Giles of Provence

1st September

Very little is known about this saint other than that he was born in the early 7th century and founded a monastery at the place later called Saint-Gilles (Provence) on land given by a King Wamba. His shrine became an important pilgrimage centre on the route for both Compostela and the Holy Land as well as in its own right.

Legend has it that he was born in Athens of wealthy parents. When they died he used his fortune to help the poor. He devoted himself exclusively to spiritual things but finding his noble birth and high repute for sanctity in his native land an obstacle to his perfection he left Greece for France where he lived as a hermit in a dense forest near Nimes. He had a lifestyle so impoverished that, legend says, God sent a hind to him to nourish him with her milk. One day after he had lived there for several years in meditation, a royal hunting party chased the hind into Giles' cave. One hunter shot an arrow into the cave, hoping to hit the deer, but hit Giles in the leg instead, crippling him. The king sent doctors to care for his wound, and though Giles begged to be left alone, the king came often to see him. From this his fame as sage and miracle worker spread, and would-be followers gathered near the cave. The French king, because of his admiration, built the monastery of Saint Gilles for these followers, and Giles became its first abbot, establishing his own discipline there. A small town grew up around the monastery. Upon Giles' death, his grave became a shrine and place of pilgrimage; the monastery later became a Benedictine house.

The combination of the town, monastery, shrine and pilgrims led to many handicapped beggars hoping for alms; this and Giles' insistence that he wished to live outside the walls of the city, and his own damaged leg, led to his patronage of beggars, and to cripples since begging was the only source of income for many. Hospitals and safe houses for the poor, crippled, and leprous were constructed in England and Scotland, and were built so cripples could reach them easily. On their passage to Tyburn for execution, convicts were allowed to stop at Saint Giles' Hospital where they were presented with a bowl of ale called Saint Giles' Bowl. Also included in this saintís patronages are nursing mothers (based on the story of the hind), Edinburgh, rams and spur makers!

John Puxty
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 26th September 2002