A Rabid Pilgrimage

Professor Kathryn Rudy
Professor Kathryn Rudy

Blog-post author Professor Kathryn Rudy, University of St Andrews UK. @katerudy1


In Bruges in 1463 the court scribe David Aubert wrote a copy of Hubert le Prevost’s Vie de St. Hubert for Philip the Good (d. 1467), Duke of Burgundy (The Hague, KB, 76 F 10). It stayed in the ducal Library until the 17th century. Next to Aubert’s distinctive and controlled batârde handwriting are 13 miniatures executed by the court illuminator Loyset Liédet, who largely invented the pictorial programme for this previously unillustrated text. While the first of these depicts the famous hunting scene, in which St Hubert saw the crucifix between the antlers of a stag, the rest concentrates on his miracles, both during his life and after his death.

One of his early miracles involved St. Lambert: Hubert had the saint’s coffin exhumed and he translated Lambert’s relics to Liège. Thereafter, Hubert cured the murderers of St. Lambert of their madness (fig. 76 F 10, fol. 25v; fig. 1).

Figure 1.The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Ms. 76 F 10, fol. 25v [Source: kb.nl/manuscripts, 2017]
Figure 1.The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Ms. 76 F 10, fol. 25v [Source: kb.nl/manuscripts, 2017]
In the image, a pair of guards forcibly accompanies one of the murderers to an altar. Wearing a tight green jacket over a mottled pink tunic, the murderer also wears a curious white bandage on his head. A second murderer, wearing red, also approaches the altar with a similar bandage. The column in the centre of the composition divides it temporally, so that in the second moment of this scene, the possessed man kneels before the bishop Hubert, who makes a blessing gesture over the cured man. Meanwhile, the man has ceased struggling, and now holds the bandage between his clasped hands.

Clearly a ritual involving the bandage has taken place, but what kind of ritual? Ghent University Library, Res 1074 sheds light on what is happening in the miniature. This item is a folder containing one item: a printed page concerning the cult of St. Hubert, dated 1516 (fig. 2).

Figure 2. Ghent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Res. 1074 [Source: Kathryn Rudy, 2017]
Figure 2. Ghent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Res. 1074 [Source: Kathryn Rudy, 2017]
A woodcut at the top shows St Hubert at his moment of conversion, with the stag in the forest. The text below does not describe his vita, but rather instructs victims of ‘madness’ to undertake a course of therapy. The single-sheet self-help guide specifies: [1]

Anyone who is cut and has received the holy stole of St Hubert shall confess his sins and go to Our Dear Lord for nine days. He shall sleep alone.
Item, he
-shall only sleep in fresh linens or clothed.
-may drink white or red wine mixed with water, or pure water.
-may eat white bread or brown bread
-pork of a pig that is a year old
– capon or hen that is more than a year old.
– herring and all fish with scales, he may eat, and hardboiled eggs.
– He may eat all of these foods cold but not hot.
– He must drink alone, and he must hold his head upright when he drinks.
– he shall not comb his hair for nine days.
– if the person is attacked again by a rabid beast, he shall continue this abstention for three extra days, without coming back here.
– on the tenth day he shall have a priest take off his bandage and have it burned in the waterbowl [an object used to cleanse sacred objects for mass].
– he shall celebrate the feast day of the great lord St Hubert in eternity.

The Third of November, 1516

The reason he couldn’t comb his hair for nine days was that he had a bandage on his head, the bandage that apparently covered the wound made when he was ‘cut’. In other words, an incision was made in his head to increase the penetration of stole of St Hubert. This ‘stole’ was probably a contact relic that had touched the shrine of St Hubert. It was formed of a length of cloth so that could simultaneously serve as a bandage and a contact relic. As this text makes plain, people understood that mad dogs carried a horrific disease.

According to his vita, St Hubert cured St Lambert’s murderers, who suffered from ‘madness’. This story must have been conflated with stories of St Hubert curing people of rabies, which was a disease that also resulted in ‘madness’. Hubert’s jurisdiction over rabid dogs stemmed from his vita, since he called back his hounds from killing the hind at the moment when Hubert witnessed the crucifix between his quarry’s antlers.

If the patient were to be bitten again during the nine-day treatment period, he should continue the treatment ‘without coming back here’. This language suggest that broadsheets like this one were dispensed at the shrine of St Hubert, where patients suffering from rabies could be ‘cut’, then receive this sheet of dietary instructions, and return on the tenth day to have the bandage—which was both a relic and a piece of medical waste—removed and ceremonially burned.


  1. Soe wat persone die ghesneden es vander heylegher stolen van sinte Hubrecht sal hem biechten ende tonsen heere ghaen ix daghe lanc, zal alleene slapen. Item, in verssche laken oft al ghecleet. mach drincken witten oft roen wijn gheminghet met watere oft puer watere. mach eten wit broot ende bruyn broot. verckens vleechs van eenen berghe op dat een jaer out es. Item, van eenen capoene of van eende hinnen meer dan i jaer out. Item, harinck ende alle visschen die scellen hebben mach hij eten ende herde eyeren. Alle deser spijsen die mach hij eten cout ende anders nyet hij moet drincken allene. Hi moet recht houden sijn hoeft als hy drinct. Item hi en sal sijn hoeft niet kammen in xl daghen. Item, wordt die persoen noch eens ghequest van eender rasender beesten, hi sal dese abstinencie doen noch iij daghe lanc sonder hier weeder te comen. Item, den x sten dach sal hi den bant of doen doen van eenen priestere ende doen bernen in een piscine. Item, hi sal vieren eewelic den dach des groten heere sinte Hubrecht. Den derden dach in novembre Anno domini xv[c] xvj.