It’s a pity there are no streets named for Saint Giles in L.A.; he’s an attractive character.
His chief visual attribute derives from the animal-lover’s legend that there was a hind who was his dear friend (yes, sorry, that was intentional), and who nourished him with her milk.
Giles was living the hermit’s life off in a cave, and the hind was his only visitor. One day a royal hunting party spied the hind and followed her to the mouth of the cave. They fired an arrow into the cave, but the arrow struck Giles’ hand rather than his hind, as he protected the latter with the former.
The iconic depiction of this event transposes us from the interior of the cave to just outside where, in a composition not unintentionally echoing the Nativity, the king kneels before Saint Giles as he shelters his hind.
The Medieval mind would find much there to contemplate, ambling from Giles’ cave to Bethlehem and back.
But another of Giles’ legend attracts, for it connects (at least in my rambling mind) to some of what I’ve experienced during the months that All the Saints has been on display at the Autry Museum, here in Los Angeles.
We designed an alcove in which two of my paintings are displayed as though they were in a small chapel; there is a shelf on the side wall with a pen and little cards that feature the All the Saints frame; visitors are invited to write on these and leave them on the community altar.
They speak to a wide range of concerns people harbor, from jobs and healthcare to the war in Iraq (sounds like the election, doesn’t it?); but they do so, almost every time, on a personal, intimate level that evokes a person’s real and troubled soul.
Some of the most charming are written in a child’s hand; many express grief over a lost pet – Giles would understand, I’m sure.
But I mentioned another legend about today’s saint: it is known as “The Mass of Saint Giles” and was depicted in Van Eyckian detail by the artist known as the Master of Saint Giles. Supposedly, Charlemagne had committed a sin of which he was so ashamed that he could not being himself to utter it in confession. An angel delievered a note describing the confessed sin to Saint Giles as he was conducting mass: the sin was forgiven.
While the legend may convey several important lessons – no sin is unforgiveable, even great people are capable of great error – it also underscores the benefit that can be derived from getting something troubling out of your head and onto a scrap of paper (Ah! the benefits of writing!) and setting it out there, anonymously perhaps.
On some level I like to think this community chapel installation in my exhibition addresses this need; and in so doing, it levels the playing field by showing how similar we all are in our hearts’ core.