Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln

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Hugh of Lincoln
Hugh of Lincoln body.jpg
The body of Hugh in its shrine,
drawn by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm
Little Sir Hugh
Born 1246
Died 27 August 1255 (aged 8-9)
Venerated in Folk Catholicism
Major shrine Lincoln Cathedral
Feast 27 July

Hugh of Lincoln (1246 – 27 August 1255) was an English boy whose death was falsely attributed to Jews. Hugh is sometimes incorrectly 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. Little Sir Hugh was never actually canonised.


The nine-year-old Hugh disappeared on 31 July, and his body was discovered in a well on 29 August. A man called John of Lexington appears to have suggested that Jews were responsible.[1] Hugh's friends apparently claimed that Copin (or Jopin), a local Jew, had imprisoned Hugh, during which time he 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.[2] Copin was arrested and, under torture,[3] confessed to killing the child. He later appears to have implicated the Jewish community as a whole. He was executed, and the story would have ended there were it not for a series of events that coincided with the child Hugh's disappearance.[1]

Some six months earlier, King Henry III had sold his rights to tax the Jews to his brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Having lost this source of income, he declared that if a Jew was convicted of a crime, any money he had would then belong to the king. As a result, some ninety Jews were arrested in connection with Hugh's disappearance and death and held in the Tower of London, charged with ritual murder. Such accusations had become increasingly common following the circulation of the The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich by Thomas of Monmouth, the hagiography of William of Norwich, a child-saint said to have been crucified by Jews in 1144. This story clearly influenced the myth that developed around Hugh.

Eighteen of the Jews were hanged for refusing to participate in the proceedings by throwing themselves on the mercy of a Christian jury.[4] It was the first time ever the civil government handed out a death sentence for a conviction of ritual murder. King Henry promptly expropriated the property of those convicted. The others were pardoned and set free, most likely because Richard, who saw a potential threat to his own source of income, intervened on their behalf.[citation needed]

The chronicler Matthew Paris described the supposed murder, implicating all the Jews in England:

This year [1255] about the feast of the apostles Peter and Paul [27 July], the Jews of Lincoln stole a boy called Hugh, who was about eight years old. After shutting him up in a secret chamber, where they fed him on milk and other childish food, they sent to almost all The cities of England in which there were Jews, and summoned some of their sect from each city to be present at a sacrifice to take place at Lincoln, in contumely and insult of Jesus Christ. For, as they said, they had a boy concealed for the purpose of being crucified; so a great number of them assembled at Lincoln, and then they appointed a Jew of Lincoln judge, to take the place of Pilate, by whose sentence, and with the concurrence of all, the boy was subjected to various tortures. They scourged him till the blood flowed, they crowned him with thorns, mocked him, and spat upon him; each of them also pierced him with a knife, and they made him drink gall, and scoffed at him with blasphemous insults, and kept gnashing their teeth and calling him Jesus, the false prophet. And after tormenting him in diverse ways they crucified him, and pierced him to the heart with a spear. When the boy was dead, they took the body down from the cross, and for some reason disemboweled it; it is said for the purpose of their magic arts.[1]


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. Over time, however, 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.[2][5]


Lincoln Cathedral benefited from the episode, however, since, saint or not, Hugh was regarded as a Christian martyr; and sites associated with his life became objects of pilgrimage.[2] The legend surrounding Hugh that emerged became part of popular culture; and his story became the subject of poetry and folksongs. Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales makes reference to Hugh of Lincoln in "The Prioress's Tale". Believers made pilgrimages to the city of Lincoln as late as the early twentieth century, when a well was constructed in the former Jewish neighborhood of Jews' Court and advertised as the well in which Hugh's body was found.[citation needed]


In 1955, the Anglican Church placed a plaque at the site of Little Hugh's former shrine at Lincoln Cathedral, bearing these words:

By the remains of the shrine of "Little St. Hugh".
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.[6]

Ballad of Little Sir Hugh[edit]

The Jew's daughter lures Hugh into her garden. Illustration to Sir Hugh by George Wharton Edwards

A ballad known as "Sir Hugh" is based on the alleged murder of Hugh of Lincoln. While playing, Hugh loses a ball by kicking it through a Jew's window. The Jew's daughter entices him into the house with an apple. She then stabs him through the heart and dumps him in the well. Hugh's voice calls out to his mother from the well asking to be buried with a Bible.

She's led him in through ae dark door,
And sae has she thro' nine;
She's laid him on a dressing-table,
And stickit him like a swine.
And first came out the thick, thick blood,
And syne came out the thin;
And syne came out the bonny heart's blood;
There was nae mair within.
She's row'd him in a cake o'lead,
Bade him lie still and sleep;
She's thrown him in Our Lady's draw-well
Was fifty fathom deep.

According to notes by Cecil Sharp on a variant of the Ballad of Little Sir Hugh, the story is as follows:

The events narrated in this ballad were supposed to have taken place in the 13th century. The story is told by a contemporary writer in the Annals of Waverley, under the year 1255. Little Sir Hugh was crucified by the Jews in contempt of Christ with various preliminary tortures. To conceal the act from the Christians, the body was thrown into a running stream, but the water immediately ejected it upon dry land. It was then buried, but was found above ground the next day. As a last resort the body was thrown into a drinking-well; whereupon, the whole place was filled with so brilliant a light and so sweet an odour that it was clear to everybody that there must be something holy in the well. The body was seen floating on the water and, upon its recovery, it was found that the hands and feet were pierced with wounds, the forehead lacerated, etc. The unfortunate Jews were suspected. The King ordered an inquiry. Eighteen Jews confessed, were convicted, and eventually hanged.

Sharp then goes on to make the following observations:

Bishop Percy concludes "the whole charge to be groundless and malicious." Murders of this sort have been imputed to the Jews for seven hundred and fifty years or more; and similar accusations have been made in Russia and other countries of Eastern Europe even in the 19th century and as late as 1883. Child sums up the whole matter by saying, "These pretended child-murders, with their horrible consequences, are only a part of a persecution which, with all its moderation, may be rubricated as the most disgraceful chapter in the history of the human race."

The English folk-rock group Steeleye Span recorded a version of "Little Sir Hugh", for their 1975 album Commoners Crown, in which the murderer is "a lady gay" "dressed in green".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Gillian Bennett, Bodies: Sex, Violence, Disease, and Death in Contemporary Legend, University of Mississippi Press, Jackson, 2005, p.263-4
  2. ^ a b c "Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln - English martyr". Retrieved 4 November 2016. 
  3. ^ "Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln (1246 - 1255) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2011-10-24. 
  4. ^ "The Knight's Tale of Young Hugh of Lincoln", Gavin I. Langmuir, Speculum, Vol. 47, No. 3 (July 1972), pp. 459 - 482.
  5. ^ Hugh the Little
  6. ^ Coakley, Sarah; Pailin, David Arthur (1 January 1993). "The Making and Remaking of Christian Doctrine: Essays in Honour of Maurice Wiles". Clarendon Press. Retrieved 4 November 2016 – via Google Books. 


  • Karl Heinz Göller: "Sir Hugh of Lincoln. From History to Nursery Rhyme." In Bernd Engler and Kurt Müller, eds. Jewish Life and Jewish Suffering as Mirrored in English and American Literature. Paderborn: Schöningh, 1987. pp. 17–31.
  • Richard Utz: "Remembering Ritual Murder: The Anti-Semitic Blood Accusation Narrative in Medieval and Contemporary Cultural Memory." In Genre and Ritual: The Cultural Heritage of Medieval Rituals. Ed. Eyolf Østrem. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press/University of Copenhagen, 2005. pp. 145–162.
  • Richard Utz: "The Medieval Myth of Jewish Ritual Murder. Toward a History of Literary Reception." The Year's Work in Medievalism 14 (1999), pp. 22–42.

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