Bl. Aegidius of Assisi
One of the original companions of St. Francis. He is also known as Blessed
Giles, and holds the foremost place among the companions of St. Francis,
Knight of our Round Table St. Francis called him. Of his antecedents and early
life nothing certain is known. In April, 1209, moved by the example of two leading
fellow Assisians, who became the first followers of St. Francis, he begged permission
to join the little band. and on the feast of St. George was invested in a poor
habit St. Francis had begged for him. Almost immediately afterwards he set out
with St. Francis to preach in the Marches of Ancona. He accompanied the saint
to Rome when the first Rule was approved orally by Innocent III, and appears
to have then received the clerical tonsure. About 1212 Aegidius made a
pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James at Compostella, in Spain. Shortly after
his return to Assisi he started for Jerusalem, to venerate the Holy Places,
visiting on his way home the Italian shrines of St. Michael, at Monte Gargano,
and St. Nicholas, at Bari. We next find him in Rome and still later at Tunis.
In these journeys Aegidius was ever at pains to procure by manual labour what
food and shelter he needed. At Ancona he made reed baskets; at Brindisi he carried
water and helped to bury the dead; at Rome he cut wood, trod the wine-press, and
gathered nuts; while the guest of a cardinal at Rieti he insisted on sweeping
the house and cleaning the knives. A keen observer of men and events, Aegidius
acquired in the course of these travels much valuable knowledge and experience,
which he turned to good account. For he lost no occasion of preaching to the
people. His sermons, if such they can be called, were brief and heartfelt talks,
replete with homely wisdom; he never minced his words, but spoke to all with
apostolic freedom. After some years of activity Aegidius was assigned by St.
Francis to the hermitage of Fabriano, where he began that life of contemplation
and ecstasy which continued with very visible increase until his death. It was
in 1262, on the fifty-second anniversary of his reception into the Order of
Friars Minor, that Aegidius passed away, already revered as a saint. His
immemorial cultus was confirmed by Pius VI, and his feast is celebrated on
the twenty-third of April.
Aegidius was a stranger to theological and classical learning, but by
constant contemplation of heavenly things, and by the divine love with which
he was inflamed, he acquired that fullness of holy wisdom which filled his
contemporaries with wonder, and which drew men of every condition, even
the Pope himself, to Perugia to hear from Aegidius' lips the Word of Life.
The answers and advice these visitors received were remembered, talked
over, and committed to writing, and thus was formed a collection of the
Sayings of Aegidius, which have often been edited
in Latin and translated into different languages. St. Bonaventure held
Sayings in high esteem, and they are cited in the works of many
subsequent ascetical writers. They are short, pithy, popular counsels
on Christian perfection, applicable to all classes. Saturated with
mysticism, yet exquisitely human and possessing a picturesque vein
of originality, they faithfully reflect the early Franciscan spirit
and teaching. The latest and best edition of the
Dicta is that
published at Quaracchi, in 1905. There is a critical English translation
of the same:
The Golden Words of the Blessed Brother Giles, together
with a sketch of his life, by the writer of this article (Philadelphia,
1906); also a new German version,
Der selige Aegidius von Assisi, sein
Leben und seine Sprüche, by Gisbert Minge (Paderborn, 1905).
Acta SS., III, April, 220 sqq.: Chronica XXIV Generalium (Quaracchi, 1897), 74-115; Vita Beati Aegidii Assisiatis (Quaracchi, 1901); Fratini, Vita del B. Egidio d'Assisi (Assisi, 1898); Sabatier, Actus B. Francisci et sociorum ejus (Paris, 1902), Robinson, The Blessed Giles of Assisi in Franciscan Monthly (London, Jan.-June, 1906).
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