The Church of Sant’Egidio (Church of St. Giles) is an unusually small parish church (not all that unusually for Rome) that sits on Piazza di Sant’Egidio in the historic neighborhood of Trastevere. I first heard of the church while studying in Rome for a six week program on early church history. One evening I decided I would go the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere for what I thought was evening vespers but was, instead, regular evening prayer for the Society of Sant’Egidio. After evening prayer I was told by an English speaking member of the society that the Society of Sant’Egidio was founded at the Church of Sant’Egidio, the small church behind Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere.
Sant’Egidio (St. Giles)
Much is not known about Sant’Egidio (St. Giles) from when he lived, where he was from, or his connections to Charlemagne. Many sources claim that St. Giles was from Athens, Greece and was the son of King Theodore and Queen Pelagia in the second half of the 7th century. Some sources claim that St. Giles was born and raised in southeastern France in the first half of the 7th century. Other sources believe that St. Giles was born some time in the 8th century or 6th century. Traditional accounts of St. Giles claim that he came from Athens but went to France after performing a miracle and in an attempt to escape the adulation showed on him the Athenians. After leaving Athens St. Giles went to Marseilles, France. He then spent two years with St. Caesarius at Arles. After spending time with St. Caesarius St. Giles became a hermit at the mouth of the Rhone River and later became the abbot of a monastery built by King Flavius, a Gothic King. While abbot St. Giles attracted many disciples and his reputation made it to the ears of Charlemagne who sent for St. Giles for spiritual advice. In confessing to St. Giles Charlemagne did not mention a grave sin he had committed but while St. Giles was saying Mass an angel revealed Charlemagne’s sin. Charlemagne then admitted to his sin and then repented.
St. Giles was a popular Medieval saint who was the patron saint for beggars and cripples and is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. His cult saw its height in Medieval Europe with the cult concentrated in the towns of Languedoc and St-Gilles-du-Gard where his abbey was believed to have been founded in the 7th century. During this time his cult spread throughout Europe particularly in France, Spain, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. His cult fell when his relics were transferred to to Toulouse in 1562 to save them from the Huguenots. His cult regained popularity when his tomb was rediscovered at the abbey of St-Gilles-du-Gard in 1862 and with restoration on his relics to the abbey.
History of Chiesa di Sant’Egidio
The current Church of Sant’Egidio is not the original location of the original 11th century Church of Sant’Egidio. In fact the name Sant’Egidio is not the original name of the 11th century church. The original Church of Sant’Egidio was probably built sometime in the 11th century as the church of San Lorenzo de Curtibus (Ianicolo) during a building program to provide the surviving built-up area with small parish churches. The earliest records of the Medieval church date back to 1123 when San Lorenze de Curtibus was a dependent of Santa Maria in Trastevere. In 1610 the church was in need of repair and the task was given to the wealthy butcher Agostino Lancelotti to repair. After San Lorenzo de Curtibus was restored it was rededicated to Sant’Egidio and given to the Carmelite nuns who started a convent in 1601 at San Lorenzo de Curtibus. Then in 1628 Vittoria Colonna asked Pope Urban VIII to give the Carmelite nuns the Church of Santi Crispino e Crispiniano that was attached to the Church of Sant’Egidio. The Church of Sts. Crispino e Crispiniano was a separate Medieval parish church from the Medieval church of San Lorenzo de Curtibus that was built in 1123 and dedicated to St. Bliagio (St. Blaise). The Church of St. Bliagio was also dependent of Santa Maria in Trastevere. In the second half of the 16th century St. Bliagio was given to the Universita die Calzolari (Gild of Shoemakers). While in the possession of the Universita die Calzolari the church was rededicated to Santi Crispino e Crispiniano. Around 1630 the Carmelite nuns decided to demolish the original Church of Sant’Egidio (former Church of San Lorenzo de Curtibus) and restore the Church of Santi Crispino e Crispiniano (former Church of St. Bliagio). For the restoration of Santi Crispino e Crispiniano the military commander Filippo Colonna gave the marble that the interior of the church as well as paid for the restoration work. After the restoration was completed in 1632 the church was rededicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and to Sant’Egidio. The Carmelite nuns occupied the convent until 1796. In 1875 Sant’Egidio became the property of the City of Rome and housed the “Ettore Marchiafava” sanatorium to treat children with malaria until 1918. From 1969-1973 Sant’Egidio was restored to be the current church and museum complex of Chiesa di Sant’Egidio e Museo di Roma in Trastevere. The museum is dedicated to Roman life during the Papal States.
Society of Sant”Egidio
The center left Community of Sant’Egidio was started by a Roman of the name Andrea Riccardi in 1968 a few years after the completion of Vatican II in 1962 where the Catholic Church addressed it’s relations with the modern world and with Judaism. Andrea Riccardi started the community by gathering high school students to listen to the Gospel, spread the message of the Gospel and to put the teachings into practice. Soon the practice started to spread to other groups of students who began working on behalf of the poor and marginalized, and disabled in Rome. In 1973 the first church community was opened in Trastevere in the Church of Sant’Egidio where the custom of evening prayer was started. In the 1980s the Community of Sant’Egidio established itself in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. The Community now has 50,000 members in 72 countries where they are dedicated to defending human rights, human dignity, peace, and service to the poor and marginalized. The Community of Sant’Egidio was decreed by the Pontifical Council for the Laity to be an international association of the faithful of Pontifical Right on May 18, 1986.
The Community of Sant’Egidio is also well known for their work towards global peace believing that war and conflict is the cause of poverty. With their commitment towards global peace the Community of Sant’Egidio has played the role of mediators in several peace negotiations in Algeria (1995 Sant’Egidio Platform), the Balkans, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in other regions where work towards peace is on going. The Community of Sant’Egidio is well known for the efforts in the Rome General Peace Accords during the Mozambican Civil War in 1990 where FRELIMO and the Mozambican National Resistance agreed on having the Community of Sant’Egidio as the mediators during the Peace Accords.