Hubert, or Hubertus (655/665-727), was a nobleman and a passionate hunter (the hunt at that time was a privilege only for the nobility), close to the Carolingian family. On one Good Friday, instead of going to church, he set off for a chase. But in the forest, a stag with a crucifix between its antlers appeared before him (you may have seen this image at least on the label of Jägermeister liquor) and talked him into giving himself over a service of God. It also gave him instructions who he had to apply to, namely, the Maastricht Bishop Lambert. Lambert became his tutor, but in 703, he was assassinated while Hubert was on his pilgrimage to Rome. Through a vision of the pope, he became immediately a successor of the post of his director, and so on and so forth… He died on May 30, 727.
The well-known scene with the hart in a picture in St. Remaclus Church in Spa, Belgium.
It is also pictured on the gable of the basilica.
On November 3, 743, Hubert was canonized, and his body was exhumed from the church in Liège where he was buried.
In 822, the monastery in Andain or Andaguin (built in 687 and became Benedictine in 817) obtained his relics from the Liège Bishop in order to increase its power and income through the pilgrims who presumably were going to come to venerate him – in broad outline, the monks had made a lucrative deal, as the monastery indeed became an important pilgrimage destination, and in the 10th century, the settlement around changed its name to Saint-Hubert.
The Abbey of Saint-Hubert.
The Gothic towers of the former monastery church are preserved from 1230, whereas the Baroque façade dates from 1700-1702. But the construction of the overall contemporary building dates from 1526-1564.
To me, the most interesting part of the building is the portal.
As well as details on the façade:
The high altar is from 1684.
The choir stalls, 1733.
Saint Hubert gained a vast amount of fame and veneration during the Middle Ages. He virtually took up from Diana (or, I should say, from Arduinna – the Celtic goddess venerated in the Ardennes) the patronage of the hunt, as it is noted on the website of the International Order of St. Hubertus. There was no room for a woman, besides, a pagan goddess, in the patriarchal Christian society. On the same website is yet said that the worship of Diana was maintained until the late 19th century (we’ve already seen how difficult it was to eradicate some pagan cults so they had to be transferred into the Christianity).
Saint Hubert is also a patron saint of a number of other crafts/professions like mathematicians, opticians, forest workers, metalworkers, butchers, carpenters, and so on. It was believed that he helped people with rabies and bitten by snakes. The mass that is served on November 3 – the feast day of the saint (the day of his exhumation), is very special: the participants, hunters, wear costumes and play wald-horns.
Yet we see in my photograph, made after one Sunday mass in September, that the participants were costumed too.
In 1927, the church was granted the title Basilica minor by Pope Pius XI. I keep noticing these churches, although there are 1728 of them in the world (567 of which are only in Italy) as that honorable title is not given without reason by the pope, but in the presence of certain merits and characteristics of the concrete spiritual temple – antiquity, historical importance, important pilgrimage destination, and the like.
Well, if we look at the things from another point, the life and the personality of Saint Hubert are not very clear at all, and there are no precise historical data about him – as it is the case with all the saints in principle. He has as many as 7 lives, written in different centuries and containing different data, that were being expanded and adapted to the notions and necessities of every period of time (you can find very detailed information on the website of the International Order of St. Hubert). Besides, the story about his encounter with the hart in the forest is an ancient and repeatedly used motive with Indo-Buddhist roots. It joined the life of Saint Hubert as late as the 15th century. The legend about Saint Hubert is a full copy of another legend that dates back to the 6th century – about St. Eustachius/Eustac. I think that there is too an absolutely deliberate twisting and forgetting of the real history. As well as its very clever shaping by the clergy, together with the nobility (hadn’t this actually happened always this way?).
But all these data seem not to had disturbed by any means the foundation of a number of organizations, orders, and fraternities in the name of Saint Hubert over the centuries. Here are some examples:
On November 3, 1444, Gerhard VII, Duke of Jülich and Berg, won a victory in a battle over the Duke of Geldern. He then founded the Knightly Order of Saint Hubert.
Another knightly order was founded in 1416 by the Duke of Bar and Lorraine.
But the most interesting one that deserves special attention is the created in 1695 by Count Franz Anton von Sporck International Order of Saint Hubertus that included noble hunters from all over the Habsburg Empire. The mission of the order is introducing of a sportsmanlike manner of hunting based on ethical rules and respect for the animals after its motto “Deum Diligite Animalia Diligentes” – “Honoring God by Honoring His Creatures”. In 1938, the Order was banned by Hitler for it has refused to allow membership of Nazis but later it was reinstated. Today it counts 600 members.