The Patron Saint of Gardeners
By Leona Woodring Smith
So many public and even private gardens have a secluded spot reserved for a statue of St. Francis that many people mistakenly believe Francis of Assisi to be the patron saint of gardeners. Actually, that distinction rightly goes to an Irish monk by the name of Fiacre.
The Roman Catholic Church has deemed August 30 as the feast day of Saint Fiacre. Europeans, who have recognized Fiacre as the patron saint of gardeners since the Middle Ages, celebrate this day with special masses, floral processions and pilgrimages. In France, special floats of elaborate floral arrangements make their way down flower petal-covered streets. In Ireland, citizens sing hymns written in Fiacre's honor.
Although his feast day is not officially celebrated in the United States, statues of Saint Fiacre can be found in many gardens and museums, including Cypress Gardens in Florida and The Cloisters at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
St. Fiacre was born in Ireland and raised in a monastery. Much of mankind's learning and knowledge was brought to the monasteries and left in the care and protection of the monks. Travelers brought seeds and plant material, as well as cultural enlightenment from as far away as Rome and the Holy Land. St. Fiacre's days at the monastery taught him a deep love of silence, the joys of planting and harvesting crops and an appreciation of nature. Drawn to the religious life and the desire to serve God in solitude, Fiacre decided to establish a hermitage for worship. He traveled south and chose a wooded area by the Nore River for his home, with a cave for meditation, a well for drinking water and the river for bathing.
Monks in those days were regarded as physicians of the body as well as the soul. Soon people were flocking to Fiacre for prayers, food and healing. He fed the hungry and healed the sick with herbs from his garden and prayed for all who came there. Longing for solitude for his worship, Fiacre traveled to France where the Bishop of Meaux granted him land in a wooded area near the Marne River. He built a hut near a well, clearing space for his garden of vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs.
The first miracle attributed to Fiacre, which later became cause for his sainthood, occurred when he asked for additional ground for his garden from the local Bishop. The Bishop Faro told Fiacre he could have as much land as he could entrench in one day. According to legend, the next morning Fiacre merely dragged his spade across the ground, causing trees to topple and bushes to be uprooted. Word of this miracle spread and people flocked to him for food, healing and spiritual guidance.
Thus was established St. Fiacre's famous monastery where he welcomed all who sought his counsel and healing. A culinary garden that fed the poor, a physick garden that cured the sick, a flower garden and an herb garden occupied the expanse of property surrounding the monastery.
Even after his death around 670 A.D., people continued to visit the monastery and, as legend would have it, receive physical and spiritual healing. To this day crowds visit St. Fiacre's shrine, where his relics are still believed to contain healing powers.
Boerner Botanical Gardens
9400 Boerner Drive, Hales Corners, WI 53130