“Saint Giles first lived in retreats near the mouth of the Rhône and by the River Gard, in Septimania, today’s southern France. The story that he was the son of King Theodore and Queen Pelagia of Athens was given wide currency in the Legenda Aurea.
His early history, as given in Legenda Aurea (Golden Legend), links him with Arles, but finally he withdrew deep into the forest near Nîmes, where in the greatest solitude he spent many years, his sole companion being a deer, or Red Deer, who in some stories sustained him on her milk. Giles ate a vegetarian diet. This retreat was finally discovered by the king’s hunters, who had pursued the hind to its place of refuge. An arrow shot at the deer wounded the saint instead, who afterwards became a patron of cripples. The king, who by legend was Wamba, an anachronistic Visigoth, conceived a high esteem for the hermit, whose humility rejected all honors save some disciples, and built him a monastery in his valley, Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, which he placed under the Benedictine rule. Here Giles died in the early part of the eighth century, with the highest repute for sanctity and miracles.
A 10th century Vita sancti Aegidii recounts that, as Giles was celebrating mass to pardon the emperor Charlemagne’s sins, an angel deposited upon the altar a letter outlining a sin so terrible Charlemagne had never dared confess it. Several Latin and French texts, including Legenda Aurea refer to this hidden “sin of Charlemagne”. This legend, however, would be contradicted by generally accepted later dates for the life of Charlemagne (approximately 742 – 28 January 814).
A later text, the Liber miraculorum sancti Aegidii (“The Book of miracles of Saint Giles”) served to reinforce the flow of pilgrims to the abbey.”
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Icon of Saint Giles by the Rev. Jeff Donnelly. Copyright © 2012, All Rights Reserved. Use without permission strictly prohibited.