Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln

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Hugh of Lincoln was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 boy, whose death prompted a blood libel
Blood libel
Blood libel is a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, usually Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays...

 with ramifications that reach until today. Hugh is known as Little Saint Hugh to distinguish him from Saint Hugh, otherwise Hugh of Lincoln
Hugh of Lincoln
Hugh of Lincoln was at the time of the Reformation the best-known English saint after Thomas Becket.-Life:...

. The style is often corrupted to Little Sir Hugh. The boy disappeared on 31 July, and his body was discovered in a well on 29 August.

Shortly after his disappearance, a local Jew named Copin (or Jopin), under torture, admitted to killing the child. Copin was executed, and the story would have ended there were it not for a series of events that coincided with the disappearance.

Some six months earlier, King Henry III
Henry III of England
Henry III was the son and successor of John as King of England, reigning for 56 years from 1216 until his death. His contemporaries knew him as Henry of Winchester. He was the first child king in England since the reign of Æthelred the Unready...

 had sold his rights to tax the Jews to his brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Having lost this source of income, he decided that he was eligible for the Jews' money if they were convicted of crimes. As a result, some ninety Jews were arrested and held in the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

, while they were charged with involvement in the ritual murder. Eighteen of them were hanged for refusing to participate in the proceedings and refusing to throw themselves on the verdict of a Christian jury. It was the first time ever that the civil government handed out a death sentence for ritual murder, and King Henry was able to take over their property. The remainder were pardoned and set free, most likely because Richard, who saw a potential threat to his own source of income, intervened on their behalf with his brother.

Cultural influence

Meanwhile, the Cathedral in Lincoln
Lincoln, Lincolnshire
Lincoln is a cathedral city and county town of Lincolnshire, England.The non-metropolitan district of Lincoln has a population of 85,595; the 2001 census gave the entire area of Lincoln a population of 120,779....

 was beginning to benefit from the episode, since Hugh was seen as a Christian martyr, and sites associated with his life became objects of pilgrimage. The legend surrounding Hugh that emerged became part of popular culture, and his story became the subject of poetry and folksongs. Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

 in his Canterbury Tales makes reference to Hugh of Lincoln in "The Prioress's Tale
The Prioress's Tale
"The Prioress's Tale" follows The Shipman's Tale in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Because of fragmentation of the manuscripts, it is impossible to tell where it comes in ordinal sequence, but it is second in group B2, followed by Chaucer's Tale of Sir Topas...

". Pilgrims devoted to Hugh of Lincoln flocked to the city as late as the early 20th century, when a well was constructed in the former Jewish neighborhood of Jews' Court and advertised as the well in which Hugh's body was found.

In 1955, the Anglican Church placed at the site of Little Hugh's former shrine at Lincoln Cathedral a plaque bearing these words:
By the remains of the shrine of "Little St. Hugh".
Trumped up stories of "ritual murders" of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 during the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral in the year 1255.
Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom
Christendom, or the Christian world, has several meanings. In a cultural sense it refers to the worldwide community of Christians, adherents of Christianity...

, and so we pray:
Lord, forgive what we have been,
amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be.

There is a private preparatory school in Woodhall Spa, near Lincoln, named after St Hugh, which uses a stylised ball and wall as its school emblem.

From the Ballad of Little Sir Hugh

The following text from 1783, describes the murder of Hugh of Lincoln, as it was depicted in a popular ballad.
She's led him in through ae dark door,
And sae has she thro' nine;
She's laid him on a dressing-table,
And stickit him like a swine.

And first came out the thick, thick blood,
And syne came out the thin;
And syne came out the bonny heart's blood;
There was nae mair within.

She's row'd him in a cake o'lead,
Bade him lie still and sleep;
She's thrown him in Our Lady's draw-well
Was fifty fathom deep.

According to the notes by Cecil Sharp
Cecil Sharp
Cecil James Sharp was the founding father of the folklore revival in England in the early 20th century, and many of England's traditional dances and music owe their continuing existence to his work in recording and publishing them.-Early life:Sharp was born in Camberwell, London, the eldest son of...

 on a variant of the Ballad of Little Sir Hugh, the story is as follows:
The events narrated in this ballad were supposed to have taken place in the 13th century. The story is told by a contemporary writer in the Annals of Waverley, under the year 1255. Little Sir Hugh was crucified by the Jews in contempt of Christ with various preliminary tortures. To conceal the act from the Christians, the body was thrown into a running stream, but the water immediately ejected it upon dry land. It was then buried, but was found above ground the next day. As a last resource the body was thrown into a drinking-well; whereupon, the whole place was filled with so brilliant a light and so sweet an odour that it was clear to everybody that there must be something holy in the well. The body was seen floating on the water and, upon its recovery, it was found that the hands and feet were pierced with wounds, the forehead lacerated, etc. The unfortunate Jews were suspected. The King ordered an inquiry. Eighteen Jews confessed, were convicted, and eventually hanged
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...


Sharp then goes on to make the following observations:
Bishop Percy concludes "the whole charge to be groundless and malicious." Murders of this sort have been imputed to the Jews for seven hundred and fifty years or more; and similar accusations have been made in Russia and other countries of Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

 even in the 19th century and as late as 1883. Child
Francis James Child
Francis James Child was an American scholar, educator, and folklorist, best known today for his collection of folk songs known as the Child Ballads. Child was Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory at Harvard University, where he produced influential editions of English poetry...

 sums up the whole matter by saying, "These pretended child-murders, with their horrible consequences, are only a part of a persecution which, with all its moderation, may be rubricated as the most disgraceful chapter in the history of the human race."

In 1975 the English folk-rock group Steeleye Span
Steeleye Span
Steeleye Span are an English folk-rock band, formed in 1969 and remaining active today. Along with Fairport Convention they are amongst the best known acts of the British folk revival, and were among the most commercially successful, thanks to their hit singles "Gaudete" and "All Around My Hat"....

 recorded a version of "Little Sir Hugh" on their album Commoner's Crown
Commoner's Crown
Commoners Crown is an album by the electric folk band Steeleye Span, its seventh release overall and the second album with the band's most commercially successful line-up. It reached number 21 in the UK album charts....

. In the song, the murderer is "a lady gay" "dressed in green".

The contemporary theological consideration

Shortly after news was spread of his death, miracles were attributed to Hugh and he was rushed into sainthood. Hugh became one of the youngest individual candidates for sainthood, with 27 July unofficially made his feast day. Over time, however, the question of the rush to sainthood was raised, and Hugh’s name was not included in Butler’s Lives of the Saints
Alban Butler
Alban Butler , English Roman Catholic priest and hagiographer, was born at Appletree, Northamptonshire.He was educated at the English College, Douai, where on his ordination to the priesthood in 1735 he held successively the chairs of philosophy and divinity...

 (1756–1759). Today, Hugh’s sainthood is abolished. The Vatican
Holy See
The Holy See is the episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, in which its Bishop is commonly known as the Pope. It is the preeminent episcopal see of the Catholic Church, forming the central government of the Church. As such, diplomatically, and in other spheres the Holy See acts and...

 has not officially revoked the status of sainthood for the child since he was never officially canonized and was never included in Catholic martyrology. His traditional English feast day is not celebrated.

See also

  • Sir Hugh ballad, also known as "The Jew's Garden", and "The Fatal Flower Garden"
    Sir Hugh
    Sir Hugh is a traditional British folk song, Child ballad # 155, Roud # 73.-Synopsis:Some boys are playing with a ball, in Lincoln. They accidentally throw it over the wall of a Jew's house . The daughter of the Jew comes out, dressed in green, and beckons to a boy to come in to fetch it. He...

  • Antisemitism
  • William of Norwich
    William of Norwich
    William of Norwich was an English boy whose death was, at the time, attributed to the Jewish community of Norwich. It is the first known medieval accusation of ritual murder against Jews....

  • Simon of Trent
    Simon of Trent
    Simon of Trent ; also known as Simeon; was a boy from the city of Trento, Italy whose disappearance was blamed on the leaders of the city's Jewish community based on their confessions under torture, causing a major blood libel in Europe.-Background:Shortly before Simon went missing, Bernardine of...

  • Robert of Bury

External links