Thursday, November 09, 2006

Saint Hubert

Hubert was born the son of a Merovingian Duke. When he was a child, Hubert was sent to the court of Theuderic the third at Paris, where his charm earned him the title "count of the palace". Like most nobles, Hubert was addicted to hunting. He killed everything a young noble should, and apparently spent all his free time doing so. Hubert married a girl named Floribanne, the daughter of Dagobert, Count of Leuven. They had a son named Floribert would later become bishop of Liège.

Hubert's wife died giving birth to their son, and Hubert left the court, withdrew into the forest of Ardennes, and buried himself entirely in the hunt. One Good Friday morning, when everyone else was going to church, Hubert instead set out to hunt deer. Soon he was pursuing a magnificent stag, some legends claim it was a rare white stag. Suddenly, the animal turned and Hubert was amazed to see a crucifix standing between its antlers. He heard a voice saying: "Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell". Hubert immediately dismounted, prostrated himself and said, "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?" He received the answer, "Go and seek Lambert, and he will instruct you."

The story of the stag seems to have been appropriated from the legend of Saint Eustace or Placidus. It was first attributed to St. Hubert in the 15th century. The apparition may hark back to an even older Celtic tale, recorded in the Mabinogion, where Arawn, Lord of the Underworld, is crowned with antlers.

Hubert set out immediately to find Saint Lambert who was bishop. Saint Lambert received Hubert kindly, and became his spiritual director. Hubert renounced all his honors, and gave up his birthright to the Aquitaine to his younger brother Odo, whom he also made guardian of his infant son, Floribert. He distributed all his personal wealth among the poor, then studied for the priesthood, and was soon ordained. Shortly afterwards Saint Hubert became one of St. Lambert's chief associates in the administration of his diocese. Taking the advice of St. Lambert, Hubert made a pilgrimage to Rome in 708. During his absence, Lambert was assassinated by the followers of Pippin. According to legend, the assassination was revealed to the pope in a vision, together with instructions to appoint Hubert bishop of Maastricht, which he did.

Hubertus died peacefully in Fura, Brabant, May 30, 727 or 728. He was first buried in the collegiate church of St. Peter, Liège, but his bones were exhumed and moved to the Ardennes in 825. The abbey became a focus for pilgrimages, until the coffin disappeared and likely became a casualty of the Reformation. His feast day is the 3rd of November.

Saint Hubert is traditionally the Patron Saint of hunters and in relation to this is invoked against dog bite and rabies, two very real threats in medieval times. Throngs of believers made pilgrimages to Leige to pray for his prevention and cure. The common cure for rabies was the use of the "Saint Hubert's keys". This was an iron bar or cross that was carried or hung on the wall of a home for additional protection against rabies. If bitten, the peasant would take the key and heat it then apply it to the wound. Surprisingly, this cure often worked. If heated and applied immediately the key would cauterize and sterilize the wound, effectively killing all of the rabies virus. This belief and practice continued well into the 19th century and really only faded into obscurity when Louis Pasteur invented the Rabies vaccine.

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