the City of Liege. Most notably, St. Hubert is also a patron saint of dogs, a companion of human beings and huntsmen for thousands of generations, a fact we have touched upon several times on our site.
The legacy of St. Hubert vis-à-vis dogs is seen today in the evolution of 2 of the greatest hunting dogs in existence, the Bloodhound and the Basset Hound. These 2 dog breeds are agreeable family pets and “loyal as a hound dog,” and have the keenest noses of all dog breeds. The large and mournful looking Bloodhound is a descendant of the hounds once kept at the Abbey of St. Hubert in Belgium, dogs referred to as St. Hubert’s Hounds! (Or Chien de Saint-Hubert in French, a name also given to Bloodhounds by some.) Bloodhounds are also used by law enforcement for trailing escaped or at large criminals and are often used to locate lost or missing people. In order to create a canine for hunting that had shorter legs than a Bloodhound, and thus would be easier for hunters to keep up with and easier for the hound to keep its nose to the ground without tiring, a dwarf version of the Bloodhound was bred, resulting in the Basset Hound, also known affectionately as the “Hush Puppy,” quite possibly the saddest looking and laziest dog. Basset Hounds are incredibly good family pets, gentle with children, in possession of a wonderful melodious and LOUD bark and howl to scare off intruders, and a constant source of amusement just by watching them. Basset Hounds come in more of a variety of colors than Bloodhounds, and are considerably shorter, although some can weigh up to about 100 pounds! They also take the saggy skin and long ears of the Bloodhound to the extreme, the ears dragging the ground while the Basset has his nose to the ground to follow the scent of rabbits, hares and other game. The wrinkly folds of skin about the face of Bloodhounds and Basset Hounds also aids in the gathering and holding of scent.
Whether or not you are a religious person or for that matter a Christian, you still owe a great debt to Hubertus, or St. Hubert, if for no other reason than for being the inspiration for Bloodhounds and Basset Hounds! Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite dog breed and why? Do you have a favorite saint? (Who is it and why?) Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Land, Bobbye. The Basset Hound. TFH Publications, Inc, 2005.
Watkins, Basil. The Book of Saints: A Comprehensive Biographical Dictionary. T&T Clark, 2015.
The featured image in this article, “The Conversion of Holy Hubertus” by Wilhelm Räuber (1849-1926), is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer. This work is in the public domain in the United States, because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1925.
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