Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Stylites)
Icon of Simeon Stylites the Elder with Simeon Stylites the Younger. Simeon the Elder appears to be shown at the left stepping down from his pillar in obedience to the monastic elders; the image may also reference a point in his life when, due to an ulcerous leg, he was forced to stand atop his pillar on one leg only.[1] At right is represented Simeon Stylites the Younger (also known as 'St. Simeon of the Admirable Mountain').

A stylite (Ancient Greek: στυλίτης (stylitēs) 'pillar dweller', derived from στῦλος (stȳlos) 'pillar' and Classical Syriac: ܐܣܛܘܢܝܐ (ʼasṯonáyé)) or pillar-saint is a type of Christian ascetic who lives on pillars, preaching, fasting and praying. Stylites believe that the mortification of their bodies would help ensure the salvation of their souls. Stylites were common in the early days of the Byzantine Empire. The first known stylite was Simeon Stylites the Elder who climbed a pillar in Syria in 423 and remained there until his death 37 years later.

Ascetic precedents[edit]

Palladius of Galatia tells of Elpidius, a hermit from Cappadocia who dwelt in a mountaintop cave outside of Jericho for twenty-five years until his death, eating only on Saturdays and Sundays and standing up worshiping throughout the night.[1] St. Gregory of Nazianzus speaks of a solitary who stood upright for many years together, absorbed in contemplation, without ever lying down. Theodoret claimed that he had seen a hermit who had passed ten years in a tub suspended in midair from poles.[2]

Simeon Stylites and his contemporaries[edit]

In 423 Simeon Stylites the Elder took up his abode on the top of a pillar. Critics have recalled a passage in Lucian (De Syria Dea, chapters 28 and 29) which speaks of a high column at Hierapolis Bambyce to the top of which a man ascended twice a year and spent a week in converse with the gods, but according to Herbert Thurston, scholars think it unlikely that Simeon had derived any suggestion from this pagan custom, which had died out before his time.[2]

In any case Simeon had a continuous series of imitators, particularly in Syria and Palestine. Daniel the Stylite may have been the first of these, for he had been a disciple of Simeon and began his rigorous way of life shortly after his master died. Daniel was a Syrian by birth but he established himself near Constantinople, where he was visited by both the Emperor Leo and the Emperor Zeno. Simeon the Younger, like his namesake, lived near Antioch; he died in 596, and had for a contemporary a hardly less famous Stylite, Saint Alypius, whose pillar had been erected near Hadrianopolis in Paphlagonia. In the mythology, Alypius, after standing upright for 53 years, found his feet no longer able to support him, but instead of descending from his pillar lay down on his side and spent the remaining fourteen years of his life in that position.[2] Roger Collins, in his Early Medieval Europe, tells that, in some cases, two or more pillar saints of differing theological viewpoints could find themselves within calling distance of each other and would argue with one another from their columns.[3]

Other stylites[edit]

This tower in Um er-Rasas, Jordan, has been interpreted as a stylite column.

Daniel the Stylite (c. 409-493) lived on his pillar for 33 years after being blessed by and receiving the cowl of St. Simeon the Stylite.

There were many others besides these who were not so famous, and even female stylites are known to have existed. One or two isolated attempts seem to have been made to introduce this form of asceticism into the West, but it met with little favour. Wulflaich was a Lombard deacon who, according to Gregory of Tours, chose to live as a stylite in the diocese of Trier during the episcopate of Magneric (before 587) and the reign of King Childebert II (576-596).[4]

In the East, cases were found as late as the 12th century; in the Russian Orthodox Church, the practice continued until 1461 and among the Ruthenians even later. For the majority of the pillar hermits the extreme austerity of the lives of the Simeons and of Alypius was somewhat mitigated. Upon the summit of some of the columns a tiny hut was erected as a shelter against sun and rain, and other hermits of the same class among the Miaphysites lived inside a hollow pillar rather than upon it. Nonetheless, the life was one of extraordinary endurance and privation.

In recent centuries this form of monastic asceticism has become virtually extinct. However, in modern-day Georgia, Maxime Qavtaradze, a monk of the Orthodox Church, has lived on top of Katskhi Pillar for 20 years, coming down only twice a week. This pillar is a natural rock formation jutting upward from the ground to a height of approximately one hundred and forty feet. Evidence of use by stylites as late as the 15th century has been found on the top of the rock.[5] With the aid of local villagers and the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, Qavtaradze restored the 1,200-year-old monastic chapel at the top of the rock. A film documentary on the project was completed in 2013.[6]

Popular culture[edit]


Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote an 1841 poem "St Simeon Stylites", illustrated here by W. E. F. Britten.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Palladius of Galatia (1918). The Lausiac History of Palladius. trans., W. K. Lowther Clarke. The Macmillan Company. pp. 154–155. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Thurston, Herbert. "Stylites (Pillar Saints)." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 9 December 2021 Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ Collins, Roger (2007). Early Medieval Europe, 300-1000. Bloomsbury. p. 77. ISBN 9781137014283. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  4. ^ Franz Xaver Kraus (1898), "Wulflaich", Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (in German), vol. 44, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 286–287
  5. ^ Bardzimashvili, Temo. "Georgian Monk Builds Stairway to Heaven", eurasianet, August 27, 2010
  6. ^ "Upon this Rock (2013) - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  7. ^ Gutenberg website, Moby Dick, Chapter 35 Public domain
  8. ^ Gutenberg website, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Chapter 22Public domain
  9. ^ The Criterion Collection website, Simon of the Desert
  10. ^ University of Tennesseev (Knoxville) website, A Study of the Thaïs Legend with Focus on the Novel by Anatole France, by Sidney Douglas Engle (2006)
  11. ^ Barnes and Noble website, Two For Joy
  12. ^ Adams, Douglas (1993). Mostly Harmless. London: Heinemann. pp. 79–84. ISBN 0-330-32311-3.