Giles, one of the first followers of St. Francis, was a simple and prayerful man.
Giles the farmer distributed his goods to the poor and became one of Francis’ first disciples on April 23, 1208. He introduced Giles to the others saying, "Here is a good brother God has sent us! Let us sit down to table and celebrate his coming."
Early in his life as a Franciscan, Giles went on pilgrimages to Rome, to the Holy Land and to the famous shrine of St. James at Compostela, Spain. His 1219 preaching mission to the Muslims of Tunis was cut short when Christians there, fearing he would cause trouble for them, put him on the boat back to Italy. Giles then worked several years as a day-laborer. In 1234 he moved to Monte Ripido near Perugia to pursue a contemplative life. Giles lived there until his death.
Giles always worked for his daily bread even if he was a guest someplace. Once when he was staying with a cardinal, the morning brought a hard rain. The cardinal happily thought that Giles would miss a day’s work and have to accept his charity. The ingenious friar, however, went to the kitchen of the palace and spent the day helping the cook clean it and prepare the evening meal!
When St. Bonaventure came to Perugia, Giles asked him if an ignorant person could love God as much as a scholar. Bonaventure, one of the leading theologians from the University of Paris and at the time minister general of the friars, responded, "A little old woman can love God even more than a master of theology." Giles immediately ran out, met an old woman and told her, "O poor little old woman, though you are simple and uneducated, just love the Lord God and you can be greater than Brother Bonaventure."
Pope Gregory IX, the former Cardinal Hugolino and a great admirer of St. Francis, once brought Giles to Viterbo in order to experience his holiness firsthand. They began speaking of heaven, and Giles twice went into ecstasy for long periods of time. The pope was convinced. Another time the pope asked Giles for some advice about fulfilling his duties as pope. Giles told him that he should have two eyes in his soul: one to contemplate heavenly things and the other to direct earthly things. As the pope and Bonaventure agreed, Giles was a master of the spiritual life. The Golden Sayings of Brother Giles records some of his most memorable quotes.
One of the last of Francis’ early followers to die, Giles denounced any relaxation of discipline in the Rule of St. Francis. He was particularly worried that some of the young friars being educated at the University of Paris would develop the intellectual pride so foreign to St. Francis. Giles was beatified in 1777.