St. Giles - Encyclopedia

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ST GILES (GIL, GILLES), the name given to an abbot whose festival is celebrated on the 1st of September. According to the legend, he was an Athenian (Ailacos, Aegidius) of royal descent. After the death of his parents he distributed his possessions among the poor, took ship, and landed at Marseilles. Thence he went to Arles, where he remained for two years with St Caesarius. He then retired into a neighbouring desert, where he lived upon herbs and upon the milk of a hind which came to him at stated hours. He was discovered there one day by Flavius, the king of the Goths, who built a monastery on the place, of which he was the first abbot. Scholars are very much divided as to the date of his life, some holding that he lived in the 6th century, others in the 7th or 8th. It may be regarded as certain that St Giles was buried in the hermitage which he had founded in a spot which was afterwards the town of StGilles (diocese of Nimes, department of Gard). His reputation for sanctity attracted many pilgrims. Important gifts were made to the church which contained his body, and a monastery grew up hard by. It is probable that the Visigothic princes who were in possession of the country protected and enriched this monastery, and that it was destroyed by the Saracens at the time of their invasion in 721. But there are no authentic data before the 9th century concerning his history. In 808 Charlemagne took the abbey of St-Gilles under his protection, and it is mentioned among the monasteries from which only prayers for the prince and the state were due. In the 12th century the pilgrimages to St-Gilles are cited as among the most celebrated of the time. The cult of the saint, who came to be regarded as the special patron of lepers, beggars and cripples, spread very extensively over Europe, especially in. England, Scotland, France, Belgium and Germany. The church of St Giles, Cripplegate, London, was built about 1090, while the hospital for lepers at St Giles-in-the-Fields (near New Oxford Street) was founded by Queen Matilda in 1117. In England alone there are about 150 churches dedicated to this saint. In Edinburgh the church of St Giles could boast the possession of an arm-bone of its patron. Representations of St Giles are very frequently met with in early French and German art, but are much less common in Italy and Spain.

See Acta Sanctorum (September), i. 284-299; Devic and Vaissete, Histoire generale de Languedoc, pp. 514-522 (Toulouse, 1876); E. Rembry, Saint Gilles, sa vie, ses reliques, son culte en Belgique et dans le nord de la France (Bruges, 1881); F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications, or England's Patron Saints, ii. 46-51, iii. 15, 3 6 3-3 6 5 (1899); A. Jameson, Sacred and Legendary Art, 768-770 (1896); A. Bell, Lives and Legends of the English Bishops and Kings, Medieval Monks, and other later Saints, pp. 61, 70, 74-78, 84, 197 (1904). (H. DE.)

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