previous next


31. STYLITES (Συμεώνης Στυλίτης), the PILLAR-SAINT, a celebrated ascetic of the fifth century, who derived his distinguishing epithet from the pillar on which he passed a considerable part of his life. He was the first of a tolerably numerous class of " Pillar-saints" or " Stylites." He was born at the village of Sisan, on the confines of Syria and Cilicia, about A. D. 388, according to Tillemont, whose dates we follow. After leading an ascetic life for many years in various monasteries and solitary places, he resolved to take his stand on a pillar or pedestal, in order to escape from the honour paid him by men, according to the testimony of Theodoret, though it is not so easy to see how so conspicuous a position consisted with the modesty ascribed to him by that writer. This was in A. D. 423. At first his pillar was only six cubits, or nine feet high; it then rose to twelve cubits, then to twenty-two; and when Theodoret wrote, which was in Symeon's lifetime, it was thirty-six cubits, or fifty-four feet high; " for," adds Theodoret, " he desires to touch heaven, and to be released from all communication with earthly things." The circumference of his column is stated by Evagrius to have been two cubits, or three feet, the height forty, which is, perhaps, only a round number for the thirty-six of Theodoret.

This proceeding of the saint, however admired by some, incurred the reprehension of others, to whom Theodoret thought it necessary to reply by referring to certain symbolical actions of the Old Testament prophets. The saint's proceeding was, however, so far in conformity to Oriental sentiments, and appealed so strongly to Oriental feelings, that it led to the conversion of many hundred heathens, Persians, Armenians, and Iberians, who would probably have resisted a more rational mode of argument. Tribes, apparently of Bedouin Arabs, contended for the blessing of the holy man. and were near coming to blows in their jealous rivalry. The gifts of working miracles and of prophesying are claimed for him by Theodoret, who professes to have been an eye and ear witness of their exercise. In this extraordinary manner he passed the last thirty-seven years of his life, attracting the reverence alike of believers and unbelievers.

Symeon died about A. D. 460 according to Tillemont, Theophanes, and Cedrenus. His body was brought to Antioch. The emperor Leo proposed to remove it to Constantinople, but yielded to the entreaties of the people of Antioch that it should remain among them. His relics were held in high esteem.

The abode of Symeon before and after his ascent of the column, was locally called Mandra (whence he sometimes bore the name of Mandrita), and was distant, according to Evagrius, three hundred stadia, nearly thirty-five miles from Antioch. The piety of his admirers subsequently erected a church or monastery on the spot, in the midst of which was a richly ornamented court, open to the sky, and enclosing the column on which he had passed his days. The Western Church commemorates this saint on January 5th, the Greek Church on September 1st.

The history of this extraordinary man is worthy of attention, whether as showing what the human frame may be brought to endure, or as the most remarkable page in the remarkable history of ascetic observance, or as illustrating the religious views and spirit of his age and country. Most writers who touch on the history of the period speak of Symeon. The fullest account is given by Theodoret (Philotheus s. Religiosa Historia, 100.26), and Evagrius (H. E. 1.13, 14. 2.9, 10). Something may be gleaned from the fragments of Theodore Lector (H. E. 1.12. 2.42). The three lives, given in a Latin version by Bollandus (Acta Sanctor. January. vol. i. p. 264, &c.), of which the first and second are ascribed, but we think on very uncertain ground, to Symeon's disciple Antonius, and the third to Symeon Metaphrastes, are of little value. (See also Chron. Paschal. p. 321, ed. Paris, p. 256, ed. Venice; vol. i. p. 593, ed. Bonn; Theophan. Chronog. ad A. M. 5952, 53, p. 96, ed. Paris, p. 77, ed. Venice, and vol. i. pp. 173, 174, ed. Bonn; Cedren. Compend. pp. 340, 341, 347, 348, ed. Paris, and vol. i. pp. 596-598, and 609, ed. Bonn; Nicephorus Callisti, H. E. 14.51, 15.13 ; and, among modern writers, Baronius, Annal. Eccles. ad ann. 420, xxviii., 432, xlii. li. lii., 436, xii., 451, cliii., 455, xix., 458, xviii., 460, xvii. xviii., 465, xxxiv., cum Critice Pagii ; Tillemont, Mém. vol. xv. p. 347, &c., and notes, p. 879, &c.; Cave, Hist. Litt. ad ann. 448, vol. i. p. 438; Fabricius, Biblioth. Graec. vol. x. p. 522, &c., and Allatius, De Symeon. Scriptis, p. 6, &c.)


It is known that Symeon wrote several pieces :


relating to the restitution of the Jewish synagogues; a proof, unhappily, that a clear perception of right and wrong is not to be enumerated among our saint's excellences. (Evag. H. E. 1.13; Nicephor. l.c.) This letter is not extant.


concerning her return to the church. A short extract from this is preserved by Nicephorus Callisti (H. E. 15.13).

3. Πρὸς Λέοντα τὸν αὐτοκράτορα ἐπιστολή,

on the election of Timotheus Aelurus, and the authority of the Council of Chalcedon; mentioned by Evagrius (H. E. 2.10. Comp. Phot. Biblioth. cod. 229).

4. Πρὸς Βασίλειον ἐπισκοποῦντα τοῦ Ἀντιόχου (sic in Evag.) ἐπιστολή,

on the same subjects, preserved by Evagrius (ibid.), and Nicephorus Callisti (H. E. 15.19).

5. Allatius mentions also a Confessio fidei, and refers to Eulogius (apud Phot. l.c.) : but Eulogius evidently speaks of the saint's letter to the emperor Leo. (Allatius, Cave, Fabricius, ll. cc.


The discourse De morte semper meditando, printed in a Latin version in the Bibliotheca Patrum, under the name of our Symeon, is noticed elsewhere as being more correctly ascribed to Symeon of Mesopotamia [No. 21].

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
460 AD (1)
423 AD (1)
388 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: