Saint Giles is an extremely popular patron saint. Almost 200 Churches in England alone are dedicated to his honour and in the past he was recognised as a patron of hospitals and alms houses. Today, he is also celebrated as a patron saint of the disabled.
Who was Saint Giles and why was he so popular?
Giles was a religious hermit who lived in a forest near the mouth of the river Rhone in the Provence region of France. The legend goes that one day the King of the Franks was hunting in the forest and a young hind, a pet of Giles, was chased by the hounds into the undergrowth where an arrow was shot by one of his huntsmen. When the King rode into a clearing, there was Giles, who had been wounded by the arrow, protecting the hind in his arms.
The picture on the left side of the Chancel arch in St Giles’ depicts this scene.
The King was so impressed by with this selfless act of bravery by Giles that he asked him to leave his lonely life to guide people in the ways of Christianity.
A later story attributed to Giles, who by now had become a highly respected and distinguished abbot, is that the King had asked Giles to say a Mass for him. During the Mass, the King, who had failed to confess some grievous sins he had committed, was horrified to see an angel appear bearing a scroll listing all his faults. As Giles prayed for the King, all the faults disappeared from the scroll, thus absolving him, another part of the legend, reflecting the nature of Giles showing him to be a faithful intercessor whose prayers were effective.
The picture on the right hand side of the Chancel arch in St Giles’ shows Giles praying for the King.
Giles died around 719AD and is buried in the town of Saint Gilles, near Arles, which by the 10th Century had become a major centre of pilgrimage.
We can reflect on our Patron Saint’s devotion to our Lord, his love of nature and care for all life, and celebrate him as a man of prayer who remained faithful and humble even when he was raised to eminence by a king…virtues we could all follow.