459: Guinness World Record-holding Saint

459: Guinness World Record-holding Saint
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons/ "Column of Simeon Syria". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons.

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 2 September 459
  • St. Simeon Stylites lived as an ascetic on a small platform on the top of a pillar for over 30 years. The ruins of a church built on the remains of this pillar (in modern Syria) have since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are currently on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

On this day in 459 St. Simeon Stylites, a well-known ascetic, died.

He reportedly spent the last 37 or 39 years living on a small platform on the top of a pillar (the saint’s name is derived from “Stylos”, which is Greek for “pillar”). The platform was reportedly only one square meter in size. He gave sermons from atop the pillar, but never left it. He also regularly prayed and fasted there.

St. Simeon Stylites was born in the southern parts of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and became a devout believer and ascetic early in his life. He soon started fasting and leading an increasingly ascetic lifestyle. Great numbers of people gathered around him, seeking advice and prayer. It has been suggested that St. Simeon may have gone atop the pillar in order to protect himself from the great mass of people who gathered around him, and so that he could devote more time to prayer.

The pillar atop which St. Simeon had lived and died is situated on the territory of modern Syria, between Aleppo and Antioch. Today the remains of the pillar can be found in the ruins of a church devoted to St. Simeon, which was built on the site at a later date. Since it was a normal practice for pilgrims to take small pieces of the pillar, only the base of the pillar and a piece of rock around two meters in height have survived to this day (the pillar was allegedly around 15 meters tall at the time St. Simeon died). The location of the pillar in modern Syria is currently under the protection of the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and is also on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

According to The Guinness Book of Records, St. Simeon Stylites holds the record for the person who spent the most time atop a pillar. Amazingly, St. Simeon is also the man who holds the longest-standing record in history – it hasn’t been surpassed in over 1,550 years!

Although St. Simeon lived atop a pillar, he did not live in isolation. He allowed people to join him when they needed help (supposedly they’d climb up using a ladder), and addressed others from the top of the pillar. Despite his strict asceticism, he was allegedly not a strict person, and preached modesty and compassion, urging others to avoid fanatical expressions of belief.

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