St Hubert is the patron saint of hunters, dogs, archers, knights, and metalworkers. His feast day is November 3. Hubert of Liege was born in 656 CE. He was the grandson of the King of Toulouse and son of the Duke of Aquitaine. Born into nobility and raised in luxury, he was well educated, and a skilled hunter. His favorite pastime, even on holy days, was the hunt (la chasse).
The Chateau d’Amboise is in the Loire Vallery in the center of France. It was built in the 11th Century by the Count of Anjou as a fortress overlooking the Loire River. King Charles VIII (1470-1498) re-built it in the Flamboyant Gothic style. At the entrance door to St Hubert’s Chapel the carvings are a depiction of the Virgin and Child under elaborately decorated pointed arches. The Madonna and Child are enclosed by a mandorla, the decorated almond-shaped design behind them. A mandorla is formed by the intersection of two circles. It represents divine light, and it was reserved for the depiction of the adult Christ and the Virgin and Child. Kneeling to the right and left are Charles VIII and his queen Anne of Brittany. Entwined in the three-pointed arches are four angels with censors. They swing them back and forth releasing incense to purify the air and send prayers to Heaven. Two angels kneel below the Virgin and Child. They hold a banner and support shields bearing the family coat of arms.
“Miracle of the Stag,” carved on the lintel beam above the door depicts St Hubert holding his horse and kneeling before the stag. The legend of St Hubert tells that he married the noble lady Floribanne, who also liked to ride to the hunt. They married in 682 and had a son, Floribert. Floribanne died soon after giving birth during Holy Week in 684. Hubert, as he frequently had done, skipped the church services to go hunting. He followed an impressive stag. The stag suddenly turned to look at him, and Hubert saw a crucifixion between the its antlers. A voice from Heaven said, “Hubert, unless you turn to the Lord, and lead a holy life, you shall quickly go down into Hell.” Hubert fell to his knees and asked what he was to do. The voice told him to go to Rome and find Bishop Lambert who would explain what was required of him.
The carving of the stag and Hubert’s hunting dogs is centered on the lintel. It is thought to be the work of a Netherlands sculptor, possibly Casin d’Utrecht. The dogs surround the stag but do not challenge him. The largest dog has stretched out on the ground. The antlers and crucifixion stand out. They are either carved wood or metal. Lacking knowledge of perspective, the carver placed a row of small trees behind the figures.
Images of St Hubert were very popular in the Middle Ages and later. “The Vision of St Hubert” (1617) (25’’x40’’) is one of many collaborations between Antwerp artists Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Jan (Velvet) Brueghel (1601-1678). Rubens and Brueghel were fast friends, each having a special talent. Brueghel, famous for his landscapes, painted the plants and animals, and Rubens painted the figures. Brueghel’s lush forest landscape includes a variety of trees and grasses, stream, and sky. His rendering of the stag, Hubert’s horse, and hunting dogs is remarkable. Hubert and the stag look intently at each other. A small cross is suspended between the stag’s antlers.
After experiencing the vision, Hubert gave his possessions to the poor, renounced all his titles, and gave his son to his younger brother. Hubert became a priest. Following the direction of Bishop Lambert of Maastricht, Hubert lived with the pagan people of the forest of the Ardennes. His hunting skills impressed them, and with prayer and sermons, which he delivered with conviction and eloquence, he converted hundreds to Christianity. He was known as the Apostle of the Ardennes.
The story continues in “St Hubert Ordained Bishop by Pope Sergius I” (1437-40) (9.1’’x6.1’’). During Hubert’s pilgrimage to Rome in 708, Bishop Lambert was assassinated in the Netherlands. Pope Sergius had a dream that Hubert was to be made the new Bishop of Maastricht. Hubert, dressed in white and seated at the center, is given the bishop’s mitre and crosier by the Pope. Sergius is dressed in red robes and wears the Papal tiara. A bishop in green robes, several cardinals, and other members of the clergy witness the event, along with commoners who look on through the screen. Later, Hubert also became the Bishop of Liege.
Hubert died on May 30, 727 CE, and was canonized as St Hubertus in 743 CE. He is the patron saint of Liege and Saint-Lamberge in Belgium. He was buried in the Benedictine Abbey of Amdain, now St. Hubertus in Belgium. His reputation as a healer was well-known. He was said to have performed many miracles, one curing rabies. Several military orders were named after him, beginning in 1416 and including the Fraternity of St Hubert Knights and the Order of the Golden Stag. The International Order of St Hubertus continues today.
The brothers Wilhelm and Curt Mast developed in 1934 the popular digestive Jägermeister. The literal translation from German is “Master Hunter” or “Master of the Hunt.” Curt Mast was a hunter. Composed of 56 herbs, the digestive was intended to settle stomach complaints and to be taken as an anti-inflammatory for cough, eczema, and other maladies. The logo, a stag with a Christian cross suspended between its antlers refers to the two saints Hubert and Eustace, both having seen the vision of the cross between a stag’s antlers. St Hubert is said to have initiated the idea of ethical hunting. Under the Jägermeister logo is a verse in German from the poem by Oskar von Riesenthal:
It is the hunter’s honor that he
Protects and preserves his game,
Hunts sportsmanlike, honors the
Creator in His creatures.
Note: Charles VIII was born and died in the Chateau d’Amboise, when he accidentally hit his head against a lintel in the Chateau. King Francis I (1494-1547), also raised in the Chateau, invited Leonardo da Vinci to come there. Da Vince lived in the Close Luce, that was connected to the Chateau by an underground passage. Da Vince in buries in St. Hubert’s Chapel.
Beverly Hall Smith was a professor of art history for 40 years. Since retiring with her husband Kurt to Chestertown in 2014, she has taught art history classes at WC-ALL. She is also an artist whose work is sometimes in exhibitions at Chestertown RiverArts and she paints sets for the Garfield Center for the Arts.