Saint of the Day – 4 January – Saint Pharaildis of Ghent (c 650-c 740) Virgin, although married, she remained a virgin during her marriage, apostle of charity, miracle-worker. Born in c 650 in Ghent, Belgium and died in c 740 of natural causes. Patronages – against childhood diseases, of toothache, difficult marriages, poultry, victims of abuse, widows, Ghent, Belgium, Smetlede, Belgium, Bruay, France. Also known as – Farahilde, Farailde, Pharaild, Pharailde, Pherailde, Vareide, Varelde, Veerhilde, Veerle, Verylde. The name of this Saint, very popular in Flanders, varies according to the various local dialects.
The Roman Martyrology states: ”In Bruay-sur-l’Escaut near Valencienne nell’Artois in Neustria, in modern-day ||Belgium, Saint Pharaildis, widow, who, forced to marry a violent man, is said to have embraced a life of prayer and austerity until old age.”
A native of a noble Belgium family, Pharaildis was the daughter of the Duke of Lotharingia called Witger and St Amalberga of Maubeuge. Her sister was Saint Gudule (c 646-c 700) and they were nieces of Saint Gertrude of Nivelles (c 628- 659).
After making a private vow of virginity, Pharaildis was given in marriage against her will, to a noble and rich suitor who treated her brutally, perhaps because she, who had consecrated her virginity to God, preferred to spend the nights in prayer in the Churches of the City rather than in the nuptial bed.
When Pharaildis was widowed, she was still a virgin and dedicated herself to charity.
Pharaildis is often depicted with a loaf or loaves of bread, in memory of one of her miracles, when she turned the loaves, into stone, that a miserly woman had refused to give to a beggar. She is also invoked by mothers concerned about their children’s health and against toothache.
A legend has it that to water thirsty reapers, Pharaildis made a spring gush out, whose waters were considered therapeutic.
The cult of Pharaildis has been documented as early as the eighth century. About the year 754, Agilfrid, Abbot of Saint Bavo’s Abbey, acquired her relics and brought them to Ghent. , where her feast is celebrated today.