Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume XI: November. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Hubert, Bishop of Liege, Confessor
GOD, who is wonderful in his mercies above all his works, called St. Hubert from a worldly life to his service in an extraordinary manner; though the circumstances of this event are so obscured by popular inconsistent relations, that we have no authentic account of his actions before he was engaged in the service of the church under the discipline of St. Lambert, bishop of Maestricht. He is said to have been a nobleman of Aquitain; passed his youth in the court of Theodoric III. and probably spent some time in the service of Pepin of Herstal, who became mayor of the palace of Austrasia in 681. He is also said to have been passionately addicted to the diversion of hunting, and was entirely taken up in worldly pursuits, when, moved by divine grace, he resolved at once to renounce the school of vanity, and enter himself in that of Christ, in which his name had been enrolled in baptism. St. Lambert was the experienced and skilful master by whose direction he studied to divest himself of the spirit of the world, and to put on that of Jesus Christ: and to learn to overcome enemies and injuries by meekness, and patience, not by revenge and pride, rather to sink under, than to vanquish them. His extraordinary fervour, and the great progress which he made in virtue and learning strongly recommended him to St. Lambert, who ordained him priest, and intrusted him with the principal share in the administration of his diocess. That holy prelate being barbarously murdered in 681, St. Hubert was unanimously chosen his successor, and the death of his dear master inflamed him with a holy desire of martyrdom, of which he sought all occasions. For charity conceives no other sentiments from wrongs, and knows no other revenge for the most atrocious injuries than the most tender concern and regard for sinners, and a desire of returning all good offices for evil received; thus to overcome evil by good, and invincibly maintain justice. St. Hubert never ceased with David to deplore his banishment from the face of God, and tears almost continually watered his cheeks. His revenues he consecrated to the service of the poor, and his labours to the extirpation of vice and of the remains of idolatry. His fervour in fasting, watching, and prayer far from ever abating seemed every day to increase; and he preached the word of God assiduously, with so much sweetness and energy, and with such unction of the Holy Ghost, that it was truly in his mouth a two-edged sword, and the people flocked from distant places to hear it from him. Out of devotion to the memory of St. Lambert, in the thirteenth year of his episcopal dignity, he translated his bones from Maestricht to Liege, then a very commodious and agreeable village upon the banks of the Meuse, which from this treasure very soon grew into a flourishing city, to which the ruins of Herstal, a mile distant, and of several other palaces and fortresses on the Meuse, contributed not a little. St. Hubert placed the relics of the martyr in a stately church which he built upon the spot where he had spilt his blood, which our saint made his cathedral, removing thither the episcopal see from Maestricht in 721, which St. Servatius had translated from Tongres to Maestricht in 382. Hence St. Lambert is honoured at Liege as principal patron, and St. Hubert as founder of the city and church, and its first bishop.
The great forest of Ardenne, famous in the Commentaries of Julius Cæsar and later writers, was in many parts a shelter for idolatry down to that age.1 St. Hubert, with incredible zeal penetrated into the most remote and barbarous places of this country, and abolished the worship of idols; and as he performed the office of the apostles, God bestowed on him a like gift of miracles. Amongst others the author of his life relates as an eye-witness, that on the three days fast of the Rogations which the whole church observes, the holy bishop went out of the city of Maestricht in procession, through the fields and villages with his clergy and people, according to custom, following the standard of the cross and the relics of the saints, and singing the litany. This religious procession was disturbed in its devotions by a woman possessed by an evil spirit; but the holy bishop silenced her and restored her to her health by signing her with the cross. In the time of a great drought he obtained rain by his prayers. A year before his happy death he was advertised of it in a vision, and favoured with a sight of a place prepared for him in glory. Though the foreknowledge which faith gives us of the great change for which we wait the divine will, be equally sufficient to raise up our hearts thither, the saint from that time redoubled his fervour in sighing after that bliss, and in putting his house in order; and reserved to himself more time for visiting the altars, and the shrines of the saints, especially the tomb of St. Lambert, and the altar of St. Albinus, commending his soul to God through the intercession of the saints with many tears. Going to dedicate a new church at Fur, (which seems to be Terture in Brabant,) twelve leagues from Liege, he preached there his farewell sermon; immediately after which he betook himself to bed ill of a fever, and on the sixth day of his sickness, reciting to his last breath the Creed and the Lords Prayer, sweetly reposed in Christ, on the 30th of May, in 727. His body was conveyed to Liege, and deposited in the collegiate church of St. Peter.2 With the leave of the bishop, and of the emperor Lewis Debonnair, it was translated, in 825, to the abbey of Andain, since called St. Huberts, in the Ardennes, on the frontiers of the duchy of Luxemburg. The abbot is lord of the territory, which comprises sixteen villages. The shrine of St. Hubert is resorted to by many pilgrims, and has been honoured by many miraculous cures, especially of persons bit by mad dogs.3 The principal feast of St. Hubert, probably on account of some translation, is kept on the 3rd of November. See the history of his life from the time of his conversion, written by one who had conversed familiarly with him; also the History of the Translation of his relics to Andain (or St. Huberts) by Jonas, (probably the Bishop of Orleans,) and an anonymous history of his miracles compiled in the eleventh age, all published by Mabillon, Sæc. Ben. 4, p. 293, &c. Likewise Le Cointe and Miræus, in their Annals of France and Belgium; Placentius, Hist. Episcoporum, Leod. p. 272, Buxhorn, Antiq. Leod. p. 7, &c.
Note 1. A small district on both sides of the Meuse still retains the name of the country of Ardenne. The ancient forest of that name was inclosed betwixt the Rhine and the Meuse. Some authors have extended it on one side into Champagne, and on the other as far as the Scheldt. Those at least who carry it beyond this river into Artois, seem to take this name of Ardenne for any great wood, as the Romans understood the word Hercynian. On which account they called by the same name Hercynia the whole great German forest, which was extended from the Ardennes or the Rhine, through all Germany to the Danube. They seem to have mistaken the German word Hartz, a wood, and the plural Hartzen, for an appellative, which they corrupted into Hercynia. The name of Hercynian or Hartz-Forest is given by moderns only to that wood which it thirty English miles broad, and about sixty long, situated in Brunswic-Lunenburg, Thuringia, Anhalt, and Hildersheim. See the Natural History of Hartz-Forest by H. Behrens, M.D. [back]
Note 2. The military order of knights of St. Hubert was instituted by Gerard V., duke of Cleves and Gueldres, in memory of his victory gained in 1444, on St. Huberts day, over the house of Egmont, which pretended a claim to those duchies. The knights wore a gold collar ornamented with hunting horns: on which hung a medal with an image of St. Hubert before their breast. The duke of Neuburgh became heir to Cleves, and in 1685 was made elector palatine of the Rhine. This honour is since conferred by the elector palatine on certain gentlemen of his court with pensions. The knights now wear a gold collar with a cross and an image of St. Hubert, &c. See Statuta Ordinis Militaris S. Huberti a ser. Principe Joan. Gul. Comite Palatino Rheni S. R. J. elect. renovati. an. 1708. Also the Jesuit Bonanni, Schoonebeck, Bern. Giustiniani and F. Honoratus of St. Mary in their histories of military orders of knighthood. [back]
Note 3. Against this dreadful venom the blessing of heaven is so much the more earnestly to be implored, as no confidence can be placed in bathing in the sea or other vulgar remedies, as Somerville truly observes; neither is the new secret a sure prescription, though it sometimes succeeds. Nevertheless, superstitious notions and practices, which easily creep into the best devotions amongst the vulgar, cannot be too carefully guarded against on all occasions, and require the particular attention of all pastors concerned in these pilgrimages, &c. at St. Huberts, that every practice be regulated and directed by true piety and religion. See Dr. Thiers, Traités des Superstitions, l. 6, c. 4, p. 107. F. Le Brun, Hist. Crit. des Pratiques Superstit. l. 4, c. 4, p. 195. Raynaud, t. 8, p. 114. Bend. XIV. de Canoniz. &c. [back]