Former Benedictine abbey and pilgrimage center at the mouth of the Rhone River, in the Diocese of nÎmes, France. The origins are legendary, the tenth-century vita of St. Giles being only a legend. In fact, a monastery decdicated to St. giles, whose relics were there, was founded in the nineth century in place of an old oratory dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul. Pilgrimages, organized at the time of foundation, reached a peak in the 12th century; Saint-Gilles was on the road to santiago de compostela for pilgrimages coming by the Rhone. The abbey became exempt under Benedict VIII (1022–24). Gregory VII had it enter the congregation of cluny in 1066, but left the election of the abbot free. Urban II (1095, 1096), Gelasius II (1118), and Innocent II (1130) visited it as pilgrims. Clement IV (1265–68), a monk of Saint-Gilles, gave it privileges.
The abbey, which had been richly endowed by the counts of Toulouse, found itself involved in the struggle between the Church and these counts during the albigensian war. In 1143 the heretic peter of bruys was burned there; and in 1208 the papal legate peter of castelnau, a Cistercian abbot, was murdered on leaving the town by a follower of the Count of Toulouse, the event that started the war. In 1209 Raymond VI of Toulouse was forced to make amends in the abbey church, whipped by the papal legate Milo as he entered the church naked. The abbey came under the King of France in 1226 and thrived in the 13th century. The town of nine parishes around the abbey was a prosperous port of embarkation for the crusades. Commendatory in 1472, the abbey was made collegiate in 1538. In 1562, after a battle between Protestants and Catholics, the abbey was looted and the monastery burned. The Protestants returned in 1574 and occupied the town until 1622, when they tore down the bell tower. The French Revolution, which suppressed the abbey, brought more ruin.
One visits Saint-Gilles for the beautiful 12th-century façade of the abbey church, modeled after St. Trophime in arles (same date). The façade has a close marriage of motifs of classical architecture and Romanesque motifs. A school of artists from Toulouse did the main portal (Christ in majesty, Passion scenes, Cain and Abel). Sculptors from the Ile-de-France did the side portals, the most beautiful (Adoration of the Magi and Christ's entry into Jerusalem to the left; and to the right the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalen at the feet of Jesus, the holy women going to buy perfumes and at the tomb, and Christ resurrected). A third school, local, did the avant-corps. É. mÂle thinks this iconography comes from the illuminations of Byzantine MSS.
Bibliography: a. fliche, Aigues-Mortes et Saint-Gilles (Paris 1950). e. lambert, Études médiévales, 4 v. (Toulouse 1958). É. mÂle, L'Art religieux au XII e siècle en France (1st ed. Paris 1922). l. h. cottineau, Repértoire topobibliographique des abbayes et prievrés (Macon 1935–39) 2:2716–17.