January 5: St. Simeon Stylites (the pillar-dweller)

From Cilicia (in an area now located in southern Turkey), Simeon rose to fame–figuratively and literally–by living out much of his life on ever-higher pillars of stone. Why? Because his blessings and counsel were so widely sought, he found these to be distractions to his soul, and retreated to a mountaintop. People continued to throng to him (seeking his wisdom and teaching and blessings), and the sick sought to touch him and receive healing. With nowhere else to go, and finding these visits a distraction from his life of solitude and self-mortification, he went further up! He first built a pillar (the Greek word for pillar is Stylos–hence the designation “Simeon Stylites”) nine feet high, and lived on it for four years. That not being sufficient to remove him from still-increasing throngs, Simeon raised a pillar of rocks eighteen feet and lived upon it continually for three years. The third was 33 feet high (10 years) and the last 60 feet high, where he spent the last 20 years of his life. Moreover, the top of these pillars was never more than three feet in diameter, so that he could never lie down, so unsheltered from the weather, Simeon could but stoop, crouch, bow, or kneel.

Thirty-seven years as a pillar dweller made Simeon renowned throughout the ancient, 5th-century world, so much that he attracted the attention of kings, queens, emperors, Christians, and non-Christians. The more he sought to leave the distractions of the world, the more the world came to him. Finally at the age of 69, Simeon died.

His example led, for a time, to other pillar-dwellers of various stripes. This custom never caught on west of the deserts of the ancient Near East, however–European Christians found the air at the top of mountain-top pillars so inclement as to make this practice “impracticable.”

Was practicability the point?



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