St. Hugh and the Swan

St. Hugh and the Swan

St. Hugh’s gentleness and innocence attracted animals to him. A day or so after he was welcomed and enthroned at Lincoln, a new swan not seen there before flew in at the bishop’s manor near Stow. It was larger in size and stronger than other swans, and had slightly different markings.

When the bishop first visited Stow, the bird, which had been tamed, was brought to him. Immediately, the swan took and ate bread from his hand and stayed with him like a pet. The bird let himself be touched by the saint, and was not fazed by the commotion surround him. Sometimes when the bishop fed him, the bird would stretch its head and its whole neck into his large, roomy sleeve, and rest its head on his chest.

If St. Hugh was away for a few days, the swan would move about as if looking for or waiting for its master to return. Only with the bishop was it friendly, and it would stand next to the saint as if to defend him against the approach of others.

On his last visit to Stow before his death, the saint found that the swan would not come to meet him as usual. He ordered it brought to him, but it took several days to capture the swan; and when it was finally brought to the bishop, the swan hung its head in grief. No one could understand this behavior, but when the saint died six months later, his people perceived that the swan had been bidding farewell to its friend. The swan lived on at Stow for a long time after St. Hugh’s death, and eventually became the iconographic emblem of the saint.

Our holy patron died in London on November 16, 1200, and was canonized twenty years later, in February 1220.