Saints of the Day – Stylianus of Adrianopolis, Hermit

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(also known as Alypius)

Born in Adrianopolis, Paphlagonia, Asia Minor; died 390 (?). This date is given by the Benedictines but may or may not be wrong. The first stylite was in the 5th century; however, the record of Stylianus’s life has come to us in a highly legendary form. There are some indications that he was born in the 7th century, yet this could be simply due to the accretions of the story. He was a hermit, possibly in the 4th century. We know very little of Saint Stylianus, so called because he was a stylite, or pillar saint, which was not an easy task though the custom spread quite widely in the East during the 6th through 8th centuries.

His unreliable legend says that his birth in Adrianopolis was announced to his mother by the miraculous vision of a lamb with two flaming candles on its horns, and another vision signified the glorious future of the little child. Bishop Theodore is said to have taken charge of Stylianus at the death of his father, when the saint was three.

As soon as he came of age, his bishop made him a deacon and entrusted him with the care of the parish. But at 30 he felt called to a life of perfection and became a hermit, first in an isolated cell, fasting and mortifying himself out of his love for God. It is said that he was then led by visions to the top of a column, where he stayed for the rest of his life, which lasted almost 100 years. There he was persecuted by demons and accomplished many miracles both before and after his death.

It is said that for 53 years he remained standing, day after day, until at last his legs gave out. For 14 years thereafter, he remained on his side without once leaving his pillar. At age 93 he was delivered from the cold and isolation, from the rain and the insects, from hunger, thirst, and extreme discomfort, and, by the grace of God, ascended into the regions of light and peace.

The tradition of the stylites was begun by Saint Simeon the Ancient (died 459), a rigorous ascetic in the tradition of the Syrian monks, who was plagued by crowds of devoted or curious people. They pressed around him so closely that in order to escape them without running away, he climbed up on top of a column. In addition to solving his immediate problem, he found two other advantages: it was conducive to the stability that was so dear to the hearts of monks in retreat; and it added to his ascetic sufferings. In order to enjoy these advantages, and also to follow the example of Saint Simeon, who was greatly venerated, many other anchorites also became stylites, and thus lived solitary lives without really being solitary.

While stylites rejected the “world” in the New Testament sense of the word, unlike the desert monks, the stylites performed a prophetic ministry and were visited by many people. They preached, gave counsel, reconciled enemies, reproved sinners and led them to repentance, cast out devils, and often manifested a gift of prophecy.

The faithful came unceasingly to the foot of the column. When Simeon saw among them a native of distant Gaul, he entrusted him with an affectionate message for his sister, Saint Geneviève (died 500), the patroness of Paris.

The Pré Spirituel records the strange duel between two stylites – one a Catholic, the other a Monophysite. After long arguments the Catholic stylite, who lived about 30 miles from Aegea, Cilicia, asked the heretic to send him a sample of his eucharist. He then placed the sample in a pot of boiling water, and also added a sample of his own Eucharist. The results of the test were conclusive: Only the Catholic Eucharist was unaffected by the water and heat (It’s only a legend, guys!). Another Monophysite stylite, who lived in the region of Hierapolis, admitted his defeat after a debate with Saint Ephraim.

In most cases there was a ladder reaching up to the stylites perch so that people could talk to them confidentially. If there was no ladder, then the visitor called up to the stylite, who told him to come to the foot of the column, and from there they talked to each other without being overheard.

Sometimes the stylite’s followers were reluctant to leave his immediate vicinity, and in the case of Saint Stylianus two communities, one of men and the other of women, grew up nearby. Some of them, including his sister Mary, lived at the very foot of the column and his mother set up a tent nearby and did all that she could to relieve the sufferings of the ascetic so far as his piety and resolution would allow her. Services were held seven times daily, and everyone, including Saint Stylianus and his visitors took part.

It is possible that the ancient symbolism of the column as uniting heaven and earth helped to stimulate the practice of stylites, even if they themselves were not aware of the symbolism. It is equally probable that the unusual nature of this way of life played a part in its popularity. But it would be wrong to suppose that the stylites were following a pagan rite or that stylites intended to draw attention to themselves (though this was a side-effect).

Modern Christians should be able to understand the need for the stylites to escape the pressing crowds while still remaining to preach God’s love; however, the true value of this kind of asceticism may by harder to understand. Yet, they followed the tendencies of Syrian asceticism in general.

The Syrian monks mortified their bodies by going without rest and sleep, without simple hygiene, and by taking only enough food to avoid suicide. Is this insanity? Not if it is understood. The purpose of such ascetic practices is to use all their powers to prevent the demands of the body from interfering with their spiritual aspirations. Clearly the idea that the body is essentially evil underlay such terrible asceticism; nor is this surprising in view of the influence Manicheeism had on the attitudes and faith of the Syrian Christians.

The rule is this: The more the body suffers, the more the spirit flowers. We can set aside the picturesque and the eccentric aspect. The prophets, too, had strange ways for the ways of the Lord are not our ways. We can also set aside the psycho- physiological aspects – the manifold extensions of the strength of the spirit and the extreme longevity of the stylites – and concentrate on essentials. The theory of the stylites, which they practiced with magnificent heroism, is faithful to the mystical theology of the Eastern Church, in accordance with which supernatural peace is to be obtained by blessed tranquility (hesychia) preceded by perfect temperance (encrateia) and impassiveness (apatheia), or in other words indifference to the needs and claims of the body. Discipline and asceticism were the means to attain these. The stylites held, very logically, that the more severe the discipline, the harsher the asceticism, the greater the hope of winning the palm that Saint Paul promised to the winner of the race (Benedictines, Encyclopedia).

Stylianus is the patron saint of sterile wives.

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 August 2020. Web. 29 November 2020. <>