Biography of Father of Flagpole Sitting Saint Simeon Stylites Part 2

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

Simeon's life atop the pillar was hardly like that of any modern pole sitter. He wore animal skins, had no shelter from the summer heat or winter snows, and kept his sores open so that maggots could feed from his flesh. Twice each day he preached to Armenians, Iberians, desert tribesmen, and pilgrims from Italy, Spain, and even Britain. Many sought his advice, including Emperors Theodosius II, Marcian, and Leo I of Rome.

One visitor to the pillar was Simeon's mother, who disapproved entirely of his life-style. Simeon denied her access to the pole (as he did with all women) and said, "Lady mother, be still a little while, and we shall see each other in eternal rest." His mother was hardly placated and remained by the pillar weeping. Simeon prayed for her suffering to end, and in three days she was dead.

Simeon's austerities came to an end in 459 after an extended illness. He had been dead three days when his body was discovered atop his pillar in an attitude of prayer. He was buried with much pomp in Antioch. His pillar was enclosed in a church and it was said that on his annual commemoration day, a likeness of his face could be seen flitting about.

Simeon was followed by other stylites who were moved by his actions. Most notable was St. Daniel, a friend and follower of Simeon, who sat on various pillars for a total of 33 years. But pillar saints soon died out, and only in this century have we seen anything like them rise again.

In the late 1920s a sailor, Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly (1885-1952), traveled the U.S. setting flagpole-sitting records and challenging others to do the same. His record, which stood for years, was 49 days. Kelly estimated he spent a total of 20,613 hours on flagpoles during his career. In 1929 a Kelly-sitting in Baltimore, Md., touched off a craze that saw scores of the city's young climbing poles in attempts to set juvenile records. The craze had the support of Baltimore's mayor, who said the sitters exemplified "the old pioneer spirit of early America."

The current pole-sitting record is held by Frank Perkins of Weiser, Ida., who sat above a used car lot in San Jose, Calif., for 399 days, descending on July 4, 1976.

But none of these modern efforts matches the records of early saints or the dedication and suffering of St. Simeon Stylites, surely the patron saint of pole sitters.

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