St Hugh of Lincoln

letchworth-SwanLA native of Burgundy, Hugh was born in Avalon, near Grenoble in 1140 and joined the Carthusian Order at the age of 20. He was highly regarded for his intellectual ability, his integrity and caring nature. At the request of Henry II, he came to England in 1175 to found the first English Charterhouse at Witham in Somerset, which he did in the face of obstacles of all kinds.  It flourished so well under his care that in 1181 the King chose him to be Bishop of Lincoln. Hugh was reluctant to leave the monastic life but agreed and moved to Lincoln in 1186. He set about rebuilding the part of the Cathedral which had been damaged in an earthquake the previous year.

The diocese was vast and Hugh travelled ceaselessly round it on horseback, ministering to the needs of the people. He stayed at small diocesan manors, as he travelled through the countryside. The most central of these was what has  become Buckden Towers. He also had a manor at Biggleswade.

Hugh was known for his love of justice and his kindness to the oppressed, children and animals. Throughout his ministry he tended to lepers and in 1190 he risked his life to protect a group of Jews from violence. He also upheld the rights of the peasants against the King’s harsh and unjust forestry laws. Although he was highly principled and outspoken, his conciliatory nature and sense of humour helped him to win over his opponents.

Hugh was held in great affection by everyone from peasants to monarchs and on his death in 1200, at the age of 60, he was greatly mourned. At his magnificent funeral the kings of England and Scotland helped to carry the bier.  He was buried in Lincoln Cathedral and canonized soon after, in 1220.

St Hugh is usually depicted as a bishop, sometimes as a Carthusian.  In either case he is accompanied by a swan, as it was reported that a fierce swan at his manor at Stow became very tame and attached to him, although it was still aggressive towards everyone else. We have a statue of St Hugh, in a niche, above the main entrance to the present Church. In addition to the swan he is usually surrounded by a possé of pigeons!

The feast of St Hugh is celebrated on 17 November.