- For the 15th-century papal legate, see Onofrio de Santa Croce.
Icon of Onuphrius. Provenance and date unknown.
|Died||4th or 5th century|
|Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Oriental Orthodox Churches
Eastern Catholic Churches
|Attributes||old hermit dressed only in long hair and a loincloth of leaves; hermit with an angel bringing him the Eucharist or bread; hermit with a crown at his feet|
|Patronage||weavers; jurists Centrache, Italy|
Onuphrius or Onoufrios (Greek: Ὀνούφριος, from Egyptian: Wnn-nfr meaning "he-who-is-continuingly-good"), venerated as Saint Onuphrius in both the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Catholic Churches; Venerable Onuphrius in Eastern Orthodoxy and Saint Nofer the Anchorite in Oriental Orthodoxy, lived as a hermit in the desert of Upper Egypt in the 4th or 5th centuries.
Life and legends
Onophrius was one of the Desert Fathers who made such an impression on Eastern spirituality in the third and fourth centuries, around the time that Christianity was emerging as the dominant faith of the Roman Empire. At this time many Christians were inspired to go out into the desert and live in prayer in the harsh environment of extreme heat and cold, with little to eat and drink, surrounded by all sorts of dangerous animals and robbers.
It is uncertain in which century Onuphrius lived; the account of Paphnutius the Ascetic, who encountered him in the Egyptian desert, forms the sole source for our knowledge of the life of Saint Onuphrius. Even the authorship is uncertain; "Paphnutius", a common name of Egyptian origin in the Upper Thebaid, may refer to Paphnutius of Scetis, a 4th-century abbot of Lower Egypt, rather than Paphnutius the Ascetic. "But Paphnutius the Great [i.e. Paphnutius the Ascetic]," Alban Butler writes, "also had a number of stories to tell of visions and miraculous happenings in the desert, some of them in much the same vein as the story of Onuphrius."
According to Paphnutius’s account, Paphnutius undertook a pilgrimage to study the hermits’ way of life and to determine whether it was for him. Wandering in the desert for 16 days, on the 17th day, Paphnutius came across a wild figure covered in hair, wearing a loincloth of leaves. Frightened, Paphnutius ran away, up a mountain, but the figure called him back, shouting, “Come down to me, man of God, for I am a man also, dwelling in the desert for the love of God.”
Turning back, Paphnutius talked to the wild figure, who introduced himself as Onuphrius and explained that he had once been a monk at a large monastery in the Thebaid but who had now lived as a hermit for 70 years, enduring extreme thirst, hunger, and discomforts. He said that it was his guardian angel who had brought him to this desolate place. Onuphrius took Paphnutius to his cell, and they spoke until sunset, when bread and water miraculously appeared outside of the hermit's cell.
They spent the night in the prayer, and in the morning Paphnutius discovered that Onuphrius was near death. Paphnutius, distressed, asked the hermit if he should occupy Onuphrius’ cell after the hermit’s death, but Onuphrius told him, "That may not be, thy work is in Egypt with thy brethren." Onuphrius asked Paphnutius for there to be a memorial with incense in Egypt in remembrance of the hermit. He then blessed the traveler and died.
Due to the hard and rocky ground, Paphnutius could not dig a hole for a grave, and therefore covered Onuphrius’ body in a cloak, leaving the hermit’s body in a cleft of the rocks. After the burial, Onuphrius’ cell crumbled, which Paphnutius took to be a sign that he should not stay.
One scholar has written that Onuphrius’ life "fits the mold of countless desert hermits or anchorites... [However] despite its predictability, Paphnutius' Life of Onuphrius is marked by several unique details... the years of Onuphrius' youth were passed in a monastery that observed the rule of strict silence; a hind instructed him in Christian rites and liturgy. During his sixty years in the desert, Onuphrius' only visitor was an angel who delivered a Host every Sunday..."
Both the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches traditionally mark his feast day on 12 June. A Life of Onuphrius of later Greek origin states that the saint died on June 11; however, his feast day was celebrated on June 12 in the Eastern Orthodox calendars from an early date.
For several decades Orthodox seminarians in Poland have begun their spiritual training in the monastery of St. Onuphrius in Jablechna. It is said that the saint himself chose the place for it, appearing nearly four hundred years ago to fishermen and leaving them an Icon of himself on the banks of the river Buh.
There is a monastery in Jerusalem dedicated to him. The monastery is located at the far end of Gai Ben Hinnom, the Gehenna valley of hell, further it is situated within the site of a Jewish Second Temple cemetery and is built among and includes many typical burial niches common to that period. The monastery also marks the location of Hakeldama, the purported place where Judas Iscariot hanged himself.
Saint Onuphrius was venerated in Munich, Basel, and southern Germany, and the Basel humanist Sebastian Brant (who named his own son Onuphrius) published a broadside named In Praise of the Divine Onuphrius and Other Desert Hermit Saints. Onuphrius was depicted in a 1520 painting by Hans Schäufelein.
He became the patron saint of weavers due to the fact that he was depicted "dressed only in his own abundant hair, and a loin-cloth of leaves".
He (S. Onofrio) was named co-saint patron of the city of Palermo in 1650.
His name appears very variously as Onuphrius, Onouphrius, Onofrius; and in different languages as Humphrey (English), Onofre (Portuguese, Spanish), Onofrio (Italian), etc. In Arabic, the saint was known as Abū Nufir (Arabic: ابو نفر) or as Nofer (Arabic: نوفر), which, besides being a variant of the name Onuphrius, also means "herbivore."
Sicilians pray to Saint Onuphrius when they have lost something. The prayer has many variants but it generally mentions the miraculous properties of Saint Onuphrius' hair . It is widely accepted that repeating the prayer whilst looking for something like keys, a misplaced ring or anything else, will greatly help in finding it sooner.
- Patron Saints Index: Saint Onuphrius
- lüder h niemeyer: Cornelis Cort, Saint Onuphrius with the Rosary
- See article: Gardiner, A. H. The Origin of Some English Personal Names, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 56, No. 2. (Jun., 1936), pp. 189-197. (JSTOR or Athens login required)[dead link]
- Butler, p.94.
- "Venerable Onuphrius the Great", Ukrainian Orthodoxy
- Butler, pp.95-96.
- Peter W. Parshall; Rainer Schoch, National Gallery of Art (U.S.); Origins of European Printmaking (Yale University Press, 2005), 318.
- Butler, p.96.
- Sant' Onofrio
- Peter W. Parshall; Rainer Schoch, National Gallery of Art (U.S.); Origins of European Printmaking (Yale University Press, 2005), 319.
- St. Onuphrius, c.1520 Print & Canvas Art by Hans Leonard Schaufelein | Fine Art Prints | Canvases | Bridgeman Art on Demand
- National Gallery of Art | Press Office
- T.C. Nevşehir Valiliği
- Alban Butler, Paul Burns; Butler’s Lives of the Saints (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Onuphrius.|
- (Italian) Sant’Onofrio
- (Spanish) San Onofre
- (Spanish) San Onofre
- Saint Onuphrius engraved by a Flemish artist from the De Verda collection
- The Wild Man: Medieval Myth and Symbolism, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Onuphrius (no. 20)