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Symeon Stylites the Younger (521–562)

Annie Labatt, 2012 Chester Dale Fellow, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2012

«At the age of seven, Symeon Stylites the Younger expressed his religious fervor by ascending a pillar (stylos). In 541 he moved to a pillar located at a site called the Wondrous Mountain, eleven miles west of Antioch, Syria. Ascetic monks like Symeon, known as "stylites," resided on the top of tall pillars—where they were exposed to rain, snow, and wind—as a way to disengage from the sinful world.1 The men attracted a number of pilgrims, as evidenced by several tokens featuring images of stylites.»

Token with Stylite     Token with Stylite

Left: Token with Stylite, 6th–7th century. Made in Syria. Tsolozidis Collection, Thessaloniki (S?169); Right: Token with Stylite, Baptism of Christ, and Adoration of the Magi, 6th–7th century. Made in Syria. Malcove Collection, University of Toronto Art Centre, Toronto (M82.242)

Stylite figures also appear on small bottles that might have been used to collect oil taken from the lamps at Symeon's tomb in Antioch.2 The tomb was part of a large monastic complex—built upon the site of his second pillar—that drew numerous pilgrims even during Symeon's lifetime.

Bottle  Bottle  Bottle

From left to right: Yellow-Green Hexagonal Glass Bottle with a Stylite Saint, mid-5th–7th century. Made in Syria. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. Carleton S. Coon, 1961 (61.247); Hexagonal Bottle with Stylite, mid-5th–7th century. Made in Syria. The British Museum, London (1911,0513.1); Jug with Stylite, 5th–7th century. Made in Syria. Yale University Art Gallery, The Hobart and Edward Small Moore Memorial Collections (1955.6.149)

Symeon the Younger was not the only stylite to have a tomb at Antioch. His predecessor Symeon the Elder (ca. 389–459)—the first holy man to climb a column, which famously reached 16 meters—was already buried there. It is difficult to distinguish depictions of the two saints on objects without inscriptions. A general representation of a stylite shows a holy man with a beard, wearing a monastic hood (koukoullion), holding his hands in front of his chest, and standing on top of a column.3 A pilgrimage token from Berlin (below, left) labels the stylite as Symeon the Younger, while the figure represented on a basalt relief, also from Berlin (below, right), could represent either saint.

Pilgrim Token      Relief

Left: Pilgrim Token with Image of Saint Symeon Stylites the Younger, 10th–11th century. Made in Syria. Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin—Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, Berlin (32/73); Right: Relief of a Stylite Saint, 5th–6th century. Made in Syria. Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin—Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, Berlin (9/63)

Despite an indistinct iconography, Symeon the Younger is especially relevant to the Byzantium and Islam exhibition. A contemporary chronicle of his life details important events that occurred during the "age of transition" under discussion: the Persian siege of 540, a plague of 542, and an earthquake of 557. The anonymous author of Symeon's biography also discusses the Arab world and reports the death of the Lakhmid ruler al-Mundhir (Alamundarus) in 553.4


Bibliography
Doran, Robert. The Lives of Simeon Stylites. Kalamazoo, Mich., 1992
Eastmond, Antony. "Body vs. Column: The Cults of St. Symeon Stylites." Desire and Denial in Byzantium. Ed. James, Liz. Aldershot, 1999. 87–100


[1] Alexander Kazhdan, Nancy Patterson Ševčenko. "Symeon the Stylite the Younger." The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Ed. Alexander P. Kazhdan. © 1991, 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press. Yale University. 16 February 2012 http://www.oxford-byzantium.com/entry?entry=t174.e5227

[2] Brandie Ratliff, "The Stylites of Syria," Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th–9th Centuries, ed. Helen C. Evans. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. 96

[3] Alexander Kazhdan, Nancy Patterson Ševčenko. "Stylite." The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Ed. Alexander P. Kazhdan. © 1991, 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press. Yale University. 16 February 2012 http://www.oxford-byzantium.com/entry?entry=t174.e5180

[4] Kazhdan and Patterson Ševčenko

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About the Author

Annie Labatt was the 2012 Chester Dale Fellow in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. She recently defended her dissertation at Yale University. Her research focuses on eighth- and ninth-century Roman iconographies, as well as concepts of Byzantium in twelfth-century Spain.

About this Blog

This blog accompanied the special exhibition Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, on view March 14–July 8, 2012.