The anonymous Greek Life of *Martha (mother of Symeon Stylites the Younger, S00864), written in Greek, recounts her holy life, death, and burial at the 'Wondrous Mountain', and several posthumous miracles. Written probably in the 7th c., and probably by a monk of the monastery and shrine of the Wondrous Mountain near Antioch (Syria).
Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles
Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts
Life of Martha (CPG 7370, BHG 1174)
cc.1-10: Her pious way of life
(1) The preface evokes the piety and diligence of those who seek heaven, and Martha’s virtues, which she conceals to avoid vanity. (2) She spends much of her time in church, offering lights and incense; she raises her son *Symeon (Stylites the Younger) virtuously up to the age of 6 and has a vision of herself offering him to the Lord. (3) She is devoted to church services. (4) A monk urges her to sit down in church to rest, but she refuses. She distributes cloths to farmers baptising their children, and takes care of the sick and poor. (5) She assists in funeral arrangements, she never haggles when shopping, she resolves conflicts, protects the mistreated, argues with the violent. (6) She shames the oppressive, and prays to the Lord for Symeon’s wellbeing. (7) She is devoted to priests; she reduces deranged demoniacs to obedience. (8) She has a vision of John the Baptist and Timothy. She goes to visit Symeon on the Wondrous Mountain and takes care of those she finds who are injured on the road. There are at that time many ambushes in the area. (9) She is extremely humble, and never boasts when she hears about the many miracles which her son performs; she urges him to avoid arrogance and tries to stop people from praising him. (10) Like the female disciples, she is extremely humble.
11-33: Premonitions of death; death; burial; reburial
(11) A year before her death she is warned about it in a vision. God also reveals her death to Symeon. (12) One of Symeon’s disciples has a vision of Martha transformed into a cross in the presence of the Virgin Mary. (13) Martha comes to Symeon to bid him farewell. (14) Symeon’s disciples lament; Martha bids them farewell. (15) Symeon has another vision of Martha on a throne commending his disciples to God. Martha comes to Symeon to reveal her secret good deeds. (16) Martha tells Symeon that she has had a vision of the people of Daphne coming to Symeon to ask for relief from plague, in which he blessed water, gave it to them, and told them to sprinkle it on themselves. (17) Martha sees men from the village of Charandamā lifting Symeon on their shoulders; then she has a visionary tour of heaven, guided by the Virgin Mary, who shows her the palace in which she will live. (18) Martha is taken higher into heaven and sees a more splendid palace which Symeon has built; she is also shown other parts of heaven and then descends a ladder back to earth. (19-22) She takes the Eucharist and delivers a farewell speech to Symeon, in which she praises him, asks him to remember her and the city of Antioch in his prayers, tells him not to be grieved by sceptics, and commends him to God. (23) She prays to God, saying that she knows that she is unworthy of heaven, but has faith that she will be spared because of the Eucharist; she asks Him to protect Symeon.
(24) She asks Symeon to bury her among the foreigners and strangers in the cemetery in Daphne, where the holy Thomas was buried [Thomas’s story is recounted in the Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius Scholasticus, IV.35]. (25) Symeon protests, wanting her to be buried in his complex; she prays to God to have her desire fulfilled. (26) She attends a service in the Lower Monastery, blesses Symeon and the brethren, and then goes down to the village of Tiberinos. In the shrine of John the Baptist she becomes weak. The locals make her stay there. (27) She wants to see Symeon again, but God prevents anyone from telling Symeon about her illness, so that she can be buried where she desires. The people take her to her house in Daphne, where she dies. (28) The inhabitants of Daphne wrap her in the linens which she had given for baptised children and bury her in the burial place of the foreigners, where the holy monk Thomas was buried. After three days Symeon sees in a vision that she is dead. One of the brothers asks that they be allowed to build her a tomb. (29) A farmer arrives to confirm that Martha has died. Symeon sends a disciple to collect her body, and some of the villagers of Charandamā also go to collect her body. (30) Two of them, John and Marinos, remove her from the tomb. They find that her body is unblemished even though it is July and very hot. They take her towards the monastery (31) Her body is extremely light as they take her to the monastery. They dig a tomb. (32) At night Martha appears to two of the brothers and confirms that she has been saved. She is buried with a funeral service. (33) The villagers of Gandigorōn come to participate in the vigil for Martha, to gather the fruits of her prayers. One of the villagers, John Lector, who has cured many people by distributing the eulogiai of Symeon, sees Martha ascending the ladder of Symeon’s column and a chariot of cherubim. Symeon explains that he has seen the cherubim coming to release her; everyone needs funeral prayers.
34-44: Plague and miracles
(34) Symeon sees demons afflicting those who are present for prayers. He censures and scatters them. He asks John Lector how far the plague has progressed, and then promises that it will leave John’s village and the neighbouring one. (35) The plague also afflicts the village of Charandamā. Some have a vision of Martha’s body; many are healed. One, called Sergios, the son of Antonios the procurator, refuses to approach or venerate Martha’s body, and falls extremely ill. His acquaintances and family are very distressed. On the rites for the 30th day after her funeral, he confesses that he fell ill because he failed to touch Martha’s body. (36) His family goes to Symeon to ask for his forgiveness. Symeon says that he cannot heal him but Martha’s relic can; they take him to her coffin, he asks for forgiveness, and is cured. The villagers of Gandigorōn hold a vigil for Martha. (37) John Lector removes wicks from the candles burnt for her night vigil and takes them to his village and uses them to heal the sick and to expel demons. (38) He is almost blind but Martha appears to him in a vision and heals him, telling him to take incense to her coffin; he awakens, healthy, and goes to Symeon’s monastery and does this. (39) Symeon chooses not to reproach his disciples when he sees them neglecting the lamp on Martha’s coffin. Then the manager of the monastery falls very ill, and Martha appears to him and rebukes him, stating that her veneration is not for her own benefit but for theirs; she brings the Eucharist to his sick body. (40) He wakes up, goes to her tomb, and becomes healthy, and swears to continue revering her. She appears to him again. (41) During the nocturnal odes, a man from Lycaonia appears who has been possessed by two demons for thirty years. A divine power drags him to Martha’s tomb and Martha appears and expels the demons. (42) A demon-possessed soldier from Hierapolis comes to Martha’s tomb, sees a vision of her exorcising his demon, and is healed. (43) One of the brothers goes to her tomb to light the lamp but feels disbelief and extinguishes it; he then falls seriously ill. He initially conceals his sin, but later confesses to the monks. He falls asleep and sees a vision of Martha showing him two paths, that of believers and unbelievers. He wakes and is healed. (44) Another brother, John, is disobedient to Symeon and so falls very ill. He has a vision of an angel coming to take his soul, but Martha goes up to heaven and intercedes for him and he recovers and becomes healthy.
45-53: New oratory; translation of body
(45) Symeon has a vision revealing that Martha’s body will be glorified in the southern part of the church complex. (46) Martha repeatedly appears to the brotherhood insisting that an oratory should be built for her, but Symeon holds back, in case people slander him, and because he wants to build one burial place for both of them. A brother reports to him another vision in which Martha has outlined the shape of the oratory. (47) More visions are reported; all the brothers urge Symeon to begin the oratory, but he says that if God desires this he will send more Isaurians to do the building. (48) Symeon has another vision of Martha singing a doxology, which he adds to the liturgy at the shrine. (49) He orders the oratory to be drawn according to the model which Martha has revealed to him. Lots of builders, mostly Isaurians, arrive at the monastery and ask to be allowed to build in exchange for healing. (50) One of the monks, Angoulas, tries to disrupt the building, asking one of the builders to build according to different plans, but Martha appears to another brother to expose this. Other divine plans for the building. (51) Martha’s coffin is translated to the new oratory. Many people are healed; the tomb still gives healing to those who come to it.
52-70. Acquisition of relic of the True Cross for the shrine
(52) Symeon prays to God asking for a piece of the True Cross, for Martha’s memorial. (53) He has a vision of three Iberian monks coming from Jerusalem to the monastery, one of whom, Antonios, brings him a relic of the cross. Antonios has a vision of Symeon telling him to come to the Wondrous Mountain. (54) A sceptical pilgrim leaves the shrine, stating that Symeon can only perform miracles because he is a magician. (55) He burns Symeon’s tokens (eulogiae) on a fire, although accidentally leaves one in his clothing. His arms are then smitten with leprosy. He repents, finds the last eulogia, and prays to Symeon for forgiveness. He smears the eulogia on himself and is soon cured, and returns to Symeon’s monastery. (56) The Iberian monks about whom Symeon has prophesied arrive; Antonios initially does not recognise the stylite’s special status but he is miraculously convinced and Symeon tells him to bring the relic. Antonios had twenty years previously received a vision telling him to live with the new Moses on the mountain. (57) Symeon sees another vision of a glorious sun beyond Jerusalem. An angel appears to Antonios and tells him to take a sprig of the vine of paradise from the Resurrection to Symeon. He opens the gospel in several churches for a sign. He takes a sprig of the vine and sets off to the Wondrous Mountain.
(58) The Lord inspires the Guardian of the Cross, Thomas, to write to Symeon via his messenger Paul about some questions which puzzle him. (59) Text of Thomas’s letter, very florid, asking for Symeon’s prayers and reassurance. (60) Symeon tells Paul about his desire for a relic of the cross. (61) Paul promises that Thomas will send this to him. (62) Symeon turns to Antonios, who gives him the sprig of the vine. Martha appears to Antonios telling him to go to Jerusalem; Symeon sends him to Thomas with a letter. (63-6) Text of Symeon’s letter to Thomas, explaining inter alia all the visions he has seen relating to the acquisition of the relic of the cross. (67) Antonios prays in the Church of the Resurrection, and delivers the letter. Thomas is delighted, summons a goldsmith, builds a cross and puts a piece of the True Cross inside it; he gives it to Antonios and dismisses him. Antonios brings it to Symeon. Symeon reads the letter which Thomas sends to him. (68-9) Text of Thomas’s letter to Symeon, requesting his prayers and asking him to explain some obscure comments on Moses in his previous letter. Thomas describes the relics which he has sent, including part of the rock which the angel rolled away from the tomb of Christ, and part of the rock of Golgotha. (70) Antonios decides to stay in Symeon’s monastery; Symeon subsequently makes him bishop of Seleucia. On the anniversary of Martha’s death a crowd of worshippers miraculously gathers for her memorial service; the cross is deposited.
71-3: Final miracles, conclusion
(71) Two brothers from Phrygia hear about the healings performed by Martha and Symeon, and come to the shrine, one, Hilarion, with a diseased foot and the other, Proairesios, with a paralysed hand. Hilarion is partially relieved when he approaches Martha’s tomb, and completely cured when her dust has been put on his foot. (72) Proairesios initially fails to mention his diseased hand; Symeon reproaches him and Proairesios says that he does not believe that Christ himself could cure it. Symeon banishes him. But he approaches Martha’s tomb at night secretly, asking for forgiveness, and is cured. (73) Conclusion. Christ still works miracles through Martha.
Summary: Lucy Parker
Other liturgical acts and ceremoniesCult Places
Burial site of a saint - tomb/graveActivities accompanying Cult
Cult building - monastic
Burial site of a saint - cemetery/catacomb
Burial site of a saint - sarcophagus/coffin
Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)
Descriptions of cult places
Production and selling of eulogiai, tokensRejection, Condemnation, Sceptisism
Condemnation/rejection of a specific cultic activity Non Liturgical Activity
Scepticism/rejection of miracles
Composing and translating saint-related texts Miracles
Visiting graves and shrines
Miracle during lifetimeRelics
Miracle after death
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Miraculous protection - of communities, towns, armies
Miraculous behaviour of relics/images
Healing diseases and disabilities
Bodily relic - entire bodyProtagonists in Cult and Narratives
Transfer, translation and deposition of relics
Contact relic - wax
Bodily relic - corporeal ashes/dust
Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
Foreigners (including Barbarians)
Relatives of the saint
SourceThe identity of the author of the Life of Martha is not known, although he was almost certainly a monk of Symeon Stylites the Younger’s monastery on the Wondrous Mountain. There is no secure evidence of the text’s date. It must postdate the Life of Symeon Stylites the Younger (itself not securely dated, but probably a product of the early seventh century) as its author knows the longer Life. The only certain terminus ante quem is the late ninth century, as a manuscript of part of the text survives from this period. It is most probable that it was written soon after the Life of Symeon, also in the seventh century: for discussion of this, see Van den Van den Ven (1962-70) and Parker (2016).
The Life is edited by P. Van den Ven, La Vie ancienne de S. Syméon Stylite le Jeune (521-592) (Subsidia Hagiographica 31) Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 2 vols, 1962-70, II, 249-314. Van den Ven provides detailed descriptions of the four surviving manuscripts of the Life, all of which transmit extremely similar versions of the text. It also survives in a Georgian translation, which reflects Symeon and his mother’s cults’ strong links with Georgia.
DiscussionThe context of the writing of the Life is the creation of a cult in her own right for Martha, the mother of the famous holy man Symeon the Younger. In the Life of Symeon, Martha is described as a pious woman who was distraught at having to sacrifice her virginity to her parents’ desire for her to marry, and who remained devoted to her son throughout her life. But she is never, in this earlier text, presented as a miracle worker. The only possible sign of any cultic devotion to Martha in her son’s Life comes in chapter 221, which refers to a service held in Martha’s memory at the monastery. It is noteworthy that the earliest pilgrim tokens from Symeon’s shrine seem only to depict Symeon, while later medieval tokens also show Martha (and Symeon’s most famous disciple, Konon). It is unclear when exactly Martha’s own cult developed, but there are hints in the Life that this was a controversial process: two passages (cc. 39 and 46) refer to potential critics of the saint’s decision to venerate his mother.
It was certainly highly unusual for the mother of an ascetic holy man to be revered as a miracle-working saint. Martha is presented as neither a martyr nor an ascetic; her only claim to especial virtue, other than her link to Symeon, was her generally pious way of life, which was marked in particular by devotion to church rituals and priests. The structure of the Life is also very unusual. Rather than providing a narrative of her life, the first part of the text (1-10) describes this pious way of life in mostly generalised terms. This is followed by a lengthy account of her death, from an initial series of visions prophesying her death, to her burial in the tomb of the foreigners in Daphne and her reburial in Symeon’s monastery. Ten chapters (34-44) then describe miracles performed at her tomb. Six chapters (45-51) recount the building of a new oratory for her body and her translation to this. This section contains a critical reference to Angoulas, one of Symeon’s disciples who also plays a very negative role in the Life of the stylite. There is then a lengthy account (52-70) of Symeon’s successful efforts to acquire a relic of the True Cross for his monastery. The transition into this last section is rather disjointed, which might suggest that it was a later addition, although it is thematically linked to the rest of the text.
Throughout the Life the hagiographer emphasises the importance of devotion to church liturgy and rituals related to the veneration of the saints. In particular, in the later part of the Life, he stresses the need for diligent participation in the rites held in Martha’s honour on the Wondrous Mountain. Most of her miracles take place in a liturgical context, such as the all-night vigils at her shrine. Several people fall ill after failing to perform their ritual duties such as attending to the lamp on her tomb. Compared to the Life of Symeon, the Life of Martha is much more limited in its scope. All of her miracles are healing miracles, and the vast majority of the beneficiaries are monks of Symeon’s monastery or local villagers. It refers to outbreaks of plague but not to the other disasters, including earthquakes and Persian invasions, which play a prominent role in the Life of her son. Symeon’s Life also contains references to liturgy and ritual, but this is far more pervasive and dominant in the Life of Martha.
Van den Ven, P. La Vie ancienne de S. Syméon Stylite le Jeune (521-592) (Subsidia Hagiographica 31) Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 2 vols, 1962-70, II, 249-314.
Parker, L., ‘Paradigmatic Piety: Liturgy in the Life of Martha, Mother of Symeon Stylites the Younger’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 24.1 (2016), 99-125.
Peeters, P., ‘S. Thomas d’Émèse et la Vie de Ste Marthe’, Analecta Bollandiana 45 (1927), 262-96.
Van den Ven, P. ‘Le martyrium en triconque dans la Vie de sainte Marthe’, Byzantion 31 (1961), 249-55.
|ID||Name||Name in Source||Identity||S00020||John the Baptist||Certain||S00033||Mary, Mother of Christ||Certain||S00466||Timothy, the disciple of Paul the Apostle||Certain||S00860||Symeon the Younger, stylite near Antioch, ob. 592.||Certain||S00864||Martha, mother of Symeon Stylites the Younger, ob. late 6th c.||Μάρθα||Certain|
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