St. Giles was among the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints commonly invoked in the Middle Ages for protection against illness and misfortune. The facts of his life, however, are obscure. According to legend, Giles was born in Athens. His many miracles there attracted unwanted attention, causing him to sail to southern France, where he established a hermitage in a thick forest. There he was attended to by a tame deer, which nourished him with her own milk.
One day the king’s hunting party spied the deer and pursued it into the forest, where it hastened to Giles for protection. An arrow intended for the deer instead hit the holy hermit. When the king and his party discovered Giles, dressed in a religious habit, they were aghast at their error. After Giles recovered, the king continued to visit and eventually persuaded him to preside as abbot over a monastery. One day while Giles was saying Mass, an angel dropped a scroll on which was named a secret sin the king had never confessed. When Giles confronted the king (in some versions anachronistically named as Charlemagne), he immediately did penance and received absolution.
After his death, Giles’s grave in Arles was a popular site of pilgrimage. “And at the last our Lord showed to him his departing out of this world, and he said it to his brethren, and admonished them to pray for him, and so he slept and died goodly in our Lord.” —The Golden Legend