By Kelly Wise Valdes
This month we are learning some interesting history about St. Simeon Stylites. Simeon was born in the Turkish town of Kozan, the son of a poor shepherd and he worked as a shepherd as a child. After the separation of the Roman Empire in 395, Christianity grew quickly there.
He enthusiastically wanted to become a monk at age 13, he was turned away from monasteries because his severe self-imposed atonements. He finally entered a monastery before the age of 16, but was soon judged to be unsuited and was requested to leave the monastery.
He became so distraught that he began to live alone in a hut for a year and a half, where he did not eat or drink during the entire Lent season. When he emerged from the hut, his achievement was considered a miracle.
Simeon then decided to “imprison” himself on top of a mountain on a space that measured less than 65 ft. in space. People began to flock to Simeon, asking his counsel or his prayers. In order to get away from the disruptive crowd, Simeon discovered a pillar that had survived among ruins in Taladah, Syria.
He began to stand upright continually as long as he could stand. He would occasionally preach to those that had gathered at the foot of his column. Sometimes boys from the local village would climb up the pillar to bring him bread and goats’ milk.
When the monastic Elders heard of Simeon’s standing, they commanded that he come down from the pillar. They decided that if he disobeyed they would forcibly drag him to the ground, but if he was willing to submit, they would leave him on his pillar. Simeon displayed complete obedience and the monks told him to stay where he was.
At first the pillar was little more than 9 ft. high, but he kept moving to other pillars, the last in the series being more than 50 ft. tall. A double wall was raised around him to keep the crowd of people from coming too close and disturbing his prayerful concentration.
Simeon spent 47 years on the pillar and died in September 459. A disciple found his body stooped over in prayer and he was buried not far from the pillar. To date, he is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records’ pole-sitter category and also has the record for “longest-held record of any kind by anybody” (at over 1500 years, that will be hard to beat). He considered the patron saint of people who have left the church.
Stay tuned next month while we explore the life of St. Jane Frances de Chantal.