Dina Boreo (Princeton University)
Co-organizer and presenter
Intertwined Hagiographical Traditions: From Symeon the Younger to Symeon the Elder
Three hagiographies narrate the life of Symeon the Stylite the Elder (d. 459 CE): the chapter on Symeon in Theodoret’s History of the Monks of Syria (written c. 440–444 CE), Simeon bar-Eupolemos and Bar-Ḥaṭar’s Syriac Life of Symeon (written in 473 CE), and Antonius’ Life of Symeon. The first two have received substantial attention from scholars, in part because they are firmly dated to Symeon’s life and the decades immediately following his death, they demonstrate a close relationship with the saint’s pilgrimage site, and they present a holy man enmeshed in the politics his day. In contrast, Antonius gives an overtly moralistic view of the saint, which has made it difficult for scholars to situate the text in a particular historical context. Recently, however, Mayer and Allen (2012) and Lane Fox (1997) have argued that the text dates to the seventh century or sometime thereafter and is closely linked with the city of Antioch.
This newly proposed dating urges that Antonius’ Life of Symeon the Elder be read not only in relationship with the two, earlier lives of Symeon as previous scholars have done (Lietzmann 1908, Delehaye 1923, Peeters 1950, Festugière 1959, Harvey 1988, Doran 1992, and Flusin 1993), but also that it be studied in dialogue with later literary material. This paper clarifies philological and thematic similarities between Antonius’ Life of Symeon the Elder and the literary tradition pertaining to Symeon the Stylite the Younger (d. 592). I argue that Antonius made selective use of the early seventh-century Life of Symeon the Younger and possibly the Life of Martha. Antonius models the elder Symeon’s ascetic abilities and influence over the animal world on the younger stylite in order to craft a portrait of a stylite whose ascetic abasement brings about redemption of all living creatures regardless of their sin. He also incorporates features of the younger Symeon’s pilgrimage site upon the Wondrous Mountain into his presentation of the elder’s pilgrimage site at Qal‘at Sem‘an.
The cults of the two stylites were undoubtedly linked in the minds of numerous devotees. Qal‘at Sem‘an and the Wondrous Mountain both drew their clientele from Antioch and its hinterland; they were also important stops for long distance pilgrims. Whereas previous studies of Symeon the Younger have examined the potential influence of the elder stylite on the younger (van den Ven 1962, Djobadze 1986), this paper shows that influence was not unidirectional. Symeon the Younger’s cult-keepers established him in continuity with previous precedents of sanctity but also took care to highlight independence from his predecessor. Symeon the Elders’s cult-keepers reshaped the saint and devotion to him in light of growing veneration to his successor. By examining these two cults from the perspective of collaboration rather than competition, this paper illuminates the multifaceted symbolic world of devotion to saints. It also offers insight how cult-keepers looked beyond localized traditions to construct a trans-regional pilgrimage experience for their clientele.
Georgia Frank (Colgate University)
Ayșe Henry (Institut Français d'Études Anatoliennes, Istanbul)
A Burial Setting for Martha and St. Symeon the Younger: The South Church at the Wondrous Mountain Reconsidered
On top of the Wondrous Mountain, located to the south of Antioch-on-the-Orontes (Hatay/Turkey), rises a spectacular architectural complex built in the mid-sixth century for Symeon the Younger. The site remained active as a monastery at least until the fourteenth century. Although standing as a roofless ruin in the present day, the complex is exceptionally well preserved and presents abundant architectural remains. In addition, two hagiographic texts, the Lives of St. Symeon the Younger and his mother, Martha, provide valuable information for its architectural study. The texts offer a rare opportunity to examine the significance and phasing of the architectural complex. According to the Lives there were two distinct sixth-century architectural interventions: the first took place in the period ca. 540 CE, when the pilgrimage site was first founded, and the second occurred ca. 560 CE, characterized by the construction of the South Church of the complex.
The South Church is a basilica with a triconch sanctuary. It has been identified beyond doubt as the memorial church constructed in honor of Martha (Van den Ven, 1961). Nevertheless, previous studies on the structure rarely challenged the textual information through the use of archaeological evidence. Instead, they concentrated mainly on the debates stemming from the texts, such as the exact location of Martha’s sarcophagus and the nature of the superstructure of the church. The archeological evidence still preserved at the site, however, provides the possibility to go beyond what is narrated by the Lives. Architectural details indicate that the construction activities after Martha’s death were more comprehensive than the addition of just one building. The whole southern section was refurbished with new architectural features and decorative elements.
The central aim of this paper is to contextualize the second phase of construction activities by attending to one remark from the Life of Martha that has received surprisingly little attention. The Life of Martha clearly states that Symeon the Younger insisted on being buried with his mother (ch. 46). Hence, whatever was built for her was simultaneously built for him. The fragment of the True Cross arrived from Jerusalem exactly one year after Martha’s death according to the Life of Martha and was probably housed in the Tetraconch that was built simultaneously with the South Church. The acquired relic of the True Cross perhaps had symbolic significance for the cult of Martha as the author of the Life underlined, but it also possessed broader connotations for the stylite tradition. In sum, it is highly probable that the second phase of construction activities was carried out with the anticipation of the stylite’s own death, providing the rather extravagant setting on the site appropriate for his remains.
Charles Kuper (Haverford College)
Co-organizer and presenter
We Cannot Praise the Fruit without the Root: The Mother Figure in the Communities of Symeon the Younger and Alypius
It is recounted in Antonius’ Life of Symeon the Elder that after searching for her son for twenty years, the mother of Symeon Stylites the Elder was tragically denied entrance into his monastery, forced to remain outside where she died soon thereafter. So widespread was this tradition that even Gregory of Tours shows some awareness of it. This rejection of the maternal that is associated with Symeon the Elder, however, differs significantly from the extant evidence associated with two stylites of the sixth century, Symeon Stylites the Younger and Alypius the Stylite. In the Life of Symeon (BHG 1690), Symeon’s mother Martha plays an important recurring role, leading the procession during Symeon’s ascension of his final pillar and intervening on behalf of pilgrims rejected by her son, for example. What is more, Martha is also the subject of a separate vita (BHG 1174), wherein the construction of a church to house her remains and the subsequent acquisition of a relic of the True Cross from Jerusalem to celebrate the anniversary of her death are recorded in great detail. Throughout the Life of Martha, the author emphasizes an important fact: Martha’s status in the community is not only complementary to but even independent from her son’s status. Likewise, in the Life of Alypius (BHG 65) Alypius’ mother serves as her son’s confidant, encouraging him in his decision to embrace a life of asceticism. Later in his career, she even pitches a tent at the foot of her son’s column and lives there, ministering to him, until she and her daughter Mary ultimately join the community of nuns living nearby.
This paper first explores the ubiquitous presence of the mother figure in these aforementioned hagiographies, texts that have been almost completely ignored in the scholarly literature since the initial publication of their Greek editions. After this background, I then trace how the authors of these texts activate and refashion Christian images traditionally associated with stylitism in order to articulate and justify the novel roles that these two women played in their respective communities. In short, I suggest that one of the aims of the hagiographers was to create a grammar for expressing what was particularly “stylitic” about the lives of these two mothers. To conclude, I situate this material within its wider context. In order to understand more completely these two monumental stylites and their impact on the early Byzantine world, I argue that we must take a step back and see the bigger picture, not just the saint towering above. The author of Alypius’ vita, fond of arboreal and vegetative imagery, illustrates this very point when he compares the stylite’s column to a tree. He writes, “Who would not praise the fruit (καρπός) of that holy and wondrous woman? Again, who would not consider the root (ῥίζα) of such wonderful fruit to be blessed?” (Life of Alypius, 15)
Lucy Parker (University of Oxford)
‘Behold, I Speak Mysteries to You’: The Sermon Collection of Symeon the Younger and the Self-Presentation of a Stylite
The collection of thirty sermons attributed to Symeon Stylites the Younger provides a rare opportunity to investigate a stylite through his own words. Recent scholarship has shown that texts written by holy men often provide an image of the saint that is strikingly different from that preserved in their hagiographies, as in the cases of Shenoute of Atripe and Antony the Great. Despite this, Symeon’s sermons have received very little scholarly attention and have never been translated into a modern language. They are very unusual within the corpus of late antique homiletic literature, as they combine aspects of genres often regarded as distinct: the ascetic discourses of monks such as Evagrius of Pontus and Isaiah of Scetis, and the sermons of ecclesiastical preachers such as John Chrysostom. Thus the principal themes of the collection include not only the monk and his battles with the demons but also the sinfulness and brutality of the rich and the punishment which awaits them. This reflects the social position, and ambition, of this influential holy man: his audience is not limited to his own monastic disciples but seems to include sections of secular lay society.
This paper introduces and analyses the sermon collection to examine how the holy man constructed his spiritual authority. Whereas Symeon’s hagiographer presents his healing miracles as the basis of his popularity, the sermons reveal the power of his rhetoric and teaching. Although the style of the sermons has been criticised, with some validity, for its cumbersomeness, the speaker constructs his relationship with his audience in sophisticated ways. His self-presentation is equally complex. At times he speaks as hegumen to his monks; at others as the voice of the oppressed poor of Antiochene society. He depicts himself as a model of humility, but claims to be an experienced combatant with the demons. Throughout, he draws on his own experiences of visions, dramatizing his message with vivid accounts of divine revelations. He eschews the compromises adopted by many ecclesiastical preachers in view of their pastoral duties, instead focusing on the polarised opposition of demon and monk, rich and poor, and heaven and hell. His often aggressive rhetoric raises questions about the status of the stylite within society. The sermons themselves contain no references to their reception nor to Symeon’s relations with local elites. A comparison, however, with the hagiographic Life of Symeon Stylites the Younger suggests that Symeon was a controversial and divisive figure who attracted significant opposition in Antioch and its surroundings. The paper thus concludes by reflecting on the holy man’s role in late antique society.