You may have read about it already: it’s being reported that Justice Antonin Scalia was surrounded by members of a centuries-old secret society when he suddenly died in the middle of the night. Secret Society? Politically important death? No autopsy? You can imagine the fun conspiracy theorists can have with this.
The truth is far more banal: The “secret society” people are talking about is an old hunting club, of which there is no evidence Scalia was even a member. All we know is that Scalia was at a hunting lodge, and some of the people present were a part of a hunting club. What are the odds, I know.
What is interesting, though, is the story behind the name of the “secret” hunting organization, the International Order of St. Hubertus. Who is St. Hubertus, and why does he have a hunting organization named after him? It all dates back to an incredible miracle in the 8th century.
Hubertus was born into a noble family in France in the latter half of the 7th century. He was naturally charming and well-liked, and, like many men of the upperclass of his time, loved hunting. He got married to a noble woman and started having children. But he didn’t taken religion seriously.
Sadly, his wife died in childbirth. Heart-broken, he distanced himself from the royal court. Not knowing what else to do, he devoted himself to hunting.
And that’s when something extraordinary happened.
On Good Friday morning, while most others were at church, Hubertus was out following a prize stag. He was getting ready to strike when it suddenly turned toward him. The image of a crucifix was suspended in the midst of its antlers, and a voice called out: “Hubert, unless you turn to the Lord, and lead a holy life, you will quickly go down into hell!”
Stunned, Hubertus fell to the ground, and cried out, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The voice replied: “Go and find Lambert, and he will instruct you.”
Some versions of the story also have the stag himself speaking, instructing Hubertus on how to treat animals with more respect while hunting (e.g. don’t shoot mothers, don’t let animals suffer no longer than needed, etc). As a result, St. Hubertus is honored as the founder of modern hunting ethics.
He immediately left to find Lambert, who was a bishop in a nearby town. Lambert became Hubertus’ spiritual director, and Hubertus decided to give up all of his wealth and privilege for the benefit of the poor. He was ordained a priest, and then succeeded Lambert as bishop in that town. As bishop, he was known for his care of the poor, prayer, fasting, and eloquent preaching.
It should be noted that some scholars argue the miraculous hunting story so central to his life is actually borrowed from the life of another saint. Nonetheless, the story has been most associated with Hubertus for centuries, which is why he remains a popular patron of hunting to this today. Hence, why he’s invoked in the name of the old hunting organization.