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Apr 28 – St Hugh (1024-1109) abbot of Cluny

28 April, 2012

Summary: St Hugh was abbot of Cluny for sixty years and advisor to nine popes. He was one of the most influential leaders of the Middle Ages. It is important to distinguish him from St Hugh of Lincoln, a Frenchman who came to England about a century later.

Patrick Duffy tells this Hugh’s story.

Of Noble Origin

detail of stained glass window of Saint-Hugues de Semur, church of Saint Hilaire, Semur-en-Brionnais, France; date and artist unknown; photographed on 3 January 2011 by Jackydarne; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsThe image (right) shows St Hugh of Semur, was elected abbot of Cluny. He was the eldest son of Dalmatius, count of Semur (near Autun) and a relative of several Burgundian noblemen. He became a monk of Cluny in defiance of his father’s wishes in 1040 and four years later was ordained priest.

Abbot at Twenty-five
Abbot Odilo (962-1049) appointed him as prior and on Odilo’s death he was elected abbot at twenty-five. As abbot Hugh was influential throughout Europe over the next sixty years. He fought lay investiture, simony, and corruption among the clergy. He was adviser to nine popes, including Popes St Leo IX and St Gregory VII.

Counciler and Papal Legate
He took part in many important events such as the condemnation of Berengarius in 1050, the reforming councils of 1055 and 1060. He was papal legate in Hungary (1051-2), Toulouse (1062 and 1068) and Spain (1073). As the godfather of the emperor Henry IV, he also played a role as a mediator during the conflict between Gregory VII and Henry IV, though he was not successful.

The Largest Church in Christendom
During his time a new huge church and monastery were built at Cluny with funds from Kings Ferdinand I and Alphonso VI of Leon and Castile. The church was the largest in Christendom and was consecrated in 1093 by Pope Urban II, who had been prior at Cluny under Hugh.

Foundation in England
hugo2In 1078 Hugh sent monks to begin the foundation of the priory of St Pancras at Lewes in Sussex, England and later was an adviser to St Anselm of Canterbury.

First Crusade (1095)
With Pope Urban II Hugh also helped initiate the first crusade at the council of Clermont (1095).

Pope St Callistus II canonised Hugh in 1120.