A magnificent swan stands next to Bishop (St) Hugh of Lincoln (feast day 17th November). You can see it in the lovely Burlison and Grylls stained glass window of him in St Chrysostom’s Church. The swan was Hugh’s favourite pet. We may not relish the idea of having a swan wander round our house, but Hugh was clearly content to allow it in the bishop’s house at Lincoln. At meal times the swan used to feed from crumbs he put on his sleeve. It would run to greet him when he returned from travelling.
Hugh wasn’t alone among the saints in having a pet. St Godric of Finchale had a pet cow, St Kentigern (Mungo) had a pet wolf.
More recently, Archbishop Robert Runcie was well known for keeping Berkshire pigs. His enthusiasm for them seemed to be matched only by the Ninth Earl of Emsworth’s joy at the his prize pig Empress of Blandings in P G Wodehouse’s splendid Blandings Castle books.
Archbishop Runcie once remarked, at a time of stress in Lambeth Palace; “I wish I could turn my attention to such things as tranquil as my Berkshires.”
He wasn’t alone as an Archbishop in having a pet. Archbishop Laud loved his pet tortoise. He brought it to Lambeth Palace in 1633. The unfortunate Archbishop was executed in 1645 but his tortoise survived him and indeed several later Archbishops, finally dying in a flood in Lambeth Palace gardens in 1753. So much part of Lambeth Palace was this Archiepiscopal pet that it still features in an exhibit case in the Guard Room of the Archbishops’ official residence.
There is a lovely article about Archbishop Laud’s tortoise in The Guardian – click here.
So can we look for leadership by example from the modern episcopacy in the area of looking after animals? Do pets feature in the households of the modern bishop?
No bishop seems to be inspired by Anatole France’s fictional Bishop of Arezzo who had a pet monkey. There are some examples though. Bishop Ho of Ghana has a pet goat. Archbishop Habgood spoke several times of his delight at the ducks on the lake at Bishopsthorpe, York. Those visiting Bishop Alec Graham at Newcastle were sometimes warned that he may sit on the floor while his pet labrador occupied the episcopal seat.
Perhaps some bishops could be encouraged to consider having a pet.
Apparently, says, the Daily Telegraph, there are at least five benefits to having one.