Saint Hugh of Cluny, Abbot

April 29

Today is the feast day of Saint Hugh of Cluny.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Hugh was born at Semur (Brionnais in the Diocese of Autun), 1024. The eldest son of Count Dalmatius of Semur and Aremberge (Aremburgis) of Vergy, Hugh was descended from the noblest families in Burgundy. Dalmatius, devoted to war and the chase, desired that Hugh should adopt the knightly calling and succeed to the ancestral estates.   His mother, however, influenced it is said by a vision vouchsafed to a priest whom she consulted, wished her son to dedicate himself to the service of God. From his earliest years Hugh gave indication of such extraordinary earnestness and piety that his father, recognizing his evident aversion from the so-called gentle pursuits, entrusted him to his grand-uncle Hugh, Bishop of Auxerre, for preparation for the priesthood. Under the protection of this relative, Hugh received his early education at the monastery school attached to the Priory of St. Marcellus. (2)

At the age of fourteen he entered the novitiate at Cluny, where he displayed such religious fervor that he was allowed to make his vows in the following year without completing the severe novitiate usual at this monastery. The special privilege of the Cluniac Congregation enabled him to become deacon at eighteen and priest at twenty. In recognition of his wonderful zeal for the discipline of the order, and of the confidence awakened by his conspicuous talent for government, he was quickly, in spite of his youth, chosen grand prior. In this capacity he was charged with the whole domestic direction of the cloister in both spiritual and temporal affairs, and represented the abbot during his absence (Cfr. D’Achery, “Spicilegium”, 2nd ed., I, 686). On the death of St. Odilo on 1 January, 1049, after a prolonged administration of nigh on half a century, Hugh was unanimously elected abbot, and was solemnly installed by Archbishop Hugh of Besançon on the Feast of the Chair of Peter at Antioch (22 February), 1049. (2)

For the monks under his care Hugh was a model of fatherly forethought, of devotion to discipline and prayer, and unhesitating obedience to the Holy See. In furtherance of the great objects of his order, the service of God and personal sanctification, he strove to impart the utmost possible splendor and solemnity to the liturgical services at Cluny. Some of his liturgical ordinances, such as the singing of the Veni Creator at Tierce on Pentecost Sunday (subsequently also within the octave), have since been extended to the entire Roman Church. (2)

During those years, the role of Cluny was immense. From it came two very illustrious Popes, Urban II and Pascal II, both disciples of Saint Hugh. The king of Castille, Alphonsus VI, owed his deliverance from an imprisonment to the prayers and intervention of Saint Hugh. A count of Macon entered the monastery with thirty knights and a great many servants, while the countess, his wife, retired to a convent founded by Saint Hugh. Donations of large terrains were made to this Abbey, permitting innumerable foundations. Urban II gave Saint Hugh the right to wear pontifical ornaments for the solemn feast days. (1)

Renowned for his charity towards the suffering poor, he built a hospital for lepers, where he himself performed the most menial duties. It is impossible to trace here the effect which his granting of personal and civic freedom to the bondsmen and colonists feudatory to Cluny, and the fostering of tradesmen’s guilds — the nuclei from which most of the modern cities of Europe sprang — have had on civilization. (2)

In the spring of 1109, Hugh, worn out with years and labors, and feeling his end approaching, asked for the Last Sacraments, summoned around him his spiritual children, and, having given each the kiss of peace, dismissed them with the greeting: Benedicite. Then, asking to be conveyed to the Chapel of our Blessed Lady, he laid himself in sackcloth and ashes before her altar, and thus breathed forth his soul to his Creator on the evening of Easter Monday (28 April). His tomb in the church was soon the scene of miracles, and to it Pope Gelasius I made a pilgrimage in 1119, dying at Cluny on 20 January. Elected at the monastery on 2 February, Callistus II began immediately the process of canonization, and, on 6 January, 1120, declared Hugh a saint, appointing 29 April his feast-day. In honor of St. Hugh the Abbot of Cluny was henceforth accorded the title and dignity of a cardinal. At the instance of Honorius III the translation of the saint’s remains took place on 23 May, 1220, but, during the uprising of the Huguenots (1575), the remains and the costly shrine disappeared with the exception of a few relics. (3)


Image: crop “St. Hugh of Cluny (1024-1109) in the Refectory of the Carthusians, 1633” oil on Canvas., artist: Francisco De Zurbaran (4)

Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff


Sign up for REGINA's weekly newsletter

  1. You will usually hear from us about once a week, usually on Sunday. 
  2. At other times, we may send a special email. 

To subscribe, go here!