What's in a Name?  or... Who was St. Giles'?


Who was St. Giles? Why is your church called St. Giles'? They are frequent questions addressed to ministers and members of churches named after him. There are two answers to these questions. The first answers the "who was he?" question, the second, the "why?" question. 

According to a 10th Century biography, St. Giles was an Athenian who fled to France to be free of the attention and admiration of his fellow Athenians. He made himself a hermitage in a forest near the mouth of the Rhone, where he lived on herbs and the milk of a deer. Once when Flavius Wamba, king of the Visigoths, was hunting in the forest, the monarch chased the deer to the abode of the hermit and was so impressed by Giles' holiness that he built him a monastery. 

Though the medieval account cannot be counted on for historical accuracy, particularly since it connects St. Giles to dates as far apart as 542 and 814, there may be some basis in fact in a connection to Wamba. A 9th Century Papal bull mentions that the king founded an abbey for Giles to which a charter was given. 

Another more legendary story of St. Giles had him stepping in front of his beloved deer when a hunter was about to shoot an arrow, taking the wound himself. In any event, he was one of the most popular of medieval saints. A town, St. Giles, grew up near his grave, which attracted many pilgrims. In England alone, 160 churches were dedicated to him. He was invoked by disabled persons, the poor and blacksmiths for some reason. He is also a patron of wild animals and hunters.

A number of Presbyterian congregations are named after him. The reference, however, is not directly to the saint, but rather to the "mother Church,” or "high Kirk" of Scottish Presbyterianism, from which the main roots of Canadian Presbyterianism come... St. Giles' in Edinburgh. Originally a Roman Catholic Church (est. 1390), it became John Knox's main pulpit during the Reformation.