As someone who loves flowers, gardens, and all things nature (okay, maybe not so much some bugs), I’ve been acquainted with the patron saint of gardeners, St. Fiacre, for years. However, I didn’t know much else besides who the patron saint was. Want to learn a bit more about this inspiring seventh-century Irish saint who is somewhat obscure to non-gardeners, too?
Who was St. Fiacre?
There are actually three Irish saints named Fiacre. This particular St. Fiacre is known as St. Fiacre of Breuil (France). He was born towards the end of the sixth century and was raised in an Irish monastery in County Kilkenny. He stayed at that monastery until his fame got in the way of his desire for solitude and departed for France. He also had a sister who is also a canonized saint: St. Syra of Troyes. She followed his lead and left Ireland for France where she lived the rest of her life.
An Irishman who is the patron of a French town
While it may seem strange that an Irishman is the patron saint of a French town, it’s not unusual for non-natives to become patrons of the place where they either spent the majority of their ministries or lives. Just look at St. Patrick. He’s the patron saint of Ireland yet he wasn’t actually Irish himself! Like St. Patrick, St. Fiacre is the patron of a foreign land because that is where he lived out the last couple of years of his life. In fact, the town of which he is patron of sprung up around the site of his cell and oratory that he built in the forest.
Better than Paul Bunyan
Legend has it that St. Faro, who was the Bishop of Meaux, France—where St. Fiacre landed—gave St. Fiacre land in the forest in Breuil (in the French province of Brie) to build a home for himself. St. Faro told him he could take as much land as he was able to clear in a day’s time. Instead of using a plough to do the work, St. Fiacre simply outlined the perimeters of the area he wanted with the top of the soil with the point of his staff. The area immediately cleared with trees falling and shrubbery uprooting. He then made himself a cell with a garden attached to it. He also built an oratory in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a hospice for travelers with the boundaries of his land.
St. Fiacre was known for his vast knowledge of herbs and their healing properties. That’s part of the reason why he became so well known in Ireland. In France, he grew his own herb and vegetable gardens, which is part of why he is now the patron saint of gardeners; he used what he grew to help others who were sick. His garden was visited by pilgrims even after his death because of its miraculous properties. A garden built in his honor at the Irish National Stud and Garden in County Kildare, Ireland has been a popular destination since its inception in 1999.
Not only did he have a knowledge of medicinal plants (much like St. Hildegard von Bingen), he also had a gift of healing. Sometimes all he had to do was lay his hands on the person and they would be healed. Even long after his death, there were (and probably continue to be) testimonies of his intercession in healing the maladies of countless people. Most famously, Anne of Austria who credited the saint with the recovery of Louis XIII who had been gravely ill, nearly a millennia after St. Fiacre’s death.
The patron saint of taxi drivers?!
Yes, you read that right. Despite having lived centuries before the invention of automobiles, St. Fiacre is known as one of the patron saints of taxi drivers, especially those in Paris. French taxis are even called “fiacres” after the saint because a hotel (also named after the saint; Saint-Fiacre in Rue St-Martin, Paris) was the first to hire out coaches in the seventeenth century. The drivers eventually adopted the saint as their patron.
These facts only scratch the surface of the life and legacy of this underrated saint. If you’re a fellow anthophile (lover of flowers), Hibernophile (lover of Ireland and Irish culture), or are looking for a new heavenly friend, you can’t go wrong with getting to know St. Fiacre a little better.
Featured image: Wikimedia commons.