The most famous saint of the hunt is St: Hubertus. Although all our videos starts “In the glory of St: Eustace” why is that?
… Well, imaginary questioner, I’m glad you asked.
According to legend Eustace was born as Placidius in the second millennia and became a general under Trajan, the victorious. One day he was out hunting in Tivoli and saw a hart with a blazing crucifix between its antlers. He prostrated himself before the beast and became christened on the spot, and so was the rest of his family later on.
A series of calamities in the fashion of Job now ascended upon his family and Eustace was severely tested. His trials ended when he refused to make a pagan sacrifice under the rule of Hadrianus. For this he was sentenced with his family to be cooked inside a copper bull, the infamous “brazen bull“.
In the Byzantine church Eustace was venerated early on, and during the 11:th century he is gaining cult also in the west.
Abbot Suger (dead 1151) mentions the first relic of St: Eustace in St Denise, France. In 1260 the Golden legend by Jacobus the Voragine becomes popular. It depicts the saint kneeling before the Hart, an image of the saint that becomes iconographic.
The feast of St: Eustace is September 20, but as the cult of the saint declined he was taken out of the calendar in 1969 (the main reason being the trouble of verifying the acta of the saint).
Eustace became the patron saint of hunters and firefighters. He was also one of the fourteen holy helpers, Saints venerated as being close to god and therefore very potent in their intercession. Eustace was believed here to be extra helpful for healing ‘family troubles’.
Hubertus lived between 656 and 727 and became the Bishop of Liege in 708. He was of noble birth and as most of the nobles a big sportsman and partaker in the chase. At one time he had a spiritual revelation and went to study under Lambert, a Christian scholar who was to become a saint after his murder. After his teachers death Hubertus went spread the word of God to the heathens in the Ardennes. He was never martyred himself and died peacefully in 727 (or 728). Its hard to find anything about the nature his cult before 15:th century.
In the 15:th century however, in Bibliotheca hagiographica latina he suddenly expropriates the legend of St: Eustace with hart and cross and the whole shebang. Here this religious experience is claimed to be the reason why he travelled to Lambert.
It is not unusual that saints share a story, but it is rather uncommon that they overtake an older saints story.
St: Hubertus is patron of archers; dogs; forest workers; hunting; huntsmen; mathematicians; metal workers; smelters; and trappers, so he seems to have a full plate. In the Rhineland he was also part of “the four holy marshals”.
Why does this appear? Why does St: Hubertus all of a sudden acquire St: Eustace’s story?
This is a matter I have no answer to. Perhaps Hubertus was more interesting because he was of noble birth, and the chase was a sport for nobles?
Or it might have been as simple as while the cult of St: Eustace was strong in northern France with the old reliquary in St: Denise and a church formerly of St: Agnes, but redesignated to St: Eustace in Paris, Hubertus was actually from that region. He was born in Tolouse but was bishop in Liege and active in the Ardennes. His family might have had some interest in promoting his cult on the expense of the old eastern Eustace.
These are just speculations, the truth is that popularity of saints seems as fickle as the cut of the cotte in the middle ages.
To sum this up, as we mostly portray the hunt of the 14:th century we use St: Eustace since the cult of St: Hubertus is of a later date.
Our use of saints
Some of you might also wonder about why we use a saint in such a prominent way when we are not active Christians, and certainly not catholic? If anything we are both Lutherans in upbringing.
The use of saints is a part of our reenacting. As religion permeates most of daily life in the middle ages, it would be both hard for us and misleading towards others to leave it out.