WEST CHESTER, Pa.–If you are a breastfeeding hermit living in cave near Edinburgh, Scotland, have we got a saint for you. His name is Giles, and he was born a wealthy nobleman in Athens, Greece, in the seventh century. After his parents had died, Giles frittered away his inheritance helping the poor. That sort of behavior doesn’t go unpunished, and soon Giles had attracted a bothersome following, many of whom believed he was a miracle worker—or at least an early Greek version of an ATM.
Giles fled to France c.683 to escape his ragged followers. He set up housekeeping in a cave in the diocese of Nimes, determined to live as a hermit. Giles was so poor that God sent him a deer, who nourished him with her milk for several years. (Small wonder Giles isn’t also known as the patron saint of the lactose tolerant.)
Sadly, into each hermit’s life a royal hunting party must fall. One such party chased Giles’ pet deer into his cave. A member of the party shot an arrow that missed the deer but caught Giles in the leg, crippling him. One imagines he wasn’t nursing at the time.
The king sent doctors to care for Giles’ wound, and even though Giles begged to be left alone, the king often came to see him.
Despite being a gimp who lived in a cave, Giles’ fame as a sage and miracle worker spread. Before you could say, “Where the hell’d my deer go; it’s lunch time?” pilgrims were in the habit of gathering near his cave, looking for a handout. One day, when Giles had run out of things to give away, a crowd set upon his deer and ate it.
The French king, because of his admiration for Giles—and because he was looking for a tax exemption—built the monastery of Saint Gilles du Gard. Giles took up residence in a tower there, far from his madding followers, and was never seen in public again. Eventually a small town grew up around the monastery, and upon Giles’ death in 710 to 724, his grave became a shrine visited by greedy pilgrims who were not of a mind to let a sleeping hermit lie.
Like most patron saints, Giles was a polymath. Although he is best known as the patron saint of breastfeeding, hermits, and Edinburgh, Scotland, he is also the patron saint of handicapped parking stickers, blacksmiths, noctiphobics, and beggars.
The clever reader might be wondering at this point why Giles, who never actually breastfed anyone, is the patron saint of breastfeeding rather than the patron saint of breastfeeders. Chalk that up to the church’s enlightened attitudes toward women. They might have tits, but men get credit for owning them. Amen.
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