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Saint Giles

Born roughly in the year 650 AD in the city of Athens, we don't know much of Saint Giles early years. Tradition holds that he was the son of the King Theodore and Queen Pelagia of Athens, though historians dispute it. We do know he gave his fortune away at the death of his parents and left Greece for France to live out the life of a hermit in prayer and meditation.

In his book Legenda aurea or Legenda sanctorum (the Golden Legend), Jacobus de Varagine writes of his most famous tales. In one, we learn about his life as a hermit - a life so stripped bare that he ate only a vegetarian diet and that "God sent a deer to Giles to nourish him with his milk". After many years living this way, the French King Wamba's hunters chased a deer into the thicket at the entrance of his cave. The arrow they shot missed the deer and embedded into his knee. The king was so upset at this action, and so impressed by Saint Giles' life that built a monastery in his valley, Saint-Gilles-du-Gard. Saint Giles then placed it under the Benedictine rule.

A small town grew around the abbey, and because it became a famous spot of pilgrimage, many beggars and handicapped people to come and beg for alms. Hospitals and safe houses were built in England and Scotland following the example of this town, places of refuge for the poor, crippled and leprous. These safe houses were carefully constructed so that those who were crippled could reach and enter them more easily. As the tradition continued well after his death, those marked for execution would stop at the Saint Giles' hospital in Tyburn for a bowl of ale called Saint Giles' Bowl.

Another tradition is referred to as the Sin of Charlemagne - it recounts that while celebrating Mass to pardon the Emperor Charlemagne's sins, an angel deposited upon the alter a sin of Charlemagne's so terrible that he had never confessed it aloud.

In Spain, Giles is the patron saint and protector of rams. A long lasting tradition was to wash the rams and dye them a bright color on Giles' feast day. Locals would bring the rams down to the chapels on this day to have them blessed. In the Basque culture, shepherds come down from the Pyrenees on September 1 in full costume to attend Mass with their best rams making the beginning of autumn festivals.

Saint Giles died between 710 and 724 in France of natural causes. The book recounts that those who attended the funeral could hear angelic choirs singing as his soul was carried to heaven. Saint Giles is one of the fourteen Holy Helpers and was extremely popular in medieval Europe. His relics can be found in Saint-Gilles, Toulouse, Antwerp, Brugge, Cologne, Bamberg, Rome Bologna, and Prague.

Saint Giles is the patron saint of beggars, blacksmiths, breast cancer, disabled people, Edinburgh, lepers and many others.

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