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Ever look at a bottle of Jägermiester and wonder, “what’s with the antlers and cross?” The story dates back to a 7th-century nobleman who found God while hunting after the death of his wife. Today, this nobleman is celebrated by hunters all throughout Europe on November 3rd, and is now known as Saint Hubertus. So why do we celebrate his feast day, and what does a nobleman from the 7th century have to do with a liquor that was invented in the early 20th century?
Let’s start with that iconography on the bottle of Jägermiester. Hubert was once a wealthy nobleman in modern-day Toulouse and an avid hunter. The legend goes that Hubert’s wife died while giving birth to their son Floribert and Hubert was so grief-stricken that he retreated from everything in his life and committed himself solely to hunting in the Ardennes (present-day Belgium). While hunting on the morning of Good Friday, Hubert pursued a magnificent white stag deep into the woods. During the pursuit, the stag stopped and turned its head toward Hubert, and between the antlers, he saw a floating crucifix. A voice came over Hubert saying: “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord and leadest a holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into Hell.” Hubert prostrated before the animal, asking, “Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?” To which the voice responded, “Go and seek Lambert (the Bishop of Liege), and he will instruct you.” After this vision, Hubert renounced all of his royal titles and hereditaments and devoted himself to serving God, the people, and the forest’s creatures.
Hubert later became Saint Hubertus, and with that title, he also became the patron saint of hunters. The symbol most associated with Saint Hubertus was his vision of the stag and the cross, which became a symbol of hunters throughout Europe. Curt Mast, a passionate hunter and distiller, devised the recipe for the dark brown liqueur we know today as Jägermeister. And what did Mr. Mast put on his now iconic elixir bottle? The symbol of hunters, the symbol of Saint Hubertus.
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Since Saint Hubertus’ passing, he has had an outsized influence on European hunting culture, and numerous organizations have been created in his honor. The majority of these organizations are focused on responsible and ethical hunting, conservation, and German or European hunting traditions. These organizations can be found throughout the globe, including the United States. The St. Hubertus Club of Chicago is one of the prominent organizations in the U.S. and there is a link at the bottom of the article if you are interested in learning more.
So, what exactly are you to do on the feast day of Saint Hubertus? I reached out to several of my German friends who are long-time hunters and well-established members of their hunting communities, asking them that very question. Generally, there is a pause in hunting on this day, and the evening starts with a mass. At mass, you can expect to find a shoulder-mounted stag, euro-mounted antlers, or other displays of hunted game, along with a cross to mimic the vision of Saint Hubertus. A special sermon is given celebrating the life of Saint Hubertus, God, and conservation. Afterward, hunters will gather in homes or restaurants for an evening dinner of wild game. If you have ever spent an evening with German hunters, I will say that this is something you will want to uber to as the beer, wine, and spirits will flow like the Rhine. The feast day of Saint Hubertus also happens to serve as the start of the drive hunt season in many areas of Europe.
A final note: although I was raised catholic, it is in no way my intent to proselytize in this article. To be quite honest, I would describe my upbringing more as a Chreaster (only attending church during the major holidays) than anything else. That being said, I do hope that on November 3rd you can spend some time in nature, reflect on conservation, and what we can do together to preserve hunting lands and traditions. And if you are looking for feasting recipes to celebrate your day as a hunter, Harvesting Nature has you covered. A toast to all of my fellow hunters and Waidmannsheil.
Well, one more final note. You may or may not have also noticed that there is a German poem written around the label of Jägermeister. The text is the first stanza from “Waidmannsheil” by Oskar von Riesenthal, and it reads:
Das ist des Jägers Ehrenschild,
dass er beschützt und hegt sein Wild,
weidmännisch jagt, wie sich’s gehört,
den Schöpfer im Geschöpfe ehrt.
It is the hunter’s honour that he
Protects and preserves his game,
Hunts sportsmanlike, honours the
Creator in His creatures.
I would like to give a special thanks to Timo, Gerhard, Jörg, and Andreas for their help in writing this article. Thank you gents and Waidmannsheil!
Harvesting Nature Feasting Recipes:
Saint Hubert Basilica
St. Hubertus Club of Chicago
The International Order Of Saint Hubertus