Today, January 4, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Faraildis of Ghent (650 – 740, also known as Saint Pharaildis), patron saint of sick children, cattle, small animals, widows, victims of abuse, and strangely, butter. Saint Faraildis lived a life of quiet devotion to the Lord, despite pressures and physical abuse at the hands of her husband. Saint Faraildis demonstrates perseverance and steadfast hope and faith in the Lord, even in the midst of difficult times. Perhaps there is a lesson there for all of us!
Saint Faraildis’ lineage is somewhat unclear, with historians best estimates that she was daughter to Theodoric, Duke of Lorraine and Saint Amelberga of Maubeuge, and half-sister to Saints Gudula, Reinhildis, Ermentrudis, and Emebertus As per the custom of her times, she was married off by her father to a husband, Guido, when she reached the age of maturity. However, unbeknownst to her father and her new husband, Faraildis had consecrated herself a virgin to the Lord, pledging eternal devotion and earthly chastity. Rather than spend her nights with her husband, Faraildis frequently visited the nearby church, spending her evenings in prayer. Guido, wishing for children, became increasingly jealous of her devotion to the Lord, and angry by her refusal to subjugate herself to him. He eventually became violent, inflicting physical abuse and torment upon her. She withstood all insult with pious dignity, nursing her husband without ill will following an accident that broke his legs. During this time, she ministered to him, and spoke to him of the Lord and salvation, but this only served to infuriate him more.
It is unclear when or how Guido died, but he left Faraildis a widow. From the time of his death, she devoted herself entirely to a humble and simple life, offering daily penance, and spending long hours in prayer. She further became recognized as a holy woman in her town, and was sought out for advice, counsel, and reportedly, miracles. She is said to have led the life of a saintly nun, rising before sunrise each morning and journeying to a nearby monastery for matins.
Saint Faraildis is frequently pictured with loaves of bread, given one of the miracles reported at her intercession. It is told that a poor woman was once begging for bread for her hungry children at a rich home. However, the woman of the home refused to provide, exclaiming, “May Saint Faraildis change the loaves into stone if I have any here!” Per legend, all of the woman’s bread turned to stone, with two still preserved in Ghent as holy relics. Similarly, Saint Faraildis is oftentimes pictured with a goose, whom she is said to have restored to life after it was stolen, killed, cooked, and eaten. Per holy legend, she gathered the remnants of the bird, and it was reanimated and flew.
Saint Faraildis died at the age of ninety, around the time of the Norman invasion. Her relics were carried with the monks of the local church, where they were interred at Ghent. She remains the patron of the city to this day, where a city-wide celebration continues to be held in her honor each feast day.
Daughter of Saint Amalberga and devout niece
of Saint Gertrude, and sister of Saint Gudula,
Despite your desire to consecrate yourself to God
Your parents made you enter into marriage.
On becoming a widow, you lived in prayer.
St Faraildis, pray to Christ for our souls!
Holy Faraildis, pray to God for us.