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Saint Giles

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Saint Giles
Saint Giles closeup.jpg
Detail of "Saint Giles and the Hind," by the Master of Saint Giles c. 1500
Born c. 650[1], Athens, Greece
Died c. 710[1], Septimania (Languedoc, Southern France)
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Major shrine St. Giles' Cathedral (Edinburgh, Scotland)
Feast September 1
Attributes arrow; crosier; hermitage; hind
Patronage beggars; blacksmiths; breast cancer; breast feeding; cancer patients; disabled people; Edinburgh (Scotland); epilepsy; fear of night; forests; hermits; horses; lepers; mental illness; noctiphobics; outcasts; poor peoples; rams; spur makers; sterility;

The Mass of Saint Giles by the Master of Saint Giles, ca. 1500

Saint Giles (Greek: Αἰγίδιος, Latin: Ægidius, French: Gilles, Italian: Egidio, Spanish: Egidio, Catalan: Gil; c. 650 - c. 710) was a Greek Christian hermit saint from Athens, whose legend is centered in Provence and Septimania. The tomb in the abbey Giles was said to have founded, in St-Gilles-du-Gard, became a place of pilgrimage and a stop on the road that led from Arles to Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrim Way of St. James. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.


As a hermit Giles first lived in retreats near the mouth of the Rhône and by the River Gard, in Septimania, today's southern France. The story that he was the son of King Theodore and Queen Pelagia of Athens[2] is probably an embellishment of his early hagiographers; it was given wide currency in the Legenda Aurea. The two main incidents in his life were often depicted in art.

The Miracle of Saint Giles

His early history, as given in Legenda Aurea, links him with Arles, but finally he withdrew deep into the forest near Nîmes, where in the greatest solitude he spent many years, his sole companion being a deer, or Red Deer, who in some stories sustained him on her milk.[3] This last retreat was finally discovered by the king's hunters, who had pursued the hind to its place of refuge. An arrow shot at the deer wounded the saint instead, who afterwards became a patron of cripples. The king, who by legend was Wamba, an anachronistic Visigoth, but who must have been (at least in the original story) a Frank due to the historical setting,[4] conceived a high esteem for the hermit, whose humility rejected all honors save some disciples, and built him a monastery in his valley, Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, which he placed under the Benedictine rule. Here Giles died in the early part of the eighth century, with the highest repute for sanctity and miracles

The Mass of Saint Giles

An early source, a tenth-century Vita sancti Aegidii recounts that, as Giles was celebrating mass to pardon the emperor Charlemagne's sins, an angel deposited upon the altar a letter outlining a sin so terrible Charlemagne had never dared confess it. Several Latin and French texts, including Legenda Aurea refer to this hidden "sin of Charlemagne".

A later text, the "Liber miraculorum sancti Aegidii" ("The Book of miracles of Saint Giles") served to reinforce the flow of pilgrims to the abbey.


Around his tomb in the abbey sprang up the town of St-Gilles-du-Gard. The abbey remained the center of his cult, which was particularly strong in Languedoc, even after a rival body of Saint Giles appeared at Toulouse.[5] His cult spread rapidly far and wide throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, as is witnessed by the countless churches and monasteries dedicated to him in France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Great Britain; by the numerous manuscripts in prose and verse commemorating his virtues and miracles; and especially by the vast concourse of pilgrims who from all Europe flocked to his shrine.

In 1562 the relics of the saint were secretly transferred to Toulouse to save them from the anger of the Huguenots and the level of pilgrimages declined. With the restoration of a great part of the relics to the abbey of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard in 1862, and the publicized rediscovery of his former tomb there in 1865, the pilgrimages recommenced.


Giles, depicted in the lower left with a hind, is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers

Besides Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, nineteen other cities bear his name. Cities that possess relics of St. Giles include Saint-Gilles, Toulouse and a multitude of other French cities, Antwerp, Brugge and Tournai in Belgium, Cologne and Bamberg in Germany, Rome and Bologna in Italy, Prague and Esztergom. The lay Community of Sant'Egidio is named after his church in Rome, Sant'Egidio. Giles is also the patron saint of Edinburgh, Scotland, where St. Giles' Cathedral is a prominent landmark.

The centuries-long presence of Crusaders, many of them of French origin, left the name of Saint Giles in some locations in the Middle East. Raymond of St Gilles lent his name to St. Gilles Castle (Arabic: Qala’at Sanjil‎) in Tripoli, Lebanon.[6] Sinjil is also a West Bank Palestinian village, which came to prominence in 2005 when several of its inhabitants were killed in a shooting spree by an Israeli settler.[7]

In medieval art he is depicted with his symbol, the hind. His emblem is also an arrow, and he is the patron saint of cripples. Giles is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and the only non-martyr, initially invoked as protection against the Black Death. His feast day is September 1.

The Master of Saint Gilles is an anonymous Late Gothic painter. The artist was given the title as the first work attributed to him were two works with Saint Giles as the subject now in the National Gallery, London.

The fifth book in the Brother Cadfael murder mystery series by Ellis Peters is titled The Leper of Saint Giles, set partly in the 'hospital' and chapel of St Giles founded by the monks of Shrewsbury Abbey half a mile from their own enclave. That chapel is now a parish church in its own right, retaining a Norman doorway and a 12th century south wall with a piscina.


West church portal in St-Gilles-du-Gard

The west portal of the church of the Benedictine monastery in St-Gilles-du-Gard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is considered one of the finest examples of Provençal Romanesque.

  1. 1.0 1.1 "The West Portal of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard," by R.J. Gangewere, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, September/October 2003
  2. Compare the incipit of his early (12th century) vita in the Cologne "Legendae Sanctorum," Dombibliothek Codex 167, fol. 97r-101v [1].
  3. Compare the mytheme of the doe nurturing Heracles' son Telephos.
  4. He is Charles in Legenda Aurea.
  5. Pierre-Gilles Girault, 2002. "Observations sur le culte de saint Gilles dans le Midi", in Hagiographie et culte des saints en France méridionale (XIIIe-XVe siècle), Cahiers de Fanjeaux 37, pp. 431-454
  6. "History of Lebanon", See photo by Børre Ludvigsen, 1995 at
  7. "Condolence visits at Sanjil and Qalqilya" by Ya`acov Manor,

See also

External links

ca:Sant Gil

cs:Svatý Jiljíeo:Egidiola:Sanctus Aegidius hu:Szent Egyedja:アエギディウス (聖人) nn:Egidiuspt:Santo Egídio ro:Sfântul Egidiu ru:Святой Эгидий sv:Egidius

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