In Catholic iconography, November 3rd is dedicated to St Hubert, patron saint of, amongst other things, dogs and hunting. Hunting packs all over the country will be holding St Hubert’s Day celebratin tonight and over the weekend. (A slap up game lunch on the IoW for me on Sunday!)
Hubert was born around 656 CE and died in 727CE. The eldest son of a nobleman, he renounced his title and eventually became bishop of Liege having devoted himself to poverty and piety having previously lived for the chase. Legend has it that he had a vision of a crucifix between a stag’s antlers while about to take a shot, but this is thought to be conflated with the legend of Saint Eustace. The stag supposedly dictated the ethics of hunting to him – always take a mercy shot, observe a closed season and shoot to cull.
The use of the “St Hubert’s Key” continued until as late as the early 20th century as an attempted cure for rabies. A bar, nail or cross was carried or attached to a wall of a home as supposed protection against the disease. A priest would prick the forehead of a person that was assumed to have contracted rabies. A black bandage would be applied for nine days while the heated key was placed on the body where the bite had occurred. It is possible that the heated key, if applied immediately, could cauterise and sterilise a bite wound, effectively killing the rabies virus. Hubert was only one of many Christian saints attributed with the ability to cure rabies, the key having supposedly been given to him by St Peter. It is likely that the superstition died out once an effective anti-rabies serum was available from the 1880s onwards.
The 14th C Saint Roch is also credited as being the patron saint of dogs. He was purportedly saved by a dog who licked his wounds and brought him bread when he had retreated form his home when sick. This legend too may have been conflated with that of the much earlier Saint Racho of Autun who died at about the same time as St Hubert was born. His feast day, appropriately, follows the dog days of summer and is on August 16th.