Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. Giles

Sept. 1; A.D. 725

St. Giles was a Greek, born in the ancient city of Athens.

From his very earliest years he seems to have had an affectionate, loving heart. He was deeply attached to his parents, and when one after the other both his father and mother died, St. Giles, though a young man of twenty-four, was so full of grief at their loss, that he thought he could never more have any pleasure in life. He longed now to give himself up to prayer and meditation, and to live away from the world. So he sold all he had, gave most of the money to the poor, and went forth with just what he needed to keep himself from starvation, hoping to find a quiet place far from the "haunts of men," where he could live alone, and serve CHRIST in his heart.

He took ship and sailed across the sea till he came to a small and lonely island. Here he landed, and seeing what looked like foot-prints on the shore, he followed their track till he reached a cave. In this cave he found an aged hermit who had lived there for twelve years, and whose only food was roots and herbs.

The old man welcomed the young stranger, and shared with him his cave and his simple fare. But when three days had gone by, St. Giles began to think that if he stayed here his friends might find him out, and try to lead him back to the busy city, for the island was not very far from Athens. So he hailed a passing ship that was going westward, and landed by-and-by at Marseilles, in the south of France, where there was a large colony of Greeks.

It was not solitude that he found here—the French port was full of people then as now, for it had been a place of great importance from the earliest times—but he found a great number of persons who were poor and sick, and in need of help, and so he stayed to work among them, and to do what he could for those in need.

Still to be alone was his one chief longing, and after a time he bade farewell to Marseilles and crossed the river Rhone in search of a place of quiet.

He again came upon a cave, the retreat of another hermit. Here he stayed for some time, but the people of Marseilles, who loved him for his kind heart and his gentle ways among them, found him out, and to gain the solitude he wished for, he was forced to seek a more hidden spot.

He made his way into the thick of a dense forest, where he settled himself among the trees and rocks, hoping now at last to be left in peace. Here he had one companion, a gentle hind, whom he loved and cared for, and whose milk was his chief food.

It had happened one day that there was a great hunt in the forest. The woods rang with the sound of horn and hounds and the cries of the chase. The poor hind, flying before the dogs and the huntsmen, had, after a long run, sunk down breathless at the mouth of the cave of St. Giles. He rushed out to rescue the panting animal, and received in his own arm the arrow that had been aimed at her.

The huntsmen followed where the hind had led. They were struck by the gentle dignity of the young hermit. They questioned him as to why he lived thus alone and away from the world; and when he spoke to them of his life and of his faith in the Saviour, they listened with respect, and went to fetch their king to hear what the Greek Christian said.

The king was as much touched as his knights, and begged St. Giles to go to his court, promising him lands and money to build a monastery. But he did not feel himself fit for such a life. No doubt he believed he would be unable to do much good among others. His was, perhaps, a nature too quiet and gentle to rule, or to contend with the difficulties of a busy life. He felt, perhaps, that he would no longer be able to serve GOD faithfully if he were forced to live among other men. He refused all the king's offers and only begged to be left to his solitude. The hind never quitted him.

St. Giles is called the patron saint of lame people and of lepers—of all such as need help on account of bodily weakness, or are driven into solitude, like the wounded and exhausted deer.

All the churches called "S. Giles' "are built, not on high ground, as, you notice, was so often the custom in old times, but in the valleys, and just outside the town or city, usually near the chief entrance from the high road. As the tired hind found safety and refuge with the saint, so the churches called after him were to be the first refuge and resting-place for the poor, the weary, the lame, who were journeying to the town. There are also in most of these old churches of St. Giles what are called "leper windows." People who had that terrible illness, leprosy, which you may have read of in the Bible, and which was very common even in England in old times, were obliged to live outside the town or village, at a distance from all other men, and were not allowed to go to the ordinary churches. Sometimes there would be a special chapel, or little church, for them near the places where they lived outside the city, but more often they would come and stand by these leper-windows and listen thus to the service which was said within the church. From time to time the poor lepers would receive through the opening the Holy Communion from the hands of the Priest—" the Body and Blood CHRIST for the strengthening of their souls."