St Simeon Stylites

Sarah Searight introduces the fifth century ascetic whose long life on top of a pillar attracted thousands of worshippers.

High on a mountainous spur in northern Syria stood, squatted, sometimes sat, occasionally lay, Simeon Stylites. He was there for over forty years, during the fifth century, attracting so many admirers in the first few years that he felt obliged to seek refuge on a pillar which grew, as the years went by, to reach forty-five feet. He lived at that final height for thirty-five years.

No other Christian ascetic has been quite so conspicuously and continuously severe with himself as Simeon Stylites. His contemporaries and several successive generations found his example so inspiring that they flocked in their thousands to worship at his pillar, both during his lifetime and subsequently, and the church that was built eventually round the pillar remained the largest in Christendom for another five hundred years. In his curious way Simeon became a man of superlatives.

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