Biography of Father of Flagpole Sitting Saint Simeon Stylites Part 1

About the father of flagpole sitting Saint Simeon Stylites, history and biography of the famous saint and hermit.


ST. SIMEON STYLITES (388?-459), The father of flagpole sitting

He was the greatest masochist of his era and could convert whole desert tribes with his displays of suffering. He was known throughout Christendom and was an adviser to Roman emperors. He is still remembered by Catholics on his day, Jan. 5, but his only real legacy to the modern world is the peculiar art of flagpole sitting.

St. Simeon was the first stylite, or "pillar saint"--hermits who showed their devotion to God by isolating themselves for years upon pillars during the 5th and 6th centuries A. D. He was born in Gesa on the border of Cilicia and Syria around 388 and spent his childhood following in his shepherd father's footsteps. At 13, however, he was driven by a snowstorm to a church where he was so inspired by a sermon that he decided to follow a path of suffering and humiliation, which he believed would lead to true happiness. With this resolved, he headed for the nearest monastery, where he begged for days at the gate, without food or water, to be admitted. He was, but after two years he decided to seek a more severe way of life and joined the group headed by Heliodorus. But even here the ordinary severities and humiliations were not enough for Simeon. He always sought to outdo his brethren. He ate only once a week, an austere habit which won him few friends among the competitive monks. In secret, Simeon found a palm rope and wrapped it around his torso. He wore it for days in extreme pain until his flesh began to putrefy and he became ill. The rope was discovered, and it took his fellow monks three days of cutting and soaking to remove the girdle (and a good portion of Simeon's skin). When he recovered, he was banished from the monastery for "imprudent austerities."

Simeon sought isolation at the foot of Mt. Telanissae in Syria, and there began a lifelong practice of taking no food or water during the 40 days of Lent. After several years of humiliations, which included cave dwelling and being buried to the neck in sand, he moved to the top of the mountain, where he built a roofless enclosure and chained himself to a rock. The stories of Simeon's sufferings spread, and soon thousands came to pay homage to the great hermit. The crowds became so irritating, however, that Simeon built a 10-ft. pillar in 423 and sat atop it. This attracted great attention, and over the next 36 years Simeon's pillar (and his ladder) rose with his popularity until it reached a height of over 60 ft.

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