Golden Legend – Life of Saint Paul the first Hermit

detail from an illustration of Saint Paul the Hermit; design by Abraham Bloemaert, engraving by Boetius à Bolswert, 1619; from the book 'Sylva anachoretica Aegypti et Palaestinae', University Library, Nijmegen, Netherlands; swiped from Wikimedia Commons; click for image sourceArticle

Here followeth, the Life of Saint Paul the first Hermit.

Saint Paul which was the first hermit as Saint Jerome writeth, was in the time of Decius and Valerianus, emperors, the year of the incarnation of our Lord two hundred and fifty-six. This holy man, Saint Paul, saw men for christian faith cruelly tormented, wherefore he fled into the desert. Among whom he saw two cruelly tormented. The first for that he abode firmly in his faith, the judge did do anoint all his body with honey and did do bind his hands behind him on his back, and so did him be set in the heat of the sun for to be bitten and stung of flies and wasps; that other that was young he made him to be in a right soft bed between two sheets, among flowers and delectable roses and herbs sweet smelling, and therein he was bounden so that he might not move him. After, he made an harlot, a ribald, come to him alone for to touch his members and his body, to move to lechery. Finally, when the voluptuosity of his flesh surmounted him, and he might not defend himself ne his members, he bit off a piece of his tongue and spit it in her visage, which always enticed him to lechery by touching and by kissings, and so he voided the temptation fleshly, and the ribauld also, and deserved to have laud and victory. In this time Saint Paul, tofore said, was young, about sixteen years of age, and dwelt in Thebaid which is a part of Egypt, with his sister Maurice. And when he saw the persecutions of christian men, he departed and became an hermit so long and so many years, that he was old one hundred and thirteen years. In this time Saint Anthony was a hermit in another desert and was then ninety years of age. And on a time he thought in himself that in the world was none so good ne so great an hermit as he was himself. Hereupon came to him a revelation as he slept that, beneath all, low down in that desert was an hermit better than he, a all. And whiles they were thus talking a crow came flying and brought to them two loaves of bread ; and when the crow was gone Saint Paul said: Be thou glad and joyful, for our Lord is debonair and merciful, he hath sent us bread for to eat. It is forty years passed that every day he hath sent me half a loaf, but now at thy coming he hath sent two whole loaves, and double provender. And they had question together until evensong time which of them both should entame or begin to take of the bread. At the last the bread departed even between their hands, and then they ate, and drank of the well or fountain. After graces said they had all that night collation together. On the morn said Saint Paul: Brother, it is long sith that I knew that thou dwelledst in this region and in this country, and God had promised to me thy company, I shall now shortly die and shall go to Jesu Christ for to receive the crown to me promised, thou art come hither for to bury my body. When Saint Anthony heard that, anon he began tenderly to weep, and wailed, praying that he might die with him and go in his company. Saint Paul said: It is need yet that thou live for thy brethren, to the end that they by the ensample of thee be made firm and taught; wherefore I pray thee return to thine abbey and bring to me the mantle which Athanasius the bishop gave to thee for to wrap in my body. Then Saint Anthony marvelled of this, that he knew of this bishop and of this mantle, and after durst nothing say, but did to him reverence, like as God had spoken to him, and weeping kissed his feet and his hands and came again to his abbey with great travail and labour, for he had from that one part to that other many journeys and foul way, through hayes and hedges, woods, stones, hills and valleys, and Saint Anthony of great age and feeble of fasting, and not strong ne mighty.

When he was come to his abbey, two of his disciples, to him most secret, demanded of him saying: Fair father, where have ye been so long? And he answered: Alas! I, wretched sinner, which bear falsely the name to be a monk, I have seen Eli the prophet, I have seen John the Baptist in desert, and certes I have seen Saint Paul in Paradise. Thus speaking and beating his breast he brought the mantle out of his cell, and all stilly without more words, he went again the long way all alone through the desert unto Saint Paul the hermit, having great desire to see him, for he was afeard lest he should die ere he might come again to him. It happed in the second journey, where Saint Anthony went through the desert the third hour of the day, he saw the soul of Saint Paul, shining, ascend into heaven among a great company of angels, of prophets, and also of apostles, and anon he fell down to the earth weeping and wailing, and crying with a high voice: Alas, Paul! wherefore leavest thou me so soon, which have so little seen thee? Then he had so great desire to see the corpse or body that he passed all the remnant of his way as soon as a bird flying, like as he was wont to tell and rehearse, and when he came to the cell of Saint Paul he found that the body was right up on his knees and the visage and hands addressed towards heaven and supposed he had been alive and had made his prayers, but when he had advised it, he knew well that he was passed out of this world. What weepings and what wailings he made upon the body it were a piteous thing to hear; among all other he said: O holy soul, thy body showeth in death this that thou didst in thy life. After this he was much abashed how he should bury the body, for he had no instrument to make his sepulchre; then came two lions which much debonairly made a pit after the quantity of his body, and Saint Anthony buried his body therein. And he took with him the coat of Saint Paul which was made and and afterward, for great reverence, Saint Anthony ware this coat and clad him withal in great and solemn feasts. Thus this holy man Saint Paul died in the year of the incarnation of our Lord two hundred and eighty-eight. Let us then pray to him that he impetre and get us remission of our sins, that after this life we may come to everlasting joy and bliss in heaven. Amen.