The church of Saint Simon Stylites located in the north of Syria near Aleppo is one of the oldest
artifacts of the early monastic movement in eastern Christianity in the
4th and 5th centuries...
For almost 40 years a holy man named Saint Simeon (Simon) (c. 390-459) lived on top of stone column. He is known as a pillar saint or stylite. Crowds came to see Saint Simon sitting on his pillar. A church was built around it after his death.
Saint Simon is the most famous of the Syrian hermits and monks, who tried to get closer to God by punishing their bodies.
Right: 16th Century icon of Saint Simon. At the base of the column is his mother's body.
And here is the stump of Saint Simon's pillar (left).
It looks diminished and shapeless now, but imagine this stump 30 feet high. It looks so strange today because of the thousands of pilgrims over the centuries in their search for healing artifacts have whittled it down to a stump.
When the people see Simon as a stylite, he represents a direct connection between the land and its people with God.
Right: 6th century depiction of Simon on his column. Christ is shown at the top in a mandorla, blessing Simon; the serpent represents demonic temptations.
The way of the solitary monk eventually was superseded by a more organized, cooperative form of religious life as large monasteries spread throughout Egypt, Syria, and the Mediterranean. The self-denial of the monastic movement-especially in its emphasis on celibacy-will strongly influence Christian morals and mores from the 5th century onwards.
The most admired form of Christianity was practiced by the ascetics, of whom Simon Stylites is an early and rather remarkable example.
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