Rudi van Kets is honoured to be inducted into an exclusive association in recognition of his deer tracking work
Early this year, in March, I opened my mailbox to find an invitation to a ceremony in Saint-Hubert, in the Belgian Ardennes. The invitation was sent to me by a Scottish friend, Al, who I had met in Kelso at the Scottish Game Fair.
Since then we have kept in touch via social media and email, exchanging various stories. I have already been able to welcome Al to my home and take him on a tracking dog test in the Merode forest near my village.
So what about this ceremony? To be inducted into the Order of Les Compagnons des Saint Hubert, you must embody a number of values:
- Be a hunter
- Be presented by a compagnon or godparent
- Submit a curriculum vitae of your hunting achievements
- Submit a certificate of good character, with no convictions for hunting offences
- Have the agreement of the board, secretary general and president of the Order
Fortunately my daughter, Ine, and I met all the requirements, and had a godfather ready to recommend us. Our induction date was set for 25 May 2019.
Let’s look at the history of the Order. In 1979 several Belgian, French and German hunters gathered with the idea of establishing an international organisation.
Taking their name from the patron saint of hunters, they also established their ceremonial HQ at Saint-Hubert in the south of Belgium. Taking the job very seriously, the hunters established a code of honour and designed a medal engraved with the image of a hunting cartridge.
They also drew up a charter – all with the aim of forging links between hunters of different nationalities. An annual meeting was a natural way to do this – an event at which new members join and pledge to promote ethical and sustainable hunting, all the while making new friends.
It was not long before 25 May loomed, and we made the trip to Saint-Hubert. Everyone gathered in the market square, and we could immediately notice that this was a truly international event.
At the agreed time, we met our ‘godfather’ Al. Everyone was already gathering for the procession into the Basilica. Amid loud bugle blares, the ceremony started. Several members of the Brotherhood took the word and explained the ceremony in several languages.
The new members, called ‘chevaliers’, called the oath, and they undertook on their honour to follow the Code of Honour of the Compagnons de Saint Hubert. It promised to be a memorable experience and a day to remember. Many friendships are made and renewed here every year.
On this day, 62 new members were admitted, coming from Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Estonia, Ukraine and Denmark. Afterwards, there was a feast, allowing us to get to know people from different countries even better.
And yes, we did find someone who oversees a deer tracking group in his own country, so the twinning will soon take place between the associations.
We already looking forward to May next year, when the event takes place once again, and will give us a chance to meet our new friends again.
A word of thanks to my godfather Al and to Tom, another member of the organisation, for allowing me to be part of this wonderful event.
The legend of Saint Hubert
The region of Saint-Hubert, with its wildlife-rich forests in the heart of the Ardennes, has for centuries been a paradise for hunters. Let’s take a look at how this region in Belgian Luxembourg became the European capital of hunting.
Saint Hubert was born in Aquitaine around 660 in an aristocratic family. He was an avid hunter and spent the bulk of his time in the Ardennes forest. He led a worldly life and religion was not important to him. On Good Friday he wanted to hunt even though it was considered sacrilegious. He found no one to go with him, so he went out alone.
Legend has it that he came face to face with a big deer with a shining cross between its antlers. The deer spoke to him: “Hubertus, Hubertus! How long are you going to pursue the animals in this forest? How long will this passion prevent you from converting your soul?”
Hubert threw himself on the ground and shouted, “Lord! What do you want me to do?” “Go to Lambert, the bishop of Maastricht.” the voice continued. “Repent and do penance for your sins.”
Hubertus turned to religion and eventually became bishop of Tongeren and Maastricht, and is known in myth for curing people of rabies. Despite the discovery of the vaccine against rabies by Pasteur in 1885, Saint-Hubert is still today called upon for protection against rabies, toothache and any nerve disease.
He died in 727 and was buried in Liege. He was canonised in 743 on 3 November, the day he is still celebrated every year.
In 825 his body was transferred from Liege to Andage (the original name of the town of Saint-Hubert), to a convent in the heart of the Ardennes forest. The city was then subject to pilgrimages from 837.
There is one more legend to relate: “One day, the third of November, long after the death of Saint Hubert, two men went hunting near Andage. To their surprise, they found no trace of game. She suddenly remembered that they were at the place Saint Hubert previously chose to hunt. They promised to sacrifice their first trophy of the day to him. Immediately, their dogs ran after a huge boar. The hunters followed them to the wall of the monastery.
“The dogs stopped the boar and he surrendered without resistance. The hunters killed the animal and thereby forgot their promise. When they were preparing to take the animal suddenly jumped again, appearing outraged by their actions, and disappeared in front of the hunters’ eyes.”