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Simeon Stylites

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Saint Simeon Stylites
Simeon Stylite Louvre.jpg
6th century depiction of Simeon on his column. Christ is shown at the top in a mandorla, blessing Simeon; the serpent represents demonic temptations (Louvre).
Venerable Father
Born c. 390, Sisan, Cappadocia
Died 2 September 459, Qal at Simân (near Aleppo)
Venerated in Oriental Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Canonized pre-congregation
Feast 1 September (Eastern Orthodox Church)
29 Pashons (Coptic Orthodox Church)
5 January (Western Christianity)
Attributes Clothed as a monk in monastic habit, shown standing on top of his pillar

Saint Simeon Stylites or Symeon the Stylite (Arabic: مار سمعان العموديmār semʕān l-ʕamūdī) (c. 390 – 2 September 459) was a Christian ascetic saint who achieved fame because he lived for 39 years on a small platform on top of a pillar near Aleppo in Syria. Several other stylites later followed his model (the Greek word style means pillar). He is known formally as Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder to distinguish him from Simeon Stylites the Younger and Simeon Stylites III.

Early life

Simeon, who was born at Sisan (probably the current Turkish town of Samandağ) in northern Syria, was the son of a shepherd. [1] With the partition of the Roman Empire in 395, Syria was incorporated in what would become the Byzantine Empire and Christianity grew quickly.

Reportedly under the influence of his mother Martha (who is also a saint), he developed a zeal for Christianity at the age of 13, following a lecture of the Beatitudes. He subjected himself to ever-increasing bodily austerities from an early age, especially fasting, and entered a monastery before the age of 16.

On one occasion, moving nearby, he commenced a severe regimen of fasting for Great Lent and was visited by the head of the monastery, who left him some water and loaves. A number of days later, Simeon was discovered unconscious, with the water and loaves untouched. When he was brought back to the monastery, it was discovered that he had bound his waist with a girdle made of palm fronds so tightly that days of soaking were required to remove the fibres from the wound formed. At this, Simeon was requested to leave the monastery.

He then shut himself up for one and a half years in a hut, where he passed the whole of Lent without eating or drinking. When he emerged from the hut, his achievement was hailed as a miracle.[2] He later took to standing continually upright so long as his limbs would sustain him.

After one and a half years in his hut, Simeon sought a rocky eminence on the slopes of what is now the Sheik Barakat Mountain and compelled himself to remain a prisoner within a narrow space, less than 20 meters in diameter. But crowds of pilgrims invaded the area to seek him out, asking his counsel or his prayers, and leaving him insufficient time for his own devotions. This at last led him to adopt a new way of life.

Atop the pillar

MHS Szymon Slupnik XVI w Kostarowce p

16th-century icon of Simeon Stylites. At the base of the pillar is his mother's body. (Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland).

In order to get away from the ever increasing number of people who frequently came to him for prayers and advice, leaving him little if any time for his private austerities, Simeon discovered a pillar which had survived amongst ruins, formed a small platform at the top, and upon this determined to live out his life. It has been stated that, as he seemed to be unable to avoid escaping the world horizontally, he may have thought it an attempt to try to escape it vertically.

When the monastic Elders living in the desert heard about Simeon, who had chosen a new and strange form of asceticism, they wanted to test him to determine whether his extreme feats were founded in humility or pride. They decided to tell Simeon under obedience to come down from the pillar. If he disobeyed they would forcibly drag him to the ground, but if he was willing to submit, they were to leave him on his pillar. St Simeon displayed complete obedience and humility, and the monks told him to stay where he was.

This first pillar was little more than four meters high, but his well-wishers subsequently replaced it with others, the last in the series being apparently over 15 meters from the ground. At the top of the pillar was a platform, with a baluster, which is believed to have been about one square metre.

According to his hagiography, Simeon would not allow any woman to come near his pillar, not even his own mother, reportedly telling her, "If we are worthy, we shall see one another in the life to come." Martha submitted to this. Remaining in the area, she also embraced the monastic life of silence and prayer. When she died, Simeon asked that her remains be brought to him. He reverently bid farewell to his dead mother, and, according to the account, a smile appeared on her face.

Edward Gibbon in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire describes Simeon's existence as follows:

In this last and lofty station, the Syrian Anachoret resisted the heat of thirty summers, and the cold of as many winters. Habit and exercise instructed him to maintain his dangerous situation without fear or giddiness, and successively to assume the different postures of devotion. He sometimes prayed in an erect attitude, with his outstretched arms in the figure of a cross, but his most familiar practice was that of bending his meagre skeleton from the forehead to the feet; and a curious spectator, after numbering twelve hundred and forty- four repetitions, at length desisted from the endless account. The progress of an ulcer in his thigh might shorten, but it could not disturb, this celestial life; and the patient Hermit expired, without descending from his column.[3]

Even on the highest of his columns, Simeon was not withdrawn from the world. If anything, the new pillar drew even more people, not only the pilgrims who had come earlier but now sightseers as well. Simeon made himself available to these visitors every afternoon. By means of a ladder, visitors were able to ascend, and it is known that he wrote letters, the text of some of which survived to this day, that he instructed disciples, and that he also delivered addresses to those assembled beneath, preaching especially against profanity and usury.

In contrast to the extreme austerity that he demanded of himself, his preaching conveyed temperance and compassion, and was marked with common sense and freedom from fanaticism.

Fame, final years and legacy

Column of Simeon Syria

Ruins of the Church of Saint Simeon with remains of his column (centre, now topped with boulder), Syria.

Simeon's fame spread throughout the Empire. The Emperor Theodosius and his wife Eudocia greatly respected the saint and listened to his counsels, while the Emperor Leo paid respectful attention to a letter he sent in favour of the Council of Chalcedon. Simeon is also said to have corresponded with St Genevieve of Paris.

Simeon became so influential that a church delegation was sent to him to demand that he descend from his pillar as a sign of submission. When, however, he showed himself willing to comply, the request was withdrawn. Once when he was ill, Theodosius sent three bishops to beg him to come down and allow himself to be attended by physicians, but Simeon preferred to leave his cure in the hands of God, and before long he recovered.

After spending 39 years on his pillar, Simeon died on 2 September 459. He inspired many imitators, and, for the next century, ascetics living on pillars, stylites, were a common sight throughout the Byzantine Levant.

He is commemorated as a saint in the Coptic Orthodox Church, where his feast is on 29 Pashons. He is commemorated 1 September by the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches, and 5 January in the Roman Catholic Church.

A contest arose between Antioch and Constantinople for the possession of Simeon's remains. The preference was given to Antioch, and the greater part of his relics were left there as a protection to the unwalled city.

The ruins of the vast edifice erected in his honour and known in Arabic as the Qal at Simân ("the Mansion of Simeon") can still be seen. They are located about 30 km northwest of Aleppo (36°20′03″N 36°50′38″E / 36.33417°N 36.84389°E / 36.33417; 36.84389Coordinates: 36°20′03″N 36°50′38″E / 36.33417°N 36.84389°E / 36.33417; 36.84389) and consist of four basilicas built out from an octagonal court towards the four points of the compass to form a large cross. In the centre of the court stands the base of the style or column on which St. Simeon stood.

Cultural references

W.E.F. Britten - Alfred, Lord Tennyson - St. Simeon Stylites

A 1901 illustration by W. E. F. Britten for Alfred Tennyson's St. Simeon Stylites.       "And yet I know not well,
For that the evil ones come here, and say,
'Fall down, O Simeon; thou hast suffered long
For ages and for ages!'"

Alfred Tennyson's poem "St. Simeon Stylites" (1842) dramatizes the story of Saint Simeon.

Luis Buñuel's film Simón del desierto (1965) is loosely based on the story of Saint Simeon.


  1. Bertaina, David (Summer 2008). "Saint Simeon the Stylite". Sophia (The Eparchy of Newton for the Melkite Greek Catholics) 38 (3): 32. ISSN: 0194-7958. 
  2. Frederick Lent. The Life of St. Simeon Stylites. [1]."
  3. Edward Gibbon. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Volume 4. Chapter XXXVII: "Conversion Of The Barbarians To Christianity."

External links and sources

ca:Simeó Estilita el Vellet:Siimeon (sambapühak)hu:Szümeón Sztülitészpt:Simeão Estilita, o Antigo ru:Симеон Столпник sr:Симеон Столпник Старији fi:Simeon Styliitta sv:Symeon styliten uk:Симеон Стовпник

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