Saint-Hubert: a forest and a legend

 

The large St-Hubert forest is home to many wild game birds and animals and so is popular with hunters, but also with hikers and walkers who enjoy dozens of paths with rest areas and overnight camping sites. The legend states that nobleman Hubert was out hunting in the forest when a stag appeared with a crucifix in its antlers, which led Hubert to convert to Christianity, become a bishop and later a saint.

Festivities for all
Every year on 3 November, the anniversary of the canonisation of St Hubert is celebrated in a solemn mass in the majestic basilica church, where pilgrims, hunters and the simply curious gather. After the mass, a distribution of blessed bread and the blessing of animals, accompanied by hunting horns give this event its own special atmosphere. The town of St-Hubert also has the Abbot’s palace, St Giles-in-the-Fields church, the Redouté museum and the game park. Nearby are the Fourneau Saint-Michel open-air museum, the village of Mirwart and the extraordinary Celts museum at Libramont.

Blending the sacred and the profane, the hunting festival and historical parade take place over the first weekend in September each year. This event is open to everyone and reminds us that St-Hubert is the European Capital of Hunting and Nature thanks to the healing powers of its patron saint, who is also the patron saint of hunting. Inhabitants of St-Hubert are called “Borquins” in local dialect, indicating those who live in the “bork” (from the French “bourg”) or town which grew up around the Benedictine abbey. The town grew into a prosperous venue for markets and fairs where many artisans, merchants, farmers and artists could earn their daily bread.

A majestic basilica church
The sumptuous basilica church of St Peter & St Paul bears witness to the former economic and political power of the abbey. The church is in the Gothic style on a cruciform plan. Most of the building we can visit today was built following the abbey’s renaissance in the sixteenth century. The Classical-style facade was added in around 1700 and conceals the original towers. Inside are many works of art, including paintings, sculptures, the high altar and the organ.

The Abbot’s palace
Built in the Classical style, the Abbot’s palace dates back to the period of Abbot Célestin de Jong (1727-1760) who had it built to accommodate prestigious visitors. It is built of brick and limestone, with marble columns and fountains. Although not open to the public, it is possible to admire the sculptures on the doors and the monumental staircase. The front courtyard is closed off with modern railings made of painted wrought iron and blown glass. The coloured figurines represent the months of the Roman lunar calendar.

A church and a monastery
The Romanesque Church of St Giles-in-the-Fields and the Our Lady of Hurtebise monastery invite visitors to spend a few minutes in silent reflection. In a similar way, the silence of the huge St-Hubert forest attracts visitors to enjoy similar moments of silence while watching its larger wild animals from six hides that can be accessed via waymarked footpaths. Three long-distance footpaths cross this land of legends: the Trans-Ardennes, the Rhine-Meuse route and the Ourthe and Laval Valleys path. To learn more about this remarkable environment, follow the educational footpath through the Bois de la Fontaine at Laneuville-au-bois on one of the evenings when guides are present to help visitors experience the bellowing of stags during the rut, or go to one of the sessions at the game park designed to introduce children to game animals.

Natural and Cultural heritage
Saint-Hubert also has a former nature reserve known as La Boulaie du Rouge Poncé, an annual music festival in July and the Pierre-Joseph Redouté museum. Redouté is known as the “Raphael of flowers” and was born in St-Hubert in 1759. Nearby are the Fourneau Saint-Michel museum of buildings and Mirwart, which has been awarded the “Prettiest Village in Wallonia” prize. The Belgian national gliding centre is based at St-Hubert aerodrome, from where gliders fly over this enormous universe of hunting, legend and fairy stories.