One of the original companions of St. Francis
Aegidius of Assisi, BLESSED, 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. "The 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 labor 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 familiar "Dicta" or "Sayings" of Aegidius, which have often been edited in Latin and translated into different languages. St. Bonaventure held these "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 Spruche", by Gisbert Minge (Paderborn, 1905).