September 1 Saints of the Day – Simeon Stylites and Giles

On this day in 1878, Emma Nutt became the world’s first female telephone operator, recruited by Alexander Graham Bell for the Boston Telephone Dispatch Company. She was well-connected.

Simeon StylitesSimeon Stylites the Elder (ca. 390 – 459), the son of a shepherd, heard the Beatitudes in church one day and was smitten to the core. From that day his heart was filled with the desire to serve God and fast a lot. At eighteen he left his sheep (who were, doubtless, sorry to see him go), was tonsured a monk, and began works of asceticism. When he was found with a palm-frond rope so tight about his waist that he lost consciousness (it had to be soaked for days before it could be removed, and he had ulcers underneath it), he was asked to moderate or move out. He chose to move to a local cave. (He moved back once and back out again later).

Seeking to pray away from the flood of looky-loos he was attracting, he found a column in some ruins, affixed a one-square-meter platform atop it, and moved up in the world. Well-wishers helped him increase the height of the pole, which eventually reached 80 feet. The looky-loo problem was far from solved, however, so fences were built around the “style” to keep them at a distance. But eventually he agreed to preach to them, and the men, at least, were allowed to come close enough to listen. Women were kept out, though — even his mother, to whom he sent word: “If we are worthy, we shall meet in heaven.” “True enough,” she agreed. The patriarch of Antioch sent messengers to order him to come down, but when he meekly agreed, they were satisfied and told him he could stay there.

All told, Simeon spent 37 years up in the air. He tops the Guinness Book of World Records’ pole-sitter category, and also has the record for “longest-held record of any kind by anybody” (at over 1500 years, that will be hard to beat). He is the patron saint of people who have left the church.

GilesGiles (ca. 650 – ca. 710) was born Greek and wealthy, but voluntarily became French and poor. He lived in a cave as a lacto-vegetarian, with lacto kindly supplied by a tame deer (or “hind” as they are called in the high places). One day, when the local king was a-hunting, he was led to our saint’s cave, and an arrow meant for Giles’ hind instead hit Giles’, um, hind (well, leg, actually). The king was mortified, and sent his best doctors. “I’d rather just be left alone,” said Giles, so naturally the king began visiting regularly.

His Majesty was clearly something of a blabbermouth — Giles’ reputation was spread abroad, and soon pilgrims were beating a path to the cave. The king helpfully built a huge monastery, and with a sigh, Giles agreed to be abbot. There he remained the rest of his days. A town (Saint-Gilles du Gard) later sprang up to serve the many pilgrims who came from all across Europe to Giles’ tomb. His relics were removed to Toulouse in 1562 to keep them out of the hands of the Hugenots, and the pilgrimage business died out. When the relics (or most of them) were restored and the tomb was “rediscovered” in the late nineteenth century, the pilgrims came back. Dozens of other cities also possess relics of the saint and hundreds of places bear his name, including the medieval citadel in Lebanon called Qala’at Sanjil — St. Giles’ Castle.

Many hospitals for beggars, cripples, and lepers were opened in his name, and one served a special drink — “St. Giles’ Bowl” — for condemned prisoners on their way to be executed. When his relics were stolen from a church in Scotland in the seventeenth century, the townspeople rioted. Let’s face it, people love this guy. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and only thirteen other people in the whole world can claim that. He is the patron saint of (among dozens of other things), noctiphobes, spur makers, and breastfeeding mothers.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

September 1
St Simeon Stylites, the Elder (OCA) – Main source
Simeon Stylites (Wikipedia)
Image of Simeon Stylites from Wiimedia (public domain)
Saint Giles (Wikipedia) – Main source
Saint Giles (SQPN)
Image of Giles is a detail from Vierzehn Nothelfer (Fourteen Helpers) by Wikimedia Commons user Immanuel Giel and is used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license. Use of this image does not imply approval of owner of this page or this use. Which is just as well, if you think about it.