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For the 15th-century papal legate, see Onofrio de Santa Croce.
Saint Onuphrius
Icon of Onuphrius. Provenance and date unknown.
Died4th or 5th century
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Oriental Orthodox Churches
Eastern Catholic Churches
Feast12 June (Western & Byzantine)
16 Paoni (Departure - Coptic Christianity)[1]
16 Hathor[2] (Consecration of Church - Coptic Christianity)
Attributesold 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[3][4]
Patronageweavers;[3] jurists[5] Centrache, Italy[3]

Onuphrius or Onoufrios (Greek: Ὀνούφριος) lived as a hermit in the desert of Upper Egypt in the 4th or 5th centuries. He is venerated as Saint Onuphrius in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic churches, as Venerable Onuphrius in Eastern Orthodoxy, and as Saint Nofer the Anchorite in Oriental Orthodoxy.[6]

Life and legends[edit]

Onuphrius was one of the Desert Fathers who made a great 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.[7]

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.[6] 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.[8] "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."[8]

The name Onuphrius is thought to be a Hellenized form of a Coptic name Unnufer, ultimately from the Egyptian wnn-nfr meaning "perfect one", or "he who is continually good", an epithet of the god Osiris.[9]

A tradition, not found in Paphnutius' account, states that Onuphrius had studied jurisprudence and philosophy before becoming a monk near Thebes and then a hermit.[5]

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.”[6]

Stone carving above the entrance of the St. Onuphrius Monastery in Akeldama, Jerusalem (Potter's field). The image shows Onuphrius bowing down to an angel. Notable features are his long beard and leaf loincloth.

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.[7] Onuphrius took Paphnutius to his cell, and they spoke until sunset, when bread and water miraculously appeared outside of the hermit's cell.[6]

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."[6] 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.[6]

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.[6]

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."[10]


Onuphrius depicted as a "wild man".

Both the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches traditionally mark his feast day on 12 June.[11] 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.

The legend of Saint Onuphrius was depicted in Pisa's camposanto (monumental cemetery), and in Rome the church Sant'Onofrio was built in his honor on the Janiculan Hill in the fifteenth century.[12]

Antony, the archbishop of Novgorod, writing around 1200 AD, stated that Onuphrius’ head was conserved in the church of Saint Acindinus (Akindinos), Constantinople.[13]

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.[7]

The St. Onuphrius Monastery in Jerusalem is located at the far end of Gai Ben Hinnom, the Gehenna valley of hell, situated within the site of a Jewish cemetery from the Second Temple period. The structure 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[14]) published a broadside named In Praise of the Divine Onuphrius and Other Desert Hermit Saints.[14] Onuphrius was depicted in a 1520 painting by Hans Schäufelein.[15]


Battistello Caracciolo, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome
Fresco of Onuphrius (on left) in the Snake Church.

Images of Saint Onuphrius were conflated with those of the medieval “wild man".[16] In art, he is depicted as a wild man completely covered with hair, wearing a girdle of leaves.[12]

He is depicted at Snake Church (Yilanlı Kilise) in the Göreme valley open-air museum in Cappadocia, Turkey.[17]

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-patron of the city of Palermo in 1650.

Name variants[edit]

His name appears very variously as Onuphrius, Onouphrius, Onofrius and in different languages as 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".[13] Onuphrius and Onofrio are sometimes Anglicized as Humphrey, an unrelated name that is usually given a Germanic etymology.


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.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lives of Saints :: Paona 16". Copticchurch.net. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  2. ^ "Lives of Saints :: Hator 16". Copticchurch.net. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  3. ^ a b c "Saint Onuphrius". Patron Saints Index. 2008-08-04. Archived from the original on 2008-08-04.
  4. ^ Stracke, Richard (2015-10-20). "Saint Onuphrius: The Iconography". Christian Iconography.
  5. ^ a b lüder h niemeyer (2015-10-20). "Onuphrius of Egypt, Patron also of Weavers & Jurists; Cort, Cornelis: Saint Onuphrius with the Rosary".
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Butler, p.94.
  7. ^ a b c ""Venerable Onuphrius the Great", Ukrainian Orthodoxy". Archived from the original on 2008-07-25. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
  8. ^ a b Butler, pp.95-96.
  9. ^ Gardiner, Alan H. (1936). "The Egyptian Origin of Some English Personal Names". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 56 (2): 189–97. doi:10.2307/594666. ISSN 0003-0279. JSTOR 594666 – via JSTOR.
  10. ^ Peter W. Parshall; Rainer Schoch, National Gallery of Art (U.S.); Origins of European Printmaking (Yale University Press, 2005), 318.
  11. ^ "Venerable Onuphrius the Great", Orthodox Church in America
  12. ^ a b Butler, p.96.
  13. ^ a b "Sant' Onofrio su santiebeati.it". Santiebeati.it. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  14. ^ a b Peter W. Parshall; Rainer Schoch, National Gallery of Art (U.S.); Origins of European Printmaking (Yale University Press, 2005), 319.
  15. ^ "Art.com - Bridgeman Collection". www.bridgemanartondemand.com. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  16. ^ National Gallery of Art | Press Office Archived 2008-08-30 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ T.C. Nevşehir Valiliği[permanent dead link]


  • Alban Butler, Paul Burns; Butler’s Lives of the Saints (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000)

External links[edit]