The Saint and The Swan: The Life and Times of St Hugh of Lincoln

David Marcombe Lincoln Cathedral Publications

To the modern reader, some 800 years on, there are aspects of the life of St Hugh which might seem odd and perhaps even reprehensible.  This virtuous bishop stole relics, boxed Saxon peasants about the ears and even expelled them from their homes when they got in the way of his plans.  His dealings with Henry II and Richard I could be portrayed as inflexible and intolerant and his reaction to women, certainly in his youth, might strike a psychiatrist as neurotic and unbalanced.  Yet, even if all of this is accepted, we must take care not to judge Hugh exclusively by the standard of our own day. 

Other aspects of St Hugh’s life more confidently transcend the boundaries imposed by changing times and attitudes.  He was a hard-working and inspirational leader who knew what he wanted and went out and got it.  There is no better example of this than his rebuilding of Lincoln Cathedral.  He also gave his support to lepers, to the poor, to the sick and to Jews. And behind all of this there lay a quiet and reflective piety, amply symbolised in his relationship with the swan.

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