The devoted stylites are remarkable models for Lent

3 mins read
stylites models for Lent
Icon of Simeon Stylites the Elder with Simeon Stylites the Younger. Public domain

In 2002, illusionist and extreme performer David Blaine stood on top of a 100-foot pillar for 35 hours in New York City. He shared later that in the few final hours of his experience, he began hallucinating, undoubtedly the altitude taking its toll.

Blaine’s feat seems completely random and original, but did you know that there were other guys who first started this trend? In the early Church, there were people who stood atop tall pillars, but not just for hours. Some of them lived on their perches, never coming down, for more than 30 years.

These eccentric holy men were known as stylites. They were first made famous by St. Simeon the Stylite, who lived in the fourth century in Syria. To make a long story short: Simeon experienced a radical conversion, received the grace to endure extreme mortification, got kicked out of a monastery, tried to live as a hermit, and attempted to escape his constant visitors by building and living on top of a pillar.

From atop his 67-foot self-inflicted isolation tower, Simeon prayed and fasted. Some initially criticized St. Simeon as attention-seeking, but they quickly came to realize that no one could endure such mortification but by the grace of God. When visitors would come to shout up questions, St. Simeon obliged them by responding with spiritual advice and prayers. Though he initially sought solitude, St. Simeon’s example, prayers, and counsel led to the conversion of countless people.

One of Simeon’s visitors even became a stylite himself. Like the man he looked up to (literally and figuratively), St. Daniel too attracted visitors. He gave spiritual direction and even cured sick who were raised up to him.

Though they lived over a thousand years ago, the stylites are tremendous models for us today, especially as we enter Lent. Through their example (as well as those around them), they teach us how to live out more radically prayer, fasting and almsgiving.


If the stylites could do one thing, it was pray. But most noteworthy was their commitment and setting the time aside to pray. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s incredibly difficult to find a moment of quiet, let alone a moment for prayer.

Certainly, the socially popular St. Simeon would empathize, but I think he would also advise us to do as he did (perhaps minus the 67-foot tower) — dedicate time away from it all to re-encounter God. This Lent, commit fifteen minutes a day to spend in silence and pray. Fifteen minutes may seem challenging, but in the grand scheme, it’s only about one percent of your day. Surely, we would do well to spend one percent of our time reconnecting with our Creator!


When we imagine the stylites and their towers, we have to remember that these guys didn’t have a pantry. They didn’t have a roof over their heads. They lived an austere life in a most extreme way. They experienced hunger and the suffering that came from exposure to the elements. And in spite of these sufferings, most of them persevered in their way of life for years.

We can certainly persevere in our penances for 40 days. When the cravings set in, when we experience discomfort, that is the time to recall the stylites. St. Simeon was known to pray and fast extensively for others, particularly his mother. Whatever you give up this Lent, offer it for a specific person or intention. By uniting our minor sufferings to Christ, we too, like the stylites, will reach new spiritual heights.


The stylites were generous with their spiritual gifts to those who visited them, and perhaps it was this generosity of spirit that inspired their visitors. Some visitors became benefactors, filling baskets with food that the stylite could haul up by rope. Their generosity funded the holy men’s way of life.

“I yield Thee glory, Jesus Christ my God, for all the blessings which Thou hast heaped upon me, and for the grace which Thou hast given me that I should embrace this manner of life. But Thou knowest that in ascending this pillar, I lean on Thee alone, and that to Thee alone I look for the happy issue of mine undertaking. Accept, then, my object: strengthen me that I finish this painful course: give me grace to end it in holiness.”

— St. Daniel the Stylite

How can this spirit of generosity live on through us? Who around us depends on us to live? Perhaps it’s by committing to tithe to our parish this Lent. Maybe it’s by donating clothing, blankets, or food to a homeless shelter. Or maybe you feel called to take a meal to someone in need. Whatever the action, give with your whole heart, expecting nothing back. God will never be outdone in generosity.

May the holy stylites intercede for us and inspire us to persevere this Lenten season!

Allison Barrick

Allison Barrick is a marketing specialist for OSV and a catechist for Christ the King parish in Ann Arbor, Michigan.