According to tradition, St. Giles was born in Athens, Greece, and was of noble extraction. After his parents died, he fled from his fatherland to avoid followers and fame. He went to France, and in a cave in a forest near the mouth of the Rhone he was able to lead the life of a hermit. Legend notes a hind came everyday to his cell and furnished him with milk. One day the King’s hunters chased the hind and discovered St. Giles and his secret hermitage. The hunters shot at the hind, but missed and hit Giles’ leg with an arrow, which kept him crippled the rest of his life. He then consented to King Theodoric’s request of building a monastery (known later as “Saint Gilles du Gard”) and he became its first Abbot. He died some eight years later towards 712.
In Normandy, France, women having difficulty becoming pregnant would sleep with a picture or statue of the saint.
In England, churches named for St. Giles were built so that cripples could reach them easily. St. Giles was also considered the chief patron of the poor. In his name charity was granted the most miserable. This is evidenced from the custom that on their passage to Tyburn for execution, convicts were allowed to stop at St. Giles’ Hospital where they were presented with a bowl of ale called St. Giles’ Bowl, “thereof to drink at their pleasure, as their last refreshment in this life.”
St. Giles is included in the list of the fourteen “Auxiliary Saints” or “Holy Helpers.” These are a group of saints invoked because they have been efficacious in assisting in trials and sufferings. Each saint has a separate feast or memorial day. The group was collectively venerated on August 8, until the 1969 reform of the Roman calendar, when the feast was dropped.