Hugh, and Robert Grosseteste, Bishops of Lincoln, 1200, 1253

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, and then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

File:San hugo obispo de lincoln.jpg

About the Commemoration

Hugh was born into a noble family at Avalon in Burgundy (France). He became a canon regular at Villard-Benoit near Grenoble. About 1160 he joined the Carthusians, the strictest contemplative religious order, becoming the procurator of their major house, the Grande Chartreuse. With reluctance, he accepted the invitation of King Henry II to become prior of a new foundation of Carthusians in England at Witham, Somerset. With even greater hesitation, Hugh accepted the King’s appointment to the See of Lincoln in 1186. He died in London, November 16, 1200, and is buried in Lincoln Cathedral, of which he laid the foundation.

As a bishop, Hugh continued to live as much as possible under the strict discipline of his order. His humility and tact, his total lack of self-regard, and his cheerful disposition made it difficult to oppose him. His people loved him for his unrelenting care of the poor and oppressed. Steadfastly independent of secular influences, he was never afraid to reprove his king for unjust treatment of the people. Hugh refused to raise money for King Richard’s foreign wars. Yet Richard said of him, “If all bishops were like my Lord of Lincoln, not a prince among us could lift his head against them.”

Robert Grosseteste was a distinguished scholar of law, medicine, languages, sciences, and theology, having risen to prominence from humble beginnings. He was a commentator and translator of Aristotle, but sought to refute many of Aristotle’s ideas in favor of those of Augustine. Because of Grosseteste’s influence, Oxford began to give greater weight to the study of science, particularly geometry, physics, and mathematics. Roger Bacon, an important progenitor of scientific method, was a pupil of Grosseteste, and John Wycliffe was strongly influenced by him as well.

He became Bishop of Lincoln in 1235. He is remembered for the diligence with which he visited the clergy and people of his diocese, teaching, preaching, and celebrating the sacraments, thus refusing to be isolated from the lives of those under his care. He was a steadfast defender of diocesan prerogatives whether against the papacy or the state.


I. Holy God, our greatest treasure, who didst bless Hugh and Robert, Bishops of Lincoln, with wise and cheerful boldness for the proclamation of thy Word to rich and poor alike: Grant that all who minister in thy Name may serve with diligence, discipline and humility, fearing nothing but the loss of thee and drawing all to thee through Jesus Christ our Savior; who liveth and reigneth with thee in the communion of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II. Holy God, our greatest treasure, you blessed Hugh and Robert, Bishops of Lincoln, with wise and cheerful boldness for the proclamation of your Word to rich and poor alike: Grant that all who minister in your Name may serve with diligence, discipline and humility, fearing nothing but the loss of you and drawing all to you through Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you in the communion of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalm 61


 Micah 4:1–4

Titus 2:7–8,11–14

Luke 12:35–44

Preface of a Saint (2)

31 thoughts on “Hugh, and Robert Grosseteste, Bishops of Lincoln, 1200, 1253

  1. At first blush, I’d say there’s a big problem in the sentence structure of the collect. ” Fearing nothing but the loss of thee and drawing all to thee through Jesus Christ our Savior” obviously INTENDS to say we fear losing God but hope to draw all to God. HOWEVER, what it actually says is that we fear losing God AND (fear) drawing all to God. Deny it says that if you will, but it says it. (“And that’s the truth!”)

  2. Why are these Bishops combined? Because they shared the See of Lincoln separated by 35 years (1200 to 1235)? A statement in the bio explaining the combined feast would help explain the reason.

    Collect. I think this one needs to be re-written. ‘Holy God, our greatest treasure’?
    The LFF 06 collect seems stronger and straightforwardly says what needs to be prayed.

    Bio. Both need ‘who they are’ and ‘why they are important’ statements.
    Hugh was born when? Bishop Grosseteste was born when? And he died when?

    • The LFF 06 collect:

      O holy God, you endowed your servant and bishop Hugh of Lincoln with wise and cheerful boldness, and taught him to commend the discipline of holy life to kings and princes: Grant that we also, rejoicing in the Good News of your mercy, and fearing nothing but the loss of you, may be bold to speak the truth in love, in the name of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

  3. Does the phrase ‘wise and cheerful boldness’ in the collect really intend to describe a single complex characteristic? I’m finding it difficult to conceive an exact meaning for this. I suspect the intention is to assert that the two men were wise, cheerful and bold, and think it would be better to put it more simply.

    And in case Michael hasn’t said it yet, these bios really cry out for a ‘why he is important’ statement.

  4. In paragraph 1 – what is a procurator and why is this important? The phrase “of which he laid the foundation” is awkwardly placed and worded.

    In paragraph 1 he comes from a “noble family, but in paragraph 2 he comes from “humble beginnings.”
    Please pick one!

    • Paragraph 1 refers to Hugh of Lincoln, Paragraph 2 refers to Robert Grosseteste. That’s why there are two descriptions of families of origin.

      • Hi Stacy,

        Thanks for your comment! It is our protocol, however, to only post comments that include the author’s first and last names.


  5. Ooops. Cancel my second comment. Not enough tea this a.m.!

    I know pictures won’t be in the printed version, but can someone explain which picture is of which worthy, and why there’s a bird [swan?] with one of them. Thanks.

    • Hugh is on the left – Robert on the right.

      From Wikipedia:

      Hugh’s primary emblem is a white swan, in reference to the story of the swan of Stowe which had a deep and lasting friendship for the saint, even guarding him while he slept. The swan would follow him about, and was his constant companion whilst he was at Lincoln.

  6. I largely really like this new collection, but I disagree with the Collect here. We don’t lose God. I would change the sentence reading, “fearing nothing but the loss of you.” That doesn’t make sense to me theologically. It’s a bit much. I really do not buy into the notion that we can “lose” God.

  7. Thanks for the swan story. In grad school I lived near a park that had a pair of swans on a little stream. Lovely and mean as snakes if they came after you. A very efficient body guard!

    • I find that interesting, about the swans. I knew someone with the email preface of “Snowswan” who had VHS tapes in abundance about the swans near her home, and who had a sort of mystical connection with them — and articulated that beautifully. Some may think it silly, but I find something “godly” in the free and natural bonding of some animals like that with some people. I’m glad the question was asked and answered, and commented upon! Thank you!

    • Oh, there once were two Bishops from Lincoln,
      But in yoking them here, I am thinkin’,
      That their stories, though fine,
      Do not neatly entwine,
      And that doing it this way is stinkin’

  8. This website is so very helpful. I try to research the saint for the day each week before our healing Eucharist and this is so up to date, easy, and accessible to me. Thank you!

  9. I don’t really object to putting Hugh and Grosteste together, although although being Bishop of Lincoln is really all they have in common. The reading seem good choices. I think we sould restore Robert’s reply to the Pope, “as an obedient son, I disobey, I rebel, I contradict.”

  10. Putting these two together gives us a feast of two nice blokes from Lincoln. They each deserve better. Hugh is the very model of a Christian’s duty to speak truth to power and to defend the outcast from the unthinking mob. Shouldn’t the write-up at least mention that among the “oppressed” he defended were the Jews? And that he repeatedly faced down armed mobs to protect them? Or does that raise unwelcome questions about the vicious anti-Semitism of many other saints (Ambrose and Martin Luther, to name only the two that come immediately to mind)?
    Grosseteste’s influence — theological, scientific, and political — is greatly underestimated because he doesn’t fit into today’s preferred narratives. Robert Brentano notes that “Although Grosseteste’s sanctity could be built into institutions, made to do an orderly job, as Francis’s, it turned out, could not, next to Francis, Grosseteste must always look pale.” Bacon himself said, “No one really knew the sciences, except Lord Robert, . . . He knew mathematics and perspective, and there was nothing which he was unable to know, and at the same time he was sufficiently acquainted with languages to be able to understand the saints and the philosophers and the wise men of antiquity.”

  11. I have to echo the comments against the combining of these two great bishops into one observance, just because they occupied Lincoln within 50 years. It is as misplaced as creating a memorial of William Temple and Donald Coggan, Archbishops of Canterbury, both good bishops and saintly men.

    Much more important than “speaking truth to power” in Hugh’s biography is his inversion of the power structures of the Diocese of Lincoln so that the chapter served the diocese rather than the opposite. How about his commitments to educated clergy? How about his willingness to leave his comfort zone of what was essentially a carthusian hermitage to serve the church? This is a witness to the resurrection whose witness we need to hear unalloyed.

    And Robert, arguably the person who invented the modern scientific method, a native born Englishman at a time when the English church (and society) was effectively a colony of France, born well outside the manor. While Hugh, as an aristocrat spoke truth to other aristocrats in the political sphere, Robert, a commoner actually supported the scholars of Oxford in their search for truth against the hegemony of the aristocracy; Robert challenged the power of the ecclesial hierarchy–all the way to the papacy in rejecting the curia and the crusades. It seems as if Robert is once again sidelined in our calendar as he was in the Roman calendar–he challenged the wrong power. If there is any medieval leader of the church in England who by his witness and teaching deserves to be remembered–by himself–in our calendar it is Robert Grossteste. We need to hear the voice of this scientist, scholar, and pastor.

  12. I agree with Steve Lusk that we should commend Hugh’s defence of the Jews. This reminds us that anti-Semitism was not invented by Hitler. The medieval record on the blood libel is horible, There were too few in the church like Hugh. Equally, and not to beat a dead horse, we need to be honest about those who preached the Crusades and what that meant then [rape, pillage, attrocities etc.] and still means for us.

    • I also agree that any defence of or even sympathy for the Jews in the medieval period should get a mention where possible. But if being ‘honest’ about things like the crusades, and, by implication, anti-semitism, means applying today’s standards to those who lived centuries ago, Robert Grosseteste is in the firing line. He connived at the expulsion of the Jews from Lincoln in 1231, and wrote an awful letter to a woman who gave them sanctuary in Winchester, in which he said, among other things, that Jews should be enslaved, and that anyone who borrowed money from them (money-lending being the only form of business legally open to them at the time) was ‘drinking the blood’ of their ‘victims’.

      I personally don’t think that people of former times should automatically be held accountable to today’s standards, and only mention this to make that point. If we apply our own standards too rigorously, the only people on the calendar will be those about whom we have no reliable historical information. They’re all sinners, like us, but, if the SCLM has done its research properly, they are also people who were able to rise above more of their sinful self than most of us have managed to do. Even some who preached crusades may merit a place on the calendar.

  13. So if we don’t apply today’s standards to the past, do we imply that anti-semitism and bloody crusades and slavery in the US were OK back then? I don’t think so. The anti-semitism of the Middle Ages surely contributed to its modern manifestations. Valorizing the Crusades is a direct insult to Muslims today . Racism in the US is not a thing of the ast only, to be ‘put in its context.’ It engenders racism today. I speak as a citizen [although not a native] of a state that practiced ‘massive resitance.’ I don’t admire Oliver Cromwell for much, but I do admire his admonition to the painter who was to do his portrait. “Paint me warts and all..”

    • Excellent discussion! I’d say you’re thinking along the same track as Paul is, in Romans 5:13-14, regarding sin being in the world from the beginning (from Adam), but “law” (the Pentateuch) not coming onto the scene until later — (i.e., until “Moses” — the 10 Commandments, the whole covenant context, and in fact the whole OT Biblical law). The damage, the evil, is there whether there’s a rule about it or not (and very often with the matters of which you’re speaking it wasn’t just a case of “no rules” — it was a case of the WRONG rules — perverse norms — rules ENDORSING practices that are now seen to be morally abhorrent). But if the rule that exists now (today) wasn’t around then it doesn’t make awful things un-awful, it just says those weren’t the ways they were seen, recognized, understood at that time in history. Standards and rules: the question of “good and bad” depends on the standard that applies, and (in our Biblical/spiritual perspective) if it undercuts God’s efforts at bringing creation to its fullness, it’s sin. The question of “right and wrong” depends on the rules that apply. Frankly, we always think the current accepted rules are great, and usually only in retrospect do we really dare look closer.
      (R5:13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.
      (R5:14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.)
      I won’t belabor this any further, but it’s an important, subtle, and consequential question. Thank you, Cynthia, for pursuing it, and thank you to Philip for pointing it out. Where it REALLY bothers me is in preaching: so many times we have SLAVERY just spelled out as if it were the most matter-of-fact social “given” — for instance in a healing story or a parable etc., — and handling a sermon on that kind of passage in a way that is NOT silently acquiescing to (or colluding in) that impression (while staying with the message of the particular gospel passage) is a real challenge in balance and judgment. I wish I could say I always feel I’ve adequately handled that challenge, but I’m not even sure I’m aware of it all the time, it can be so transparent (invisible, undetected) to our “churchtalk” mindset. Raising the question itself helps, in that it takes away the cloak of invisibility on these things. More is needed, but not leaving it invisible is always the starting point.

  14. Surely King Richard said that none of us “would raise a hand” against the bishops instead of raising “a head.” The expression as written doesn’t make sense.

    • For once, HWHM is right. Thhe quote is indeed “if all the prelates of the Church were like him, there is not a king in Christendom who would dare raise his head in the presence of a bishop.” The idea is that kings would bow — and remain silent — before bishops, not vice versa.

      • Thanks. I guess that’s what comes from not living in a monarchy. Thanks for the clarification.

  15. I agree with the commentators who point out that being Bishop of Lincoln is really not enough in common to pair them up. While I understand what Hugh did, even from this small write-up when there is much more to say (the part about the Jews is important), from this write-up I have no idea why we are celebrating Grosseteste. Therefore, today at our midweek service, I talked about Hugh and all he did and didn’t mention Grosseteste at all. Mentioning the swan would be a good idea as well. I knew that was Hugh’s symbol, but I had no idea why.

  16. One more thing: Margaret Sharp’s comment is exactly why “saints” shouldn’t share dates unless they actually shared a ministry. Hugh is a great Christian, thoroughly deserving of a date in the calendar, but he’s worth no more than a footnote in a political or ecclesiastical history of his time. Grosseteste’s contributions to the later developments of science, theology, church governance, and political thought are significant. As bishop, he worked tirelessly to correct the abuses of the Church of his day, to defend the Church against the power of the state, and protect his people against the absues of both the king and pope. As a scientist and mathematician, he pioneered the development of the scientific method. As a political philosopher and administrator, he advocated political reforms which underlie the later development of constitutional government. His life and writings inspired not only his student Bacon and his friend Simon de Montfort but Wycliffe as well.

  17. Perhaps the title could identify the first honoree as “Hugh of Lincoln”, to distinguish him from the other St. Hugh.

    No doubt both men are named together because one succeeded the other as Bishop of Lincoln, but the subtitle should tell us something more of the reasons why they were selected. I suggest “Carthusian Prior; Scholar and Linguist: Bishops of Lincoln”.

    Hugh was born about 1140 at Avalon Castle,in Burgundy, France, and died in London, apparently on November 16, 1200, Robert Grosseteste was born about1170, at Stowe, in Suffolk, England, and died on the 9th of October, 1253. at Buckden, in Buckinghamshire, England. He was interred at Lincoln Cathedral.

    All four dates should be shown.

    This commemoration could be moved to the date of Hugh’s reputed death, to be shared with St. Margaret, under the new rules. However, November 17 is traditionally the day he has been honored.

    Line 2, first paragraph: add after “regular” “(living under a monastic rule)”. Most Episcopalians will be unfamiliar with this Roman Catholic term.

    Line 7, second paragraph: substitute “the king’s foreign wars. Yet King Richard 1, who had succeeded his father” This minor change avoids the bewildering introduction of a king with a different name from the one mentioned in the first paragraph.

    Line 6, third paragraph: substitute “mathematics and physics” for ‘”geometry, physics, and mathematics”. Geometry is one of the mathematical disciplines!

  18. Robert Grosseteste had his own day in the calendar (October 9) until the most recent General Convention. My friend Jean wrote poetry and raps for “Bob’s Day and sent out greeting cards in his honor every year. She died this year, not knowing that one of her favorite feasts of the Church was gone. I’m glad she never knew of the change.

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