Saint Giles: The Iconography

In Provence, St. Giles, Abbot and Confessor. After him is named the town that later grew up in the area where he established a monastery and ended the course of his mortal life. – Roman Martyrology for September 1

St. Giles was born in Athens but traveled to Provence and lived as a hermit near Arles. According to the legends St. Giles had a doe that Christ sent to provide milk. One day Flavius, the king who ruled in that area, went hunting with his knights. When they spotted Giles's doe they pursued her and she fled to Giles's hermitage.
Left: St. Giles milking the doe. Right: The king and his hunters set out. North wall of the nave, Church of St. Rupert, Weisspriach, Austria. See the description page.
Aiming for the doe, one of the hunters accidentally shot the saint instead. So Flavius visited him and offered the help of the royal surgeons, but Giles refused and prayed that the wound never heal, citing 2 Corinthians 12:9, "power is made perfect in infirmity." Impressed by such holiness, Flavius built a monastery in what is now Saint-Gilles-du-Gard and persuaded Giles to direct it.
Left: St. Giles is wounded. Center: The king visits him. Right: He prays that the wound not be healed. See the description page
On the basis of this story, St. Giles's attributes are the doe, the arrow, and a crozier, the symbol of episcopal or abbatial authority, as in the portrait on the right.

The doe should not be confused with St. Eustace's deer, which has antlers and a crucifix.

In another episode a "King Charles" tells the saint he has committed a sin so terrible that he could never confess it. Later, an angel gives Giles a scroll revealing the sin and Giles gets the king to confess and be absolved (image). Because of this legend people would pray to St. Giles for a good confession, the Catholic ritual of confessing sins and repenting in the presence of a priest, who can then assure the penitent of absolution and he came to be included among the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

This St. Giles is sometimes confused with St. Giles of Casaio, a Spanish abbot (1170-1250). According to Spanish Wikipedia, his death date is unknown so his feast is celebrated on the same day as the French Giles.

Prepared in 2013 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2018-08-26.

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Alcañiz, St. Giles (See the description page)

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DATES

  • Died circa 710

NAMES

  • In Spanish, Giles is "San Gil"
  • In Latin, his name is variously spelled Egidius, Aegidius, or Atgidius.
  • "Flavius" may be a reference to Wamba, the Visigothic king whose domain included Provence in the late 7th century (See the Acta Sanctorum September vol. 1, 294-97).
  • "King Charles," if historical at all, could be Charles Martel, who ruled Francia during Giles's lifetime, but his domain did not extend as far south as Provence. (See the Acta Sanctorum, ibid.)

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