Stylites were anchorites who lived on top of pillars, hence, "pillar saints"; a phenomenon of 5th–century penitential custom. Stylitism began in Syria and spread to Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine, and Greece. In the 2nd century a.d., Lucian (De Syria Dea, 28–29) testified to the existence at Hieropolis of a pagan ascetic who mounted a column twice a year to spend two weeks in contemplation. But the beginnings of the Christian stylite tradition can be seen in the shepherd–monks, such as James and Abraham of Cyr, who imposed upon themselves the sentence of standing in the open all their lives (Theodoret, Hist. Relig. 17–21). Palladius records that a Palestinian hermit inhabited a cave on the top of a mountain and never turned his face to the west for 25 years (Hist. Laus. 48); and one hermit is known to have spent ten years in a tub hanging in mid–air from poles (Theodoret, Philotheus 28).
St. Simeon Stylites the Elder took up residence atop a column in 423 to escape the crowds that followed him (Phil. 1464). St. Nilus, a contemporary of Simeon, was the author of two letters to another stylite, Nicandrus [Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 161 v. (Paris 1857–66) 79; 250]. Simeon's disciple, St. Daniel Stylites, took up residence on a column near Constantinople c. 495, where Emperors leo i and zeno visited him; and St. Simeon the Younger (d. 596) lived near Antioch. A contemporary of St. Simeon the Younger, St. Alipius, having lost the use of his feet after 53 years of standing on his pillar near Adrianopolis, spent his final 14 years on the pillar lying on his side.
St. Luke the Younger (c. 946) lived as a hermit on Mt. Joannitsa near Corinth. Many stylites mitigated the austere practices of Simeon and Alipius by building a small hut on top of a pillar, or, as in the case of some Monophysites, by living inside a hollow column (see mo nophysitism).
The custom of stylitism never took root in the West but lasted throughout the East into the 12th century; as late as the 19th century in Russia stylitism was practiced by Seraphim de Sarov (d. 1833) who lived three years (1,000 nights) on a rock exposed to the elements.
Bibliography: h. delehaye, Les Saints Stylites (Paris 1962). a. j. festugiÈre, ed., Les Moines d'Orient (Paris 1961) v. 2. p. van den ven, ed., La Vie ancienne de S. Syméon le Jeune (Brussels 1962–). t. ŠpidlÍk, Dictionnaire d'historie et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912–) 15:766–771.