September 1, 2017: ST. GILES
September 1, 2017: COMMEMORATION OF ST. GILES, ABBOT
“A simple and upright man, and fearing God, and avoiding evil”
(Job, i. 8)
May the intercession, O Lord, of blessed Giles, the Abbot recommend us to thee; that what we cannot hope for through any merits of our own, we may obtain by his prayers. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
‘A SIMPLE and upright man, and fearing God, and avoiding evil’: (Job, i. 8) such is the description of the just man in the lessons of the night Office for the time; and it is the portrait of the holy monk whom the Church offers us to-day for our admiration, our imitation, and our devotion. Fleeing from men in order to find God, he quitted his native land, where his rank, and still more his virtues, prevented him from being unknown. He wandered from the coasts of Greece to the borders of the Rhone, and stopped at length in the forests of Septimania, where he seemed to have found his desired solitude. There for three years he dwelt in a cave hidden among the brambles, spending his time in giving thanks to God and praying for the salvation of the people. He lived on herbs and water, until our Lord sent him a hind to nourish him with her milk. But his little friend was soon to betray him. One day, hard pressed by the hounds, she fled in terror to the saint, followed by the royal huntsmen. Safe with her protector her fears were calmed; but an arrow, aimed at her, pierced Saint Giles’s hand, which was never afterwards healed; for he refused to have it dressed, in order that he might hear the pain of it for the rest of his life. But a greater trial awaited him: his retreat having been thus discovered, a monastery soon rose upon the spot, and he was forced to become its abbot; moreover he worked so many miracles that crowds came to see him. Farewell to the silence and oblivion of his beloved forest!
After the death of the servant of God, the place became more and more frequented. From north and east and south pilgrims poured in, to offer up their prayers and fulfil their vows at the tomb of one, who soon became known as one of the most helpful saints in heaven. [St. Giles is the only confessor in the group of fourteen saints known as helpers, whose names are given in ancient missals in the following order: George, Blase, Erasmus, Pantaleon, Vitus, Christopher, GILES, Achatus or Acathius, Denis, Cyriacus, Eustace, Catharine, Margaret, and Barbara. He was even reckoned among the five priviieged saints, viz. Denis, George, Christopher, Blase, and GILES, honoured in a more special manner in certain places.] Among the crowds came Pontifis and kings. [Pontiffs: Urban II, who consecrated the altar of the basilica where the holy body rested, Gelasius II, Callistus II, Innocent II; Clement IV was born at St. Giles’s; Julius II had held the abbey in commendam.;kings: Boleslas III of Poland, and St. Louis of France.] But the most numerous classes of visitors to the holy relics were soldiers and little children, the former equipped for the crusades, the latter borne in their mothers’ arms; all confiding in the humble, gentle monk who, at the risk of his life, calmed the terror of the poor little hind; all imploring his assistance against the fear which even the bravest may feel in the hour of battle, or the fright that disturbs the little one in his cradle. St. Giles’s ranked as one of the three great pilgrimages of the west; the other two being Rome and Compostello.
Over the relics of the saint was raised a colossal church, which has been described as ‘the most perfect type of the Byzantine style when at the height of its splendour.’ Around it a town of thirty thousand households has sprung up, where formerly there was but a desert. The most illustrious of the powerful Counts of Toulouse gave the preference over his other titles to the one he held from this noble city; he would be known to posterity as Raymund of St. Giles. A hundred years later, Raymund VI did penance at the threshold of the celebrated basilica, for his connivance with heresy; our saint, who had just given hospitality to Peter of Castelnau for his last resting-place, opened his gates for the reconciliation of the martyr’s presumed murderer.
We should never end, were we to enumerate the churches, parishes, abbeys, and altars consecrated to St. Giles, in all parts of Christendom, which are so many sources of grace, and new centres for pilgrimages. Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Bavaria, Poland, rival France in this respect. England is second to no country in the world; she has one hundred and forty-six sanctuaries dedicated to the pious monk...
Let us hasten to give the short legend that remains to the holy abbot since the sixteenth century, when his feast ceased to be celebrated with nine lessons. Most of his precious relics are preserved in the rich treasury of the church of Saint-Sernin at Toulouse; Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, which had been obliged to give them up in order to save them from the sacrilegious hands of the armed heretics, had, in 1865, the consolation of discovering his original tomb.
Giles was an Athenian, of royal race, who from his childhood applied himself so earnestly to the study of divine things and to works of charity, that he seemed to care for nothing else. On his parents’ death he distributed his whole fortune among the poor; even stripping himself of his own garment in order to clothe a poor sick man, who was cured as soon as he put it on. Many other miracles soon made his name so famous, that for fear of renown he fled to St. Cæsarius at Arles. After two years Giles departed thence and retired into a desert, where he lived a life of wonderful holiness: his only food being the roots of herbs and the milk of a hind who came to him at fixed times. One day the hind being pursued by the royal huntsmen took refuge in his cave. Upon this discovery of the holy man, the king of France begged Giles to allow a monastery to be built on the site of the cave. At the king’s desire he was obliged, against his will, to undertake the government of this monastery; and after having, for several years, discharged that office with much piety and prudence, he passed away to heaven.
Life of St. Giles
from the lives of Fathers, Martyrs and other principal Saints, Vol. II
This saint, whose name has been held in great veneration for several ages in France and England, is said to have been an Athenian by birth, and of noble extraction. His extraordinary piety and learning drew the admiration of the world upon him in such a manner, that it was impossible for him to enjoy in his own country that obscuritv and retirement which was the chief object of his desires on earth; and he dreaded the sunshine of temporal prosperity and the applause of men, as fraught with dangerous poison, which easily insinuates itself into the heart. Therefore, leaving his own country, he sailed to France, and chose an hermitage, first in the open deserts near the mouth of the Rhone, afterwards nigh the river Gard, and lastly, in a forest in the diocess of Nismes. He passed many years in this close solitude, using no other subsistence than wild herbs or roots, and water, conversing only with God, and living rather like an angel than a man; so perfectly was he disengaged from earthly cares, and with so great purity of affections, with such constancy and ardour was his soul employed in the exercises of heavenly contemplation. His historian relates, that he was for some time nourished with the milk of a hind in the forest, and that a certain prince discovered him in hunting in those woods, by pursuing the chase of that hind to his hermitage, where the beast had sought for shelter at his feet. The reputation of the sanctity of this holy hermit was much increased by many miracles which he wrought, and which rendered his name famous throughout all France. Some, by mistake, have confounded this saint with one Giles, whom St. Cæsarius made abbot of a monastery near the walls of Aries, and whom he sent to Rome with his secretary, Messianus, in 514, to Pope Symmachus, to obtain of him a confirmation of the privileges of the metropolitical church of Aries. But the Bollandists prove very well, in a long and learned dissertation, that the great St. Giles lived only in the end of the seventh, and beginning of the eighth century, not in the sixth; and that the French were at that time masters of the country about Nismes. Messianus and Stephen, in the second book of the life of St. Cæsarius, inform us that the French took Aries in 541, the year before the death of St. Cæsarius; after which, the Goths yielded up to them that whole province. St. Giles was highly esteemed by the French king; but could not be prevailed upon to forsake his solitude. He, however, admitted several disciples, and settled excellent discipline in the monastery of which he was the founder, and which, in succeeding ages, became a flourishing abbey of the Benedictin Order, though it has been long since converted into a collegiate church of canons. A considerable town was built about it, called St. Giles's, which was famous in the wars of the Albigenses. This saint is commemorated in the Martyrologies of Bede, Ado, and others; and is the patron of many churches in France, Germany, Poland, &c.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. V, Edition 1910;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Giles, pray for us.