The third companion of Francis

He came from:
the countryside near Assisi.

Age and social standing:
He was a very young (18) robust peasant.

Character and characteristics:
He loved manual work; he made baskets, helped the peasants in the fields, and helped in all kinds of ways. He worked in the kitchens of monasteries where he was given shelter, sharpened knives, and was even a grave-digger when necessary. He was good, simple and illiterate. He was also joyful. He tended lepers with especial care. He was a contemplative, who was frequently rapt in ecstasy. He did not love books and tended to make fun, with shrewd remarks, of those who spent their time in study.

His life:
He approached Francis at Rivotorto in 1208, spending a little time with the three friars and at Francis’ request to give his cloak to a poor man he realised that he wanted to stay with Francis and enter his little community. He soon went off with him to the Marches of Ancona, then he traveled to Rome with them to ask for the approval of the first Rule.
HE WAS SENT WITH BERNARD TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELLA and sufferED hunger, cold and ill-treatment on the way. He returned from Spain and sailed to the Holy Land, earning his passage by selling fresh water to the passengers. At Acre he made baskets and buried the dead.
He was beside Francis when he died. After his death he was a fierce defender of the original purity of the Order. The only great building he ever liked was the Basilica dedicated to St Francis, because he thought its richness would have spoken to all of the saint’s greatness. He retired to an area near Perugia, where today there is the monastery of Monteripido and his hermitage was visited by many people who wished to meet this holy man famous for his humorous and original way of speaking about God. Among the visitors were King Louis of France, who later became a saint. “And upon arriving at the gate of the friars’ Place as a poor and unknown pilgrim with only a few companions, he asked very earnestly for Brother Giles, without telling the brother porter who it was who was asking for him. So the brother porter went and told Brother Giles that some pilgrim was asking for him at the gate. Now Brother Giles immediately perceived spiritually that it was the King of France. So in great fervour he came out of his cell and quickly ran to the gate. And without asking any questions, though neither had ever seen the other, both of them hastened to embrace each other, kneeling together very devoutly and exchanging an affectionate kiss, as though they had been intimate friends for a long time. Despite all this, they did not say anything to each other, but remained in that embrace, with those gestures of loving friendship, in silence. And after they had stayed in that way for a long time without saying a word, they separated. And St Louis continued on his journey, and Brother Giles went back to his cell. But while King Louis was leaving, a friar asked one of his companions who was the man who had hastened to embrace Brother Giles so affectionately, and the other answered that he was King Louis of France who had wanted to see Brother Giles during his pilgrimage. And after saying this he and the king’s companions rode rapidly away. Now the friars were very sorry that Brother Giles had not said a single word to the King, and they complained to him very much, saying: ‘Oh Brother Giles, how is it that you were unwilling to say anything to such a great King who came from France in order to see you and hear some good words from you?’ Brother Giles answered: ‘Dear brothers, do not be surprised that neither he nor I were able to say anything to each other, because in the moment when we embraced, the light of divine wisdom revealed his heart to me and mine to him. And so by God’s grace we looked into each other’s hearts, and whatever he thought of saying to me or I to him, we heard without sound made by lips and tongue even better than if we had spoken with our lips – and with greater consolation. For if we had wanted to explain with the help of our voices what we felt in our hearts, because of the defect of human language, which cannot clearly express the secret mysteries of God except by mystic symbols, that conversation would have saddened rather than consoled us. And so you should know that the King departed marvellously consoled.’ (Little Flowers, Chap XXXIV p. 122-3).
Brother James dei Settesoli, was present at one of Brother Giles’s joyful sermons and at one of his ecstasies, after the latter had retired to Assisi.
Of Giles Francis said: “God has sent us a good companion”. He died many years after Francis at Monteripido in 1262. Witty to the very end, when the citizens of Perugia were expecting his imminent death so as to give him full honours he sent the following message: “Tell the people of Perugia that they will never ring the city bells for my canonisation or for some miracle of mine…” and they responded: “And even if he is not canonised, we want him all the same” (from the Sayings of the Blessed Giles)
After his death his body was carried into the city and buried in an ancient Roman sarcophagus in the church of San Francesco in Prato… but he was never canonised!

St Bonaventura said of him:
“Among them all the third place belongs to holy father Giles, a man truly inspired by God and worthy of being solemnly remembered. Indeed, he later became very famous for his sublime virtues, just as God’s servant had predicted and, though illiterate and simple, he achieved the highest levels of contemplation. For long periods Giles was incessantly dedicated to mystical ascensions and was rapt into God in such frequent ecstasies that, though he lived in the midst of men, he seemed to lead a life more angelical than human. I was able to see this with my own eyes and for this reason I bear witness to it”. (Leggenda maggiore)