reprinted from Camellia News 165 Winter 2004

St Fiacre in Ross & Jane's garden in Wingham NSW

St Fiacre in Ross & Jane’s garden in Wingham NSW

We met St Fiacre for the first time in the garden of Vi Lort-
Phillips, an International Camellia Society member, in Jersey in the Channel Isles. She is a past President of that Society and has been on many ICS tours worldwide. She had an old wooden statue of the saint sitting on a wall in her garden. She told us about the saint, which made us keen to know more about him.

Our second encounter took place when we were the guests of Annabelle Fetterman, a Director of the ICS. Realising our interest in St Fiacre she introduced us to a friend in Fayetteville, North Carolina, who had a statue of St Fiacre in the bottom of her garden. This friend took us to see an old couple in their large woodland garden where their statue had pride of place, standing on a pedestal among “the trees and camellias.

The third meeting was with a statue of this saint placed outside the Episcopalian (Anglican) Church in the same city with its own small garden around it. Having talked to friends in NSW we were told that the Catholic Church at Urana, a town between Narrandera and Corowa was dedicated to St Fiacre. So we went along and found that a short history of the saint was fixed to the notice board inside the porch.

A few years ago our daughter and her husband were holidaying in Brittany in N W France and on their way back to Cherbourg they carne across a village named St Fiacre. They were able to obtain the key to the 15th century church which has one of the oldest rood screens in the whole of France. He is depicted in monk’s habit with a spade in his right hand and a book, presumably a bible or some other holy book, in his left hand. Having looked up his history I don’t believe that this was a church he founded, but more likely was another church nam  after him. The monastery he founded was situated east of Paris.

Now for his history. He was of noble birth at the end of the 6th century in Ireland. He joined a monastery in Kilkenny which at the time was a place of great learning, including the use of herbs for medicinal purposes. He is said to have performed many miracles. So many people flocked to see him that he wanted to get away to find solitude. He left Ireland in the year AD628 for France. St Faro, the Bishop of Meaux in the province of Brie just east of Paris, allowed him land in nearby Breuil for a hermitage. The Bishop said that he could have the amount of land he was able to dig in one day. Another story goes that he cleared all the brambles, trees and other  plants, walking around the perimeter of the land dragging his staff behind him and where the staff touched, trees fell and bushes were uprooted. A local woman complained to the Bishop that he had cheated, but the Bishop decided it was a miracle and let him keep the land. This garden became a place of pilgrimage for centuries for those seeking healing. After he had completed his chapel, women were forbidden to enter. I fact exclusion of women was a common rule in Irish foundations. Even when Anne of Austria, Queen of France  and mother of Louis XIV, went to pray, she did so outside the chapel. He also built a hospice and a ccll for himself which he surrounded with beautiful gardens, growing many vegetables and herbs for treating the sick. He lived there in the cell alone for the rest of his life, looking after the sick. Besides being the patron saint of gardeners, he was the patron saint of venereal diseases. He died on August 30th 670. Many miracles are said to have taken place before and after his death. His remains were buried in his chapel at Breuil and this is still place of pilgrimage with bodily ailments. They were later removed to the cathedral at Meaux in 1568 due to religious troubles. His feast day is celebrated on September 1st. St Fiacre is also the patron saint of cab drivers. Horse-drawn carriages were first parked outside the Hotel St Fiacre in Paris. These carriages are still called fiacres.

Some years later we received a letter from our friend in Fayetteville sending us an advertisement for a statue of this saint in a catalogue from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We wrote to the museum ordering the statue made of synthetic marble. It arrived safely, very well packed. He now presides over our garden in an area surrounded by rock, standing in an alcove formed by an upturned gully trap which had belonged to Ross ‘ grandfather. When Ross rode his pony to school he left it in his grandfather’s garden and the pony used the gully trap to drink from. It had a cement base put into it so that it would hold water.

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