"Little Saint Hugh" was born in the growing English town of Lincoln in 1246. The son of a poor woman named Beatrice, a widow, he is famous due to the controversy surrounding his death, in circumstances that earned the boy the title (really a popular nickname) of "Saint". His "martyrdom" is no longer remembered by the Catholic Church today in the form of a feast day, due to the anti-semitic nature of the popular story of Hugh's demise.

The legend says that at the age of eight, in 1255, Hugh was kidnapped, tortured and killed by Jews living in the town. Hugh was apparently found with the marks of the crucifixion on his body, leading to the claim that many Jews had crowned him with thorns and crucified him in mockery of Jesus. This story evolved as several playmates of Hugh said that they saw him follow a Jew named Copin, who was later accused of enticing the child into his home. It is said that Hugh's mother discovered his body when visiting Copin's house to try and find the boy. Copin confessed (when threatened with death) to the murder of Hugh, saying that it was a custom of Judaism to sacrifice a boy every year.

However, the research of historians since then has produced a more likely version of events. Hugh disappeared on the 31st of July 1255, and it is probable that he fell into a cesspool attached to the house of Copin whilst chasing a ball and drowned. There was a large gathering of Jews at the house in late August, to celebrate a marriage. The body, having rotted and decayed for around 26 days, rose to the surface of the pool where the gathering of Jews discovered it. The body was then secretly taken to a well and deposited, although why the Jews decided to do this is unknown. The most likely explanation is that they did not want any accusations made against them if the body was found on Jewish property. Hugh was discovered in this well on the 29th of August.

It was a canon of Lincoln cathedral, John de Lexington, who was present in the crowd that brought up Hugh's corpse from the well, who spread the rumour that Jews crucified Christian children. Hugh was therefore buried in the cathedral with the honours of a martyr. The feast of St. Hugh was held annually on the 27th of August until it was discontinued. It was also de Lexington that extracted the confession from Copin - which led to the execution of Copin and 18 other Jews, from the 93 that were arrested and imprisoned in London. Henry III himself preceded over the trial. The others escaped through the intervention of Franciscan friars, but had to pay hefty fines.

Hugh was named "Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln", after the famous Saint Hugh of Lincoln (who died in 1200), because of the miracles said to have been wrought both at the well where he was found and at the cathedral where he is buried. There is little or no evidence to suggest that a ritual murder was committed, however. This tale is another symptom of the widespread anti-semitic feeling prevailing in Britain and Europe at the time. Accusations were often levelled at Jews in order to extort money from them, for example. There is also a reference to Hugh's story in Geoffrey Chaucer's Prioresses Tale, an example of Middle Age ballad poetry that the martyrdom of St. Hugh became a popular subject for.


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