Honouring the patron saint of hunters
A few days ago I learned that in parts of Canada, a special hunter holiday is celebrated of which I am very well aware to be a big deal in many parts of Europe.
Each fall, in the first week of November, schools and factories are closed while hunters and tens of thousands of other people gather to hold festivities and attend a special mass in churches and cathedrals to honour St. Hubertus, the patron saint of the hunters.
In parts of Canada, such as Quebec, St. Hubertus Day is celebrated in early September with the mass of St. Hubertus in the local church. Hunters attend dressed in hunting clothes, bringing their dogs and guns to be blessed by the priest. The procession has the clergy, conservation officers and other guests enter and exit the church by walking under an archway of guns held up high by hunters wearing camouflage and hunter orange clothing.
After mass, the hunters attend trap and skeet shooting events, parades and wild game dinners, inviting the community to share with them the bounty nature has to offer.
I am sure not many people here have heard of St. Hubertus, so I’ll provide you with some background.
Hubert was born in 638 AD as the oldest son of Bertrans, the Duke of Aquitaine. He enjoyed the good life of nobility and loved to hunt, so much so that on one Good Friday he skipped Mass and instead went hunting. Hubert’s hounds quickly cornered a big stag, but when Hubert attempted to slay the stag, he suddenly had a vision of a glowing crucifix between the stag’s antlers.
He heard a voice saying, “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest a holy life, thou shalt quickly go to hell.”
Moved by that experience, Hubert promised to better himself.
He went to the Bishop of Maastricht to learn the priesthood and in 705 AD made a pilgrimage to Rome where the Pope selected him to become Bishop of Maastricht.
During his clergy career, Hubert applied the passion for hunting to his faith, establishing Christianity to vast sections of the Ardennes forest where he converted many hunters and others to Christianity.
It is also said that he had been blessed with miraculous powers to heal man and beast alike.
Hubert died in 727 AD, and in 1744 Pope Benedict XIV canonized him as the patron saint (patronus sanctus Hubertus) of the hunters, trappers, archers and hunting dogs.
Growing up in Switzerland, the St. Hubertus Day is still in vivid memory.
As a child I marveled at the festive spectacle of the colourful procession making its way to the church, the ringing of the church bells mixed with the sound of marching bands and the cheerful greetings of “Weidmansheil patronus sanctus Hubertus.”
I am glad to learn that this tradition is celebrated in parts of Canada too, and with that in mind I wish all the fellow hunters, for the remainder of the hunting season, a hefty and heartfelt “Weidmansheil (hunters’ luck!)”