St. Hubert The Hunter

(655-727)

This St. Hubert was a Netherlander who entered the service of the Church under St. Lambert, Bishop of Maastricht. Lambert was described by contemporaries as “a prudent young man of pleasing looks, courteous and well-behaved in his speech and manners, well-built, strong, a good fighter, clear-headed, affectionate, pure and humble, and fond of reading.” Being a holy man as well, this Lambert was chosen bishop of Maastricht on the Meuse River in the present southeast Netherlands. But these were rough days under the Frankish rulers. When Bishop Lambert criticized the sinful behavior of some about the court, their partisans murdered him in the village of Liege. The year of his death was around 705.

Father Hubert was elected to succeed his heroic predecessor as bishop of Maastricht. After a few years Hubert transferred the remains of Lambert to the place where he had been executed, Liege. To house them, he erected a church on the very site of the martyrdom. Then he moved the seat of his diocese from Maastricht to Liege. From that time on, Liege grew greatly and became the prominent Low Countries city that it is today. Because of the miracles wrought at Lambert’s shrine, he was canonized a saint, and the Cathedral Church of St. Lambert Liege remained a center of pilgrimage until it was destroyed during the French Revolution. The shrine of St. Lambert is now located in the cathedral church of St. Paul, Liege. Thus Lambert is honored as chief patron saint of the diocese of Liege, and his disciple St. Hubert as the founder of both the city and the diocese of Liege.

During December and January 1944 and 1945, the Allied forces that had invaded France en route to Germany, were subjected to a violent counterattack by German forces around Bastogne in the Ardenne Forest. Fortunately, the American troops isolated in “the Bulge” were rescued after five days.

Now, this Ardenne Forest was an even broader woodland in the eighth century. Many of the people who lived within it had not yet been converted to Christianity. St. Hubert made these woods-dwellers his special apostolate. Moving into the remotest hills and dells, he preached the gospel and outlawed the pagan idols.

God confirmed his words with miracles. An eyewitness later testified to one of these that happened during a rogation-day procession. In keeping with this ancient practice of blessing the fields, Bishop Hubert, accompanied by his priests and people, marched around the farmlands singing the litany of the saints. At one point a woman possessed by an evil spirit cried out against him. The Bishop made the sign of the cross over her and restored her to health.

It is said also that before his death St. Hubert was warned of its nearness and given a view of the place prepared for him in heaven. Just a year later he traveled to consecrate a new church in the region of Brussels. Directly after the ceremony, however, he took seriously ill, and died six days later. His relics were eventually enshrined in Liege, in the same city where he had enshrined the remains of his martyred predecessor, but in a different church.

St. Hubert is best known not for his episcopal career but for the story of his original conversion to the religious life.

As a young man, Hubert is said to have been a passionate lover of hunting. One Good Friday when everybody else was going to church, he chose to stalk deer. He came upon one in a clearing, and was ready to shoot when the stag turned. To Hubert’s amazement, a crucifix shone out from between its antlers. From the stag a voice spoke forth, “Unless you turn to the Lord, Hubert, you shall fall into Hell.” Dropping to his knees, the hunter asked what he must do to be saved. “Seek out Bishop Lambert of Maastricht,” came the reply, “and he will tell you.” That was how the two saintly bishops first happened to meet.

St. Hubert has since then been venerated as a patron saint of hunting-men. Actually, this same dramatic story of the deer has been told of other saints, especially of St. Eustace. Scholars are therefore inclined to reject the account as unhistorical, but not the zealous bishop of Maastricht.

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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