St. Giles the Hermit (+712)
Commemorated September 1
St. Giles (also known as Aegidius) is thought to have been born in Athens, the son of Theodore and Pelagia, in about 640. When he was twenty-four his parents died, and the young Giles, stricken by the double loss, and unconsoled by the pleasures of fashionable life, sold all that he had and gave to the poor in order to follow Christ.
He took to sea and landed on the coast of Provence. On the shore he saw human footsteps, and following these, he found a cave in which an old hermit had lived for years on roots and herbs, and who was content to share his cave, his food and his prayers with the young man. After three days Giles began to fear his friends might find him, so he hailed a passing ship and sailed on further westwards to Marseilles. Still seeking solitude, he crossed the Rhone and travelled towards a rocky promontory above the river Gardon and here, in a cave, the entrance of which was hidden by a thicket, he found another solitary, also a Greek. He stayed only a short time before continuing his journey until, finally, in the depth of a forest near Nimes, he found a hollow of a rock in a green glade by a stream, shaded by four gigantic oaks. There he lived in peace and prayer, his only companion a gentle doe deer, whose milk he drank.
Here he was discovered by Flavius (Wamba), king of the VisiGoths. The king was out hunting and shot an arrow at the hind, missed it, and hit Giles, who was at prayer. Though wounded, Giles continued at his prayers and refused all compensation for the injury done to his body. This incident made him a great favourite at Court, especially with Wamba, who pressed him to stay. The king would have given him lands for any foundation he chose, but no entreaties would persuade him to desert his life of solitude and prayer.
After much entreaty, at last St. Giles consented to be the founder of the monastery near Nimes about 673, which flourished till the Saracen invasion, when it was burned down and he and his monks took refuge with Charles Martel, aiding him by their prayers in his great battle for Christianity in the West. St. Giles’ monastery was restored, and with the words, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,” he died on September 1st, 712.
St. Giles became one of the most popular saints in the West, the patron saint of woodland, of lepers, beggars, cripples, and of those struck by sudden misery, and driven into solitude like the deer, which, according to tradition, came to St. Giles wounded.
St. Giles is the patron saint of over one hundred and fifty churches in the United Kingdom.