Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
Every heard of St. Simeon Stylites? Most haven’t, but what he did is pretty unbelievable and deserves our attention.
Simeon, who was born in 388, was a fifth-century ascetic saint who lived on a pillar for 47 years. At 13 years old, he gave a sermon on the beatitudes that moved him so much that he wanted to deepen his Christian faith through sacrifice and contemplation. A couple of years later, he joined a monastery but because of his severe penances, the monastery asked him to leave. After leaving the monastery, Simeon fasted from food and water for the full 40 days of Lent. As reports of his self-denial spread, people would come to him asking for prayers and just to be near this holy man. In order to avoid these crowds of people, he fled to a mountaintop cave in Syria. Simeon sat on a small platform on the very top of a pillar, no matter the conditions. He died on this pillar in 459.
But this post isn’t really about him. This post is about St. Simeon Stylites the Younger, who shares many similarities to St. Stylites the Elder.
About 60 years after the Elder Simeon, in 521, another youth from nearby Antioch was born, and was soon drawn to a life of austerity. And when I say young, I mean that his journal record that he was in a hermitage when he lost his first teeth — so maybe 6-9 years old. And it was at this age that Simeon would meet a hermit there named John who enthralled the mind of Simeon by his long bouts on a pillar. Eventually, Simeon wanted to take up the now-popular penance of spending time on a pillar as others in the hermitage were doing in the style — no pun intended — of Simeon the Elder.
He became quite popular for his ascetical life, spending years on the same pillar, and sometimes based on his needs, would spend equitable amounts of time on a tree branch. Unlike Stylites the Elder, he would move from pillar to pillar, or shrub to shrub when special situation called, such as the time the local bishop made him a deacon and required his presence elsewhere, or when he became a priest and desired a more central location for distributing Holy Communion. On such occasions his disciples, one after another, climbed up the ladder to receive Communion at his hands.
As was the historical tradition of most of the other pillar hermit-saints, a large number of miracles were believed to have been worked by Simeon the Younger. Even more so for this Simeon, since many stories of miracles in surviving hagiographies tell that miracles would be related to images of the saint, too.
In all, Simeon the Younger would live for 68 more years on various elevated pillars and branches. That’s almost unfathomable. Toward the close of his life the saint occupied a column upon a mountainside near Antioch and it was here that he died. Because of his miracles, the hill is still known today as the “Hill of Wonders.”
Stylos in Greek means “pillar.” This is where both saints get their name. And to this day, no one has come close to challenging their records. And I seriously doubt anyone will try.
St. Simeon Stylites the Younger, pray for us.