"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Sts. Giles of Athens and Bernard of Clairvaux: Patron Saints of Nursing Mothers

St. Giles of Athens
St. Giles of Athens (Greek, hermit, abbot in France, c. 650-724) was a hermit in Southern France in the late 7th to early 8th century. He is the patron saint of the handicapped, childhood fears, convulsions, and depression. In medieval art, he is depicted with his symbol, a hind (female deer) and an arrow. Legend says that he survived many years living solely on wild roots, herbs and on the milk from the hind. One day, he was accidentally shot in the knee by an arrow from the King’s hunters that was meant for the deer. The saint welcomed it and refused to have the disabled knee treated. The King greatly esteemed the holy hermit and gave him land on which to build a monastery which became the large and flourishing Abbey of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard. Besides being the patron saint of the handicapped, he is also patron saint of breastfeeding and nursing mothers.

In 1630, the church of Sant'Egidio in Trastevere in Rome was dedicated to him, and which since 1968 has housed the lay Community of Sant'Egidio. Besides Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, nineteen other cities bear his name. Cities that possess relics of St. Giles include Saint-Gilles, Toulouse and many other French cities, including Antwerp, Brugge and Tournai in Belgium, Cologne and Bamberg in Germany (known as Egidien), Rome and Bologna in Italy, Prague in the Czech Republic, and Esztergom in Hungary. Giles is also the patron saint of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, where St. Giles' High Kirk is a prominent landmark. He is also the patron saint of Graz, Nuremberg, Osnabrück, Sankt Gilgen, Brunswick, Wollaberg, Saint-Gilles (Brussels Capital Region) and Saint-Gillis-Waas. His feast day is 1 September.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

The Lactation of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. 
Virgin Mary is shooting milk into the eye of 
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux from her left breast. 
Bernard described this miraculous healing 
of an eye affliction himself in the 12th century.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, like St. Giles, has been oddly associated with breastfeeding too. There has been a proliferation of medieval paintings of his miraculous vision dubbed as 'The Lactation of St. Bernard of Clairvaux' with the Blessed Virgin Mary squirting milk into his mouth or eyes while she was nursing the infant Jesus. This was in response to Bernard's request, “Show me that you are a human mother.” As always throughout human history the Blessed Virgin would intervene in destroying heresies that attack her son's divine and human natures. In a puzzling manner, she demonstrated to St. Bernard that she did in fact produce breast milk as proof that Christ required basic human nourishment, through breastfeeding, just like any other child. St. Bernard got a dose of his own medicine, so to speak. He did not only perceive conceptually Jesus' human nature, he also physically savoured it. Some of the milk fell into his eyes which, as the saint himself once described, got healed from an eye malady. This is a long standing practice of using breastmilk, which is rich in natural antibiotics, to cure the baby of various skin and eye ailments before the advent of modern medicine. Fr. JM Manzano, SJ