Hugh of Fouilloy


Also known as Hugo de Folieto (as well as several variations: Hugues de Fouilloy, Hugo Folietanus, Hugo de Fouilloy, Hugues de Fouilloi), Hugh's date of birth is unknown; what limited evidence exists suggests it was sometime between 1096 and 1111. He was born at Fouilloy, near Amiens, and while still a young man joined the religious community of St.-Laurent-au-Bois. He appears to have received an extensive clerical education, possibly at the Benedictine abbey of Corbie, also near Amiens. In 1132 Hugh became the founding prior of St.-Nicholas-de-Regny, a dependency of St.-Laurent, and was elected prior of St.-Laurent in 1152. He died around 1172. Little else is known of his life.


The most well known of Hugh's writings are De claustro animae (The Cloister of the Soul) and De medicina animae (The Medicine of the Soul), allegorical texts on monastic spirituality. There are several hundred manuscript copies of these works. Several other works are attributed to him, including the De nuptiis (The spiritual wedding), De rota verae et falsae religionis (The wheel of true and false religion), De pastoribus et ovibus (On shepherds and sheep), and De avibus (On birds).

The De avibus

The De avibus is a moralized treatise on birds, in much the same way that a bestiary is a moralized treatise on animals. It was not intended to be a natural history encyclopedia; it was instead meant as a resource for the teaching of religion and spirituality. The text is also known under several other names, generally based on the opening phrase: De columba deargentata (The silvered dove), De tribus columbis (The three doves), De natura avibus (The nature of birds), Aviarium (The Aviary), and Libellus quidam ad Rainerum conversum cognomine Corder Benignum (The little Book for Rainier the Lay-Brother called the Kindhearted). This last title indicates to whom Hugh dedicated the book. It is thought that Hugh wrote the De avibus while he was prior of St.-Nicholas-de-Regny, between 1132 and 1152. The De avibus was for some time mistakenly attributed to Hugh of Saint Victor, chiefly by virtue of being published under his name in the sixteenth century, as well as by Migne in the Patrologia Latina in the nineteenth century.

In his prologue Hugh says that it was intended as a teaching text for the lay brothers, members of a monastic community who joined as adults and who typically did not have the education expected of regular monks; many were illiterate. The lay brothers usually worked as laborers or lower administrators, thus leaving the monks free for their religious duties. Clark says (page 17): "The teachings of the Aviary present a view of monastic life which is fundamentally canonical, although this did not prevent the work from being popular with Cistercians and Benedictines. The lay-brother, like the regular canon, had an obligation not only to serve God, but to learn the ways of Christian life in order to edify others by word and example."

The De avibus has 60 chapters in two sections. Part 1 (thirty-seven chapters) is mostly scriptural exegesis by Hugh, drawing on the Bible and the Physiologus. The first eleven chapters are on the dove, discussing a verse from Psalms (67: 14): "If you sleep among the midst of the lots, you shall be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and the hinderparts of her back with the paleness of gold." The next eleven chapters are on the winds and the hawk, followed by fifteen chapters on the turtledove and the sparrow and their nesting places in the palm tree and cedar tree. This part is the most allegorical and symbolic, and is often accompanied by complex diagrams to explain the various meanings of the bird discussed (see illustration above). Part 2 is simpler, consisting of twenty-three chapters on individual birds, but it is also extensively moralized, and does not generally describe the birds realistically.


Hugh used and quoted several sources. In Part 1, his primary source was the Christian Bible, with some references to the Physiologus. In Part 2 Hugh used more of the available medieval sources, including the Etymologiae by Isidore of Seville, the De natura rerum by Hrabanus Mauris, the Moralia in Job and On the Gospels by Gregory the Great, the Hexaemeron by Ambrose, Exposition of the Psalms by Cassiodorus, Commentary on St. Matthew by Jerome, Commentary on Tobit by Bede, and the B-Is version of the bestiary.

Relationship to the De bestiis et aliis rebus

The De bestiis et aliis rebus is a compilation of texts in four books, the first of which is the De avibus. The entire De bestiis is usually (and incorrectly) attributed to Hugh of Saint Victor. The other three books are a version of the Physiologus, a bestiary and a dictionary of Latin terms. A few manuscripts where De avibus appears on its own give it the title De bestiis et aliis rebus, but that title is more commonly seen in manuscripts that have two or more of the four books. How Hugh's text became part of the De bestiis is not clear, and the compiler of the combination is not known, but it was certainly not Hugh of Saint Victor or Hugh of Fouilloy.


Over 120 manuscript copies of the De avibus still exist (Cordonnier), though some include only part of the text. Most are in Western Europe, with a few in North America and elsewhere. Almost all are in Latin; one has a French translation (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 24428), and one a Portuguese translation (Universidade de Brasilia Biblioteca Central, Ms. Serafim da Silva Neto). At least 55 manuscripts are illustrated. The illustrations are generally simple, and most show a generic view of the bird, with no no attempt to illustrate its usual properties or the moralization attached to it. The De avibus was not intended as a treatise on nature, so the illustrations at best only vaguely represent the appearance of the actual bird, where such a bird exists. There is a common iconography throughout the illustrated manuscripts, with similar illustrations found in many of them. While some illustrations are full-color framed paintings, many are line drawings with only occasional use of color highlights.

For the most part the text appears in manuscripts along with other theological works, often with some of Hugh's other books. The De avibus was also incorporated into one version of the bestiary, producing the bestiary class known as "First Family, H version" . Several manuscripts include the De avibus and some version of the Physiologus, usually the Dicta Chrysostomi version. In some cases the De avibus is accompanied by a Latin bestiary or a French bestiaire instead of the Physiologus. Some of these are:

A critical edition and translation of the De avibus was produced by Clark (1992), who also provides a list of 96 manuscripts. Additional manuscripts are described by van den Abeele (2003). Clarke assigned letters to the manuscripts she used for her edition:

AAberdeen University Library, Univ. Lib. MS 24
BGrootseminarie Brugge, MS. 89/54
BrKoninklijke Bibliotheek van België, Ms. 18421-29
HHeiligenkreuz Stiftsbibliothek, Csc. 226
LArquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, MS. 90
PBibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 2495B
TMédiathèque Jacques-Chirac (BM Troyes), Ms 177

Some of the De avibus manuscripts are list under the Manuscripts tab above. For a more complete list, see Cordonnier (ARLIMA).

De avibus Chapters

The following are the standard chapters in the De avibus (from McCulloch, p. 33; Clark, p.121-255):

  1. De tribus columbis (the three doves)
  2. Mystice de columba (the dove mystically considered)
  3. Moraliter de columba (the dove allegorically considered)
  4. Item de columba (also of the dove)
  5. De pedibus columbae (the feet of the dove)
  6. De pennis argentatis (the silvered wings of the dove)
  7. De colore alarum (the color of the wings of the dove)
  8. De posteribus dorsi columbae (hinderparts of the back of the dove)
  9. De oculis columbae (the eyes of the dove)
  10. De colore reliqui corporis (the color of the rest of the body of the dove)
  11. De diversis proprietatibus columbae (various properties of the dove)
  12. Aquilo frigidissimus ventus est (cold north wind)
  13. Ad aquilonem (north wind)
  14. Auster calidissimus ventus est (warm south wind)
  15. Ab austro / Ab aquilone (south and north winds)
  16. Beatus Gregorius de accipitre qualiter plumescat (Blessed Gregory on how the hawk grows feathers)
  17. De domestico [et] silvestri accipitre (the tame and wild hawk)
  18. Qualiter accipiter plumescere debeat (how the hawk should grow feathers)
  19. Quod accipiter in sinistra manu gestatur (that the hawk is carried on the left hand)
  20. De pertica accipitris (the hawk's perch)
  21. De compedibus accipitris (the hawk's fetters)
  22. De corrigia accipitris (the hawk's cord)
  23. De turture et passere (turtledove and sparrow)
  24. De palma et turture (palm tree and turtledove)
  25. De palma (palm tree 2)
  26. De palma (palm tree 3)
  27. De palma (palm tree 4)
  28. De turture (turtledove)
  29. Item de turture (also of the turtledove)
  30. De cedro et passeribus (cedar tree and sparrow)
  31. De cedro (cedar tree)
  32. De passere (sparrow)
  33. De nido passeris (the nest of the sparrow)
  34. De calliditate passeris (the cunning of the sparrow)
  35. De laqueo passeris (the snare of the sparrow)
  36. De pretio passeris (the worth of the sparrow)
  37. De immolatione passeris (the sacrifice of the sparrow)
  38. De pelicano (pelican)
  39. De nycticorace (owl)
  40. De corvo (raven)
  41. De gallo (cock)
  42. De struthione (ostrich)
  43. De vulture (vulture)
  44. De grue (crane)
  45. De milvo (kite)
  46. De hirundine (swallow)
  47. De ciconiis (stork)
  48. De merula (blackbird)
  49. De bubone (owl)
  50. De graculo (jackdaw)
  51. De ansere (goose)
  52. De ardea (heron)
  53. De caladrio (caladrius)
  54. De phoenice (phoenix)
  55. De perdice (partridge)
  56. De coturnice (quail)
  57. De upupa (hoopoe)
  58. De olore (swan)
  59. De pavone (peacock)
  60. De aquila (eagle)

Some manuscripts also include the coot and the ibis.