St. Simeon – the Cal Ripken of Stylites

Sometimes saints seem a little… how to put this… weird. Today is the feast of St. Simon the Stylite, called Simeon Stylites, a 5th century Syrian monk who lived for 36 years on top of a tall pillar.

Even as a young monk he practiced very severe penance, with terrible fasting and binding himself around with palm leaves so tightly that they adhered to his flesh. He was so severe that the other monks kicked him out of the monastery. He tried living in a hut for a while, and would even pass Lent without eating at all. Then he went to live in a crack in the rock in the desert, but people started coming to see him and he had no isolation. Thereafter he scaled up a pillar still standing in a ruin but it was only 4 meters high (read: not high enough). To help him out a bit, his fans got him increasingly higher pillars. The last was over 15 meters high.

People still got up to him with ladders, however, and he would preach loudly, denouncing various things like usury, which remains even today a serious problem in the Mediterranean regions. His reputation was such that even Emperors like Theodosius paid attention to him. St. Simeon also supported the Council of Chalcedon, which upheld the doctrine that Christ has two full natures, divine and human.

At one point, some higher ecclesiastics tried to pressure St. Simeon the Stylite to come down off his column and submit to their authority (they wanted to shut him up). He would have done it, but they changed their minds and he stayed atop the pillar. The Emperor Theodosius tried to get him to come down once to be treated during an illness, but he stayed in his place.

This is all very odd stuff, to be sure, but in those days Simeon inspired many converts and was greatly influential. He was also imitated by others (!!) but no one stayed on top of their pillars as long as St. Simeon. I suppose he was the Cal Ripken of Stylites.

Here is his entry in the Martyrologium Romanum:

6. Prope Antiochiam in Syria, sancti Simeonis, monachi, qui multos annos vixit stans super columnam, unde et Stylitae cognomen accepit, cuius vita et conversatio admirabilis exstitit. … Near Antioch in Syria, (the feast of) Saint Simeon, a monk, who lived for many years standing atop a column, whence he got the name "the Stylite", whose life and manner of living stood out as astonishing.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I mentioned (above) that various people were inspired also to become Stylites on the model of St. Simeon. After recounting something of the life of St. Simeon the Stylite this morning at the breakfast table one of the priests in the rectory where I am informed me of his intention to imitate St. Simeon by taking his place atop a silo.

    I suppose this would make him a “Siloite” rather than a “Stylite”, but who’s quibbling.


  2. Cathy_of_Alex says:

    Patron Saint of David Blaine.

  3. Jon says:

    “I suppose he was the Cal Ripken of Stylites.”

    Father, from you, a good word about one of my Birds? Now THAT’S astonishing!

  4. Argent says:

    Father, a round- or cone-topped silo? And also, hopefully not atop a missile silo (visions of a Fr. Strangelove soaring through space just popped into my head).

  5. Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day; give him a religion,
    and he’ll starve to death while praying for a fish.

  6. Andrew says:

    Once my belly is full, what else is there …?
    Wait for the next day, empty the bowels, and refill. Ecce vita hominis sapientis.

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