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Saint Fiacre of Breuil

The following story appeared in the August 26 Idaho Catholic Register.

By Emily Woodham

Staff Writer

Although statues of St. Francis of Assisi can be found in gardens worldwide, the real patron saint of gardeners is St. Fiacre of Breuil. Large, days-long festivals for St. Fiacre are still observed in France and Belgium. However, few in the United States have heard of him.

St. Fiacre was born about 600 A.D. Some say he was born in Ireland and raised in a monastery. Others say he and his sister, St. Syra, came from a royal Scottish family and that he was later sent to a monastery for his education. (His sister was placed under the tutelage of St. Conon, Bishop of Lodore.)

Fiacre was gifted in gardening and in his understanding of medicinal plants. However, his greatest love was for Christ and His Church. He was ordained a priest and then became an Abbot.

News quickly spread about his wisdom and expertise in medicine. Many came to him seeking help. Exasperated that he could not find time alone for prayer and silence, he decided to go to France, arriving in Meaux in 628.

Because the Bishop of Meaux, St. Faro, had a good relationship with St. Columbanus and other Irish missionaries, he welcomed Fiacre with open arms. He gave Fiacre land in an area of the village of Brogillum (later named, “Breuil,” currently named, “Saint-Fiacre”). However, Faro made one condition to the donation of land: Fiacre could have only the land that he could till in one day.

According to legend, Fiacre prayed and then used the end of his staff to till a remarkable piece of property for his hermitage, oratory and gardens. A woman noticed rocks

and trees leaping out of his way as he easily turned up huge weeds and brush. The woman ran to Bishop Faro and complained that Fiacre was a sorcerer, using the devil’s power to make furrows.

Upon hearing the woman’s complaint, Bishop Faro went to observe Fiacre. He witnessed Fiacre peacefully turning up the land as he prayed. The bishop knew Fiacre’s work was miraculous, not evil.

Fiacre established a hermitage with a hostel for travelers. He also built an oratory to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He preferred to spend time alone praying and gardening, but, once again, his fame for healing and wisdom spread.

Men wanted to join him in religious life, and the hermitage grew into a large monastery. People came from all over Europe to listen to him teach and to receive healing. His bounteous gardens produced huge amounts of food, which he used to feed the brothers, travelers and the poor. Although most healings came from his expertise with medicinal plants, he also took time to lay hands on and pray over people.

Some say he refused to allow women inside the enclosure of the monastery because of the woman who falsely accused him to Bishop Faro. However, excluding women was common practice for monasteries that wanted to live with integrity and avoid temptations.

Another historical rumor says he refused to heal women, but this also seems false. The stories that survive don’t give any indication that he refused anyone help. In fact, he had a very close relationship with his sister, Syra, who came with several friends to join him in the early 630s. His kindness to his sister and her companions indicates that he was not a misogynist.

Syra became friends with Bishop Faro’s sister. They began a convent not far from Fiacre’s monastery.

Visitors to Fiacre’s monastery began taking seeds to him from their home-lands, which he planted and tended. This made his gardens famous for their rich variety.

Instead of fleeing again from the crowds who sought his help, Fiacre resigned himself to his call to minister to others. It is believed that he contracted leprosy while caring for lepers who came to him for healing. He died from leprosy on August 18, 670.

His grave quickly became a pilgrimage site, especially for those seeking healing. His fame for healing and for helping gardeners continued for centuries.

He became the patron saint of those with hemorrhoids from an old legend that said he once sat on an old millstone that instantly became soft for his comfort. From then on, any who had hemorrhoids could sit on the same stone and be healed. (In the Middle Ages, hemorrhoids were called “St. Fiacre’s Figs.”)

Famously, in the 17th century, his intercessions helped Anne of Austria, the wife of King Louis XIII of France. She had a strong devotion to St. Fiacre and sought his help when her husband was seriously ill. When Louis recovered, she went on a pilgrimage to St. Fiacre’s shrine in thanksgiving for the miracle. She also credited St. Fiacre’s intercessions when at 37 and after 20 years of being unable to carry a pregnancy to term, she became pregnant and gave birth to Louis XIV. (Some historians joke that the gardens at Versailles were so lush because of the royal family’s devotion to St. Fiacre.)

Also in the 17th century, the Hotel de Saint Fiacre in Paris had small carriages that people could rent. The carriages became known as “Fiacre cabs.” Soon, St. Fiacre became the patron saint of cab drivers.

St. Fiacre is the patron saint of gardeners, the sick, those with hemorrhoids and cab drivers. His feast day is celebrated on different days. In France and Ireland, it is celebrated on August 30. In other countries, it is September 1.

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