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On the Kalendar: Giles of Provence, Abbot

Giles of Provence by Hans Memling

Giles of Provence, by Hans Memling (c. 1430–1494). From Wikipedia.

Giles was born in Athens, but he eventually made his way to Provence, France. He lived for a while in Arles, but eventually he retreated to a hermitage in the forest in Nîmes, across the border in the Occitanie region of France. It was here that the two most notable parts of his Legend took place. First, he is said to have dwelt there for many years with only a red deer, who in some versions sustained him with her milk. Second, a hind, pursued by the king’s hunters, took refuge in the hermit’s retreat. An arrow shot by one of the hunters went astray and hit Giles rather than the deer. For this reason, Giles was regarded as a patron saint of the physically disabled. The king, impressed by Giles’s humility in not wanting any recompense or honours, built a monastery in the valley: Saint-Gilles-du-Grad, which Giles placed under the Benedictine rule.

Giles was widely venerated throughout Europe, and the abbey bearing his name became a stop on the pilgrim Way of Saint James, which ran from Arles to Santiago de Compostela. There are numerous churches dedicated to him in Britain, most prominently Saint Giles in Edinburgh and Saint Giles, Cripplegate, London. Since his feast day is in harvest season, it was also associated with two famous fairs. A Saint Giles’ Day fair in Winchester is no longer extant, while the other, in Oxford, has lost its agricultural significance and is now just a fun-fair.

Giles is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints whose veneration began in the Rhineland in the fourteenth century in response to the Black Death. Giles, the only non-martyr among the fourteen, was invoked for protection against the plague itself.
Giles died in c. A.D. 790. The precise date of his death is unknown, but his feast has been celebrated on 1 September for centuries.

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