Hugh of Lincoln, sometimes known as Little Saint Hugh (sometimes “Little Sir Hugh”) to distinguish him from Saint Hugh of Lincoln, was an English boy whose death was falsely attributed to Jews. Hugh is sometimes known as Little Saint Hugh (sometimes “Little Sir Hugh”) to distinguish him from Saint Hugh of Lincoln, an adult saint. Hugh became one of the best known of the blood libel saints (generally children whose deaths were interpreted as Jewish sacrifices).
It is likely that the Bishop and Dean of Lincoln steered events in order to establish a profitable flow of pilgrims to the shrine of a martyr and saint. The event is particularly significant because it was the first time that the Crown gave credence to ritual child murder allegations, through the direct intervention of King Henry III.
The nine-year-old Hugh disappeared on 31 July, and his body was discovered in a well on 29 August. It was claimed that Jews had imprisoned Hugh, during which time they tortured and eventually crucified him. It was said that the body had been thrown into the well after attempts to bury it failed, when the earth had expelled it.
The chronicler Matthew Paris described the supposed murder, implicating all the Jews in England:
Shortly after news was spread of his death, miracles were attributed to Hugh; and he was rushed toward sainthood. Hugh became one of the youngest individual candidates for sainthood, with 27 July unofficially made his feast day. However, over time, the issue of the rush to sainthood was raised, and Hugh was never canonized. He never appeared in Butler’s Lives of the Saints(1756–1759). The Vatican never included the child Hugh in Catholic martyrology. His traditional English feast day is not celebrated.
The shrine dated to the period immediately after the expulsion of the Jews. The shrine itself was destroyed in the Reformation, or possibly the Civil War.
The story was remembered into the twentieth century. A well in the former Jewish neighborhood of Jews’ Court was advertised as the well in which Hugh’s body was found, however this was found to be have been constructed some time prior to 1928 to increase the attraction of the property
The myth of the ritual child murder became well-known and long-standing in English culture. The Hugh story is refenced by Geoffrey Chaucer‘s Canterbury Tales in The Prioress’s Tale. Marlowe also refers to the events, again probably knowing the story through Paris’ account. The story is retold as fact in Thomas Fuller‘s 1662 Worthies of England.[d]
Ballads referring to the incidentcirculated in England, Scotland and France. The earliest English and French versions appear to have been composed near the time. The Hugh myth continued to find resonance into the nineteenth century, when European antisemitic polemicists attempted to “prove” the veracity of the story. Langmuir describes the “fantasy” concocted by Lexington as contributing to some of the darkest strands of anti-Jewish prejudice. Lexington:
In 1955, the Anglican Church placed a plaque at the site of Little Hugh’s former shrine at Lincoln Cathedral, bearing these words:
Trumped up stories of “ritual murders” of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral in the year 1255.
Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom, and so we pray:
Lord, forgive what we have been, amend what we are, and direct what we shall be.
On this day, let us pray for:
- All whose lives end in mystery and tragedy.
- All who stand falsely accused.
- People who are feared through ignorance, intolerance and for political ends.
- People who are brave enough to confess their wrongdoings and to amend their lives.
- All with the grace to forgive.