Hugh, St, Of Avalon
lincoln life bishop
HUGH, ST, OF AVALON (c. 1135-1200), bishop of Lincoln, was born of a noble family at Avalon, near Pontcharra in Burgundy, about 1135. At the age of eight he entered along with his widowed father the neighbouring priory of canons regular at Villarbenoit, where he was ordained deacon at nineteen. Appointed not long after prior of a dependent cell, Hugh was attracted from that position by the holy reputation of the monks of the Grande Chartreuse, whose house he finally entered despite an oath to the contrary which he had given his superior. There he remained about ten years, receiving priest's orders, and rising to the important office of procurator, which brought him into contact with the outer world. The wide reputation for energy and tact which Hugh speedily attained penetrated to the ears of Henry II. of England, and induced that monarch to request the procurator's assistance in establishing at Witham in Somersetshire the first English Carthusian monastery. Hugh reluctantly consented to go to England, where in a short time he succeeded in overcoming every obstacle, and in erecting and organizing the convent, of which he was appointed first prior. He speedily became prime favourite with Henry, who in 1186 procured his election to the see of Lincoln. Forced sorely against his will to accept this responsible post, Hugh nevertheless set himself actively and piously to discharge its important functions, although at least once a year he retired to live for a short period as a simple monk at Witham, He took little to do with political matters, maintaining as one of his chief principles that a churchman should hold no secular office. A sturdy upholder of what he believed to be right, he let neither royal nor ecclesiastical influence interfere with his conduct, but fearlessly resisted whatever seemed to him an infringement of the rights of his church or diocese. But with all his bluff firmness Hugh had a calm judgment and a ready tact, which almost invariably left him a better friend than before of those whom he opposed ; and the astute Henry, the impetuous Richard, and the cunning John, so different in other points, agreed in respecting the bishop of Lincoln. St Hugh's manners were a little apt to be boisterous at times, and his early monastic discipline had left him rigid and harsh ; but, though an ascetic to himself, "so that his whole life was a continued martyrdom," he was distinguished by a broad kindliness to others, so that even the Jews of Lincoln wept at his funeral. He had great skill in taming birds, and for some years had a pet swan, which occupies a prominent place in all histories and representations of the saint. In 1200 Bishop Hugh revisited his native country and his first convents, and on the return journey was seized with an illness, of which he died at London, on November 16,1200. Twenty years later he was canonized.
The chief life of St Hugh is the Magna Vita S. Hagonis (MS. in the Bodleian Library), written by Adam, the saint's private chaplain, of which a number of abridgments have been made at various dates. A Metrical Life of St Hugh of Avalon is preserved in two MSS. in the British Museum and the Bodleian Library. Both these Lives have been edited by the Rev. J. E. Dimock. The best modern source for information as to St Hugh and his time is Canon ferry's Life of St Hugh of Avalon, ke., 1879.