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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

The Greek Life of *Alypios the Stylite (stylite and monastic founder of Hadrianopolis, ob. early 7th c., S02437). With full first English translation.

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For the obvious reason that we lack the resources to do more, the Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity database provides (whenever possible) summaries and extracts from hagiographies, but not full texts. However Charles Kuper has very kindly sent us his complete translation of this interesting Life, and we are delighted to publish it in full, including his notes. If using it, please acknowledge his authorship.

The Life of our Holy Father Alypius the Stylite who died during the reign of Heraclius in the city of Hadrianopolis, which is in the province
of Paphlagonia.[1]

1. Even though many have succeeded in composing the lives of the holy fathers and thereby in encouraging many people to emulate their pious lifestyles, how would we not be thought to be unjust, perhaps even slanderous, if we pass over this holy father’s preeminent virtue in silence? Therefore, let me write this [account], so that the next generation, that is, the children who are yet to be born, might know [about him]. Then, they will pass on these stories to their own children, so that they might place their hope in God and attempt to achieve a level of virtue equal to this saint’s. So, let us reveal to many, insofar as we can, what is manifestly known about him through God’s grace.

2. God’s servant Alypius, as many people have learned through hearsay or know through personal experience, called his fatherland—if it is proper to call one’s home on earth one’s “fatherland”—the city named after Hadrian,[2] which is within the province of Paphlagonia. His conduct and his lifestyle exceeded those of everyone else.[3] Him the Lord marked out and knew from his mother’s womb, blessing [her] with visions and signs, thereby revealing the [future] advancement and progression of His servant in piety. For while Alypius’ mother was still pregnant with him, she seemed to see a ram one night in a dream. On this ram’s horns were two lanterns full of light with bright candles, and they illuminated her house.[4] This ram did
not light upon its own den until the child in her womb came to light and released his mother from her birth pangs. Not long after his mother’s release from her birth pangs,[5] she again saw a vision while she dreamed: the entire population of her city approached her child, [singing] hymns, odes, and litanies, and they revered him as one would a holy priest. These visions of his mother spurred her to come to a pious decision. Because her husband had already passed his life on this earth, living for less than three full years from the birth of his son, she decided that it would be right to live for God alone and for her son. Moreover, she decided that she would rather dedicate her body thereafter to Christ than disgrace, by involving herself in a second marriage,[6] the love she had for her dearly beloved son and the union she had had with her husband, who had piously lived with her for a long time.

3. Setting her mind to this holy plan, Alypius’ mother took her son and made her way to the church, because she recognized that the Lord is the only good protector of orphans and widows. Immediately after Alypius was weaned, she earnestly dedicated him, like a second Samuel, to the Lord by placing him into the hands of the bishop of the time.[7] After receiving Alypius into his arms, the bishop then nourished him—like a good shepherd would do—after his mother did, with spiritual milk, that is, [by teaching him] the sweet words of divine scripture and thereby sustaining the vessel of his soul in order that he might easily achieve the understanding that increases over time and is maturity’s companion—and Alypius kept pace with his teacher’s aspirations. In fact, the child received all of holy scripture, like a healthy scion [receiving] the spiritual rains of piety, and he bore fruit, which will soon become clear.

4. It so happened at that time that Theodore, who is worthy of holy commemoration, and whom we mentioned a little earlier, reached the end of his life. He left a successor, who was also named Theodore and was no less pious in his character.[8] [The second Theodore]’s actions were akin to his predecessor. He greatly loved Alypius about whom our narrative is concerned. For shepherd truly found shepherd’s spiritual[9] lamb nourished with goodness, a youth grounded by a fear in God.[10] He found youth in its bloom but exhibiting none of its tokens. Alypius seemed to have the appearance of youth to many onlookers, but the steady progression of his character clearly revealed a sagacious blossoming toward understanding. Moreover, a fear of God, which marks the beginning of wisdom for humans, was upon him.[11] Now after it had become obvious that he stood first among all in his pious conduct, the holy assembly of the church unanimously appointed him as steward[12] because they judged him to be most trustworthy. They believed that this appointment would be beneficial to all, not because Alypius had any experience in business matters, but because he was filled with divine understanding. In addition to assigning him as steward at the people’s request, the church’s superior[13] also ordained him a deacon of the divine mysteries. These events were the fulfillment of [the vision] from when Alypius was about to be born. Like that [vision], the holy lamb was nursed within the holy sheepfold, and he was guided towards pious conduct by such exemplary shepherds, whom I mentioned before. Who and how great he was during his subsequent lifetime is not possible for me to recount, not because I do not represent the truth as I should, but rather because I cannot match the man’s laudable feats for God with my inferior diction.[14] All the same, I shall speak by focusing on father Alypius’ virtue. Perhaps I shall even achieve some modicum [of success] in composing an account of his achievements.

5. Alypius always had God in mind, and God always had Alypius in mind. Conscious of all of God’s blessed commandments, Alypius possessed a clarity of his mind’s eye, and with it he deliberated at every moment what he could do to hear that divine saying, “
Well done, good and trustworthy servant” [Matt 25:21]. And he discovered the answer to his question when he, who longed for Christ, learned the path towards sanctity from Christ himself, who is longed for. For the Good Shepherd, who laid down His own life for His flock and who opened the door for those who were willing to knock—because every commandment He makes is for the salvation of those desirous of the kingdom of heaven—first commanded [us] to love God with all our whole soul, then, to give the proper respect to our parents, and finally, for a loftier and perfect love of God, selling all of our ephemeral wealth that is left behind[15] to the poor, and taking up our cross with humility, to follow in the footsteps of Christ who made these commandments. So it was necessary, yes, it was necessary for the human of God to fulfill this final commandment, which is the greatest of the commandments, for the completion of his virtuous conduct. For he prudently observed the rest of the commandments from his youth. Then, without any delay, he said his farewell to all worldly things. And Alypius did this without any regret, unlike the rich man from scripture when he heard from the Lord that he should sell his possessions and give them to the poor in return for eternal life.[16]

6. Alypius only told his mother about his plan, and he did this because he desired her blessing. “Mother,” he said, “I am going east. Send me off with your blessing, since I desire [to go] where many have embraced a life of solitude and lived blessed lives.” She immediately cooperated with her son’s plan, suffering in no way what many women are accustomed to suffer—complaining, for example, about their widowhood and loneliness and [saying] that they cannot at all bear to see their dearest children desert them. The wise woman said none of these things to weaken her son’s resolve. Instead, she stretched her hands upward to heaven and devoted her entire mind to prayer, encouraging her dearest son’s purpose with these words, saying, “Go, my child. Go where the divine spirit of grace urges and guides you. Behold, my child, God, for whom we live and to whom I dedicated you, will send His good angel before you,[17] and He will guide you, how and where He wishes, so that you prosper and be well-pleasing in everything by the glory of His greatness. May He grant you His grace in what you do and say. He will preserve you on every straight path. ‘
May He send[18] you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion’ [Ps 19:3]. He will gird[19] you with the cuirass of justice and set the helm of salvation on your head.[20] He will grant the seed of your labor to fall upon the good earth,[21] and ‘you shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands’ [Ps 127:2]. Let your life and conduct be ‘like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither’ [Ps 1:3]. May the petitions of your prayers be acceptable before God for the salvation of many. May the righteousness of your deeds shine forth like the noonday sun.[22] May I see, with my eyes, you rising brightly like the morning star, because you loved your Lord more than your parents.”[23] After her prayer, her son threw his arms around his mother’s neck, and she did likewise around her son’s. They wept and embraced each other. After a tender kiss farewell, they took leave of each other. Righteous Alypius took enjoyment from his mother’s prayer and made his journey; his mother calmly made her way back home.

7. A few days later, when word of what happened spread, every fellow cleric and every citizen became upset and discouraged because they could not bear to be separated from the human of God. The most holy bishop[24] of the city did not even have the patience to wait for news but immediately ran with great speed and pursued the holy man, making every effort and exerting all his energy [to find out] where Alypius was,[25] and where and when he departed. You could see his dejection. He was like a mother cow lowing for her lost calf as she searches for it. But because God’s foresight provides for what is better, the bishop found him in Euchaita during the celebration of the martyr Theodore’s feast day. The bishop, after persuading him with supplications, returned to his city, where holy Alypius thereafter lived his monastic life and finally died in a way pleasing to God. For God guided our circumstances with his mysterious but philanthropic goodwill,[26] since He returned the fruit to its native land from which it was grown to preserve the land’s joy. Moreover, righteous Alypius received divine counsel in a dream that he should in no way be discouraged because he had strayed from his course. For the one who appeared at night[27] told him that holy places are wherever a lover of God chooses to live piously. Awakening happily from these visions, Alypius returned home and searched for a dwelling place that was removed from the cities, free from wild animals, and quiet. He then ascended one of the mountains that was south of the city. Upon recognizing that the mountain was beautiful, was elevated, and was free from disturbance, Alypius stood at its peak and surveyed all of the surrounding area. His eye was delighted, his spirit was gladdened, and his soul was well pleased. But the land did not have any water, and this grieved holy Alypius.[28]

8. The next day Alypius took a two-pronged shovel,[29] ascended the mountain, searched around, and dug until noon, but no water was found—there was no water. Discouraged by this, he lay down from his labor and having lain down fell asleep. As he slept, he saw in a vision a man pointing out a place to him and advising him to dig there. Alypius awoke, dug, and behold, there was a small trickle of water. Alypius set his mind to dig deeper, and the water spurted out. He rejoiced in his soul and prayed to God who shows His mercy upon those who take refuge in Him. Making haste to his bishop, he arrived, explained what happened, and asked to lay the foundations for a chapel with his blessing. The bishop, upon learning of the situation, agreed to cooperate with holy Alypius in every matter, but in secret he sent [someone] to seal the source of the spring in order that Alypius might despair and abandon the mountain because it was difficult to traverse and was toilsome to those who wanted to climb it. He also did this so that Alypius [would come] down and dwell on the plains around the city so as to be accessible to all. Then Alypius departed and returned, happening upon a secluded and isolated place. He saw that it was a deserted place before the city that happened to be full of ancient tombs. A large crowd of spirits haunted that dreadful place and made it even more terrifying for everyone. Christ’s soldier was the very first to dare to go there, which greatly shocked the men with whom he traveled, as he searched and looked for a quiet place of repose. For divine longing does not know how to be suspicious of danger but is instead driven by a greater hope for what is better. All of the men, one after the other, raised their voices as they stood at a distance, and shouted, “What sort of the demon has snatched you away from us and taken you there, human? Alas, alas! Come back! Leave that deserted and terrible place where only demons can find joy.” Then turning back they said to one another, “This man is out of his mind. He deliriously hands himself over to evil spirits.” They continuously made these pleas and reached out their right hands to him, beckoning him to flee and swiftly depart from there. But holy Alypius barely turned back to their cries. He gazed pleasantly and happily at them and smiled, because they cried out from fear but did not dare to come closer and help the one among them who was allegedly “in danger.”

9. All the same, those who lived near the place wanted to see what little they could from across the way, but when they saw him, as if raised above the ground, on one of the tombs that had been built there, they fled and returned to their homes. There was a column positioned on the tomb, and on its top there was a statue of a creature, which was half-lion and half-bull. Honoring this column,[30] as if it were alive and almost friendly to him, Alypius approached it and threw his arms around it in a most loving manner. Speaking some pleasant and gentle words like the following, he said, “Greetings, most precious of all works of stone to me. For although you were rejected by the builders for the tomb and the epitaph, I recognize that I should greet you because you have instead been created as my cornerstone.[31] Therefore, it would not be incongruous to say that I believe that this has happened through the Lord, and that it is a miracle in my eyes. Rejoice with me, O rock; you also rejoice with me on account of Christ, since Christ was called both ‘True Rock’ and ‘Unwavering Strength,’ and on a rock he desired to set His feet. I have chosen this rock here for my eternal repose.” After saying these words and many more because of his delight, he ran back to the city and gathered an image of the Lord, a cross, and an iron crowbar. He immediately climbed [the column] and set the crowbar under the lion—the statue was large and very heavy. By exerting himself and struggling with the crowbar, he was just able to throw down the statue onto the earth. For blessed Alypius was strong and at the height of his youth. In the [statue’s] place, he set up and elevated what is truly the most powerful symbol of the living—the trophy of the cross and the image of the Lord—in order that the tyrant’s[32] inimical horde might then, without any fear [of danger], be ridiculed and derided by the working of the divine powers. Protecting himself with such armor,[33] the chosen golden vessel[34] peacefully fell asleep in that place. He then saw two holy men standing before him, and they lightly rebuked him as they drew near, “How long will you allow us to wait, human of God, if in fact you are really Alypius, who was chosen by God to purify this place? Do not put off what comes next.” Now these two men appeared to pious Alypius again when he began to lay the foundations for a chapel for the famous martyr Euphemia. One of them held a censer in his right hand and inscribed the area marked out [for the structure]. He also revealed the church that would be erected later on. The other man intoned gently, “Hosanna upon this place.” Who these men were was never revealed to anyone, but their remains were discovered some time later just as they appeared to holy Alypius in his dream. Their remains filled the place with a fragrant aroma with the result that visitors at that time were amazed. To this day, their remains are preserved on display in the narthex of the martyr Ephemia’s church just as blessed Alypius commanded. And now I must not neglect my duty to relate to my readers how and when and where [Euphemia], the most tested in spiritual labor, stirred holy Alypius’ fervent desire for building a church for her.

10. For a reason of business with the emperor, they brought the bishop[35] of that time to Alypius, and he, because he was a deacon of the church, was ordered by the bishop to accompany him [to the capital], although Alypius was unwilling—he despised trips to the city because of their tendency to drive the soul to passionate pleasure-seeking. Nevertheless, he respectfully accompanied his bishop[36] until Chalcedon, but there he secretly slipped away as the bishop[37] was preparing to cross the Bosporus to Constantinople.[38] He entered the
martyrion of the martyr Vassa, which was located by the sea, and hid himself inside by sleeping under one of the cots [for incubation] there. The martyr [Euphemia][39] kindly stood before him in a dream, but she sternly commanded him to awake. When Alypius, who was struck by the grace [granted] to her, respectfully[40] and politely asked her who she was and why she commanded him to awake, she replied to him, “I, whom you see, am Euphemia, Christ’s maidservant and martyr. Wake up; let us return to your fatherland. For I shall also accompany you; I shall be your companion, your partner, and your protector in your journey to God.” After making this revelation in a dream, she sowed in him a desire to awake and urged him to return joyfully to his fatherland. Now he did not forget his protector [Euphemia], for he always kept an image of her in his mind, how kindly she spoke to him and how compassionately she revealed herself to him, encouraging him to walk the path that leads to the heavenly lifestyle of the angels, where she herself, having completed her great trial, wears a crown of victory and enjoys eternal bliss.

11. Because of this, Alypius laid the foundations for a
martyrion in the holy woman’s name. The martyrion was at that time modest in size, only large enough to satisfy his devotion to Euphemia. For his ability to construct great structures[41] was not equal to his desire, since he, in obedience to holy scripture, did not own a bag, nor a belt with money at its side, nor a second tunic beyond need.[42] Instead, he lived a life of self-imposed poverty, revealing his faith and gratitude in his creator through his belief that, although he had nothing, he possessed everything, as the apostle said.[43] Furthermore, some of his companions who recognized his poverty cheerfully funded the expenditure required for his pillar. They did this so that they could offer to God a choice holocaust on account of his devotion to Him—[they recognized this] because they saw a man progressing in his ascension to God, a man who received, in his pure mind, the pure illuminations of the Holy Spirit, who mastered his own body by fasting and nighttime vigils, and who refused to resist the Spirit’s efforts, since he realized that those who earnestly train themselves to be perfect in virtue have need of the Spirit, not because their contests are against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, and the rulers of the world,[44] a struggle against whom it is difficult for those who live in the flesh to discern. He did not waver from his holy purpose; instead, he who was resplendent in the flesh defeated [these] incorporeal [spirits], achieving a clear victory against them in order that God might be glorified by those who truly glorify His servant Alypius and so that God might reveal the greatness of His own strength through His faithful ministers. What occurred through Alypius and for God, learn, my faithful readers,[45] and glorify God with me.

12. Blessed Alypius, wanting to make his pious ascent of the pillar, followed the model of the elders and entered at that time a cell that was very simple and small. He was thirty years old, and he trained his body with the labors of asceticism for two years[46] just like a general about to meet the ranks of his enemies.[47] For [evil] spirits immediately attacked holy Alypius there, since he greatly roused their anger as he sang the psalms, continuously wounding them with the fiery odes of divine words. Because of this, they quickly, as in an ambush, rose wildly against him and fell upon his cell, causing it to shake to its foundations. The spirits thought they would be more successful in defeating blessed Alypius in the beginning if they should set themselves to afflicting him with the fear of spirits, but they abandoned this difficult, this impossible task, unable to cause holy Alypius any harm. For he stood like Mount Zion as he put his trust in the Lord; he was protected by the glorious cuirass of his prayers and by the spear of the cross. After the spirits fled from his cell, they returned to the
martyrion, since the rites of consecration had not yet been completed. Therefore, when they perceived that these rites were being performed, they deceitfully made some noise, thundering nearby with the terrible roar of a lion. This commotion almost caused the entire crowd gathered with him to scatter in flight, but the Gospel transformed their cowardice into bravery. For after the deacon proclaimed the Gospel from Matthew and intoned the customary “Glory to you, O Lord,” the entire crowd entered the church with haste, since the opposing power [of the spirits] no longer withstood the holiness of the consecratory rites. Instead, the spirits fled with a great cry and lament, as if they were tortured with some fearsome scourge. This is how the spirits were driven away at that time, and they never endeavored to return to the martyrion again. This is how the martyrion was dedicated to the martyr [Euphemia], since she was the first to anoint holy Alypius for the trials of virtue, as we have made clear above.

13. From that time everyone, both great and small, came to that place without fear but with great joy. They continuously visited the saint, and if they should wish, any man or woman, child or elderly, could share a meal with him, spend time with him, or participate in the blessed readings. They enjoyed these activities, and their desire for them was insatiable.[48] But when Alypius discovered that these activities were taxing on his soul—since he had to neglect his prayers and spiritual progress—he said farewell to the concerns of the world, both his friends and his business.[49] Then he climbed upward and made himself a monument on the pillar,[50] sheltered only by a few timbers on the column’s top, where there was scarcely room for holy Alypius to lie down or sit. Regardless, he always stood, like a statue made of bronze, upon it. He withstood the rain, the scorching sun, the snow and ice, the wind, even hurricanes. Stone and iron, lifeless and sturdy materials, often waste away over time against these elements and are ruined, finally passing into nothing. But against these same elements did that great man struggle, he who is the companion of the saints and even outperformed them, he who was the most secure heir of the kingdom of heaven, even beyond any thief and robber.[51] For these [thieves and robbers] perhaps, after suffering the harshest of punishments[52]—exceeding Alypius’ own only by chance—were relieved of their suffering and earned the greater part, but the praise of God was always on the lips of holy Alypius—his entire life from his infancy was a confession.

14. What martyr ever endured such trials of asceticism and suffering for seventy years[53] on Christ’s behalf? There were the three youths who were more illustrious than the Babylonian fire and whose desire for God was hotter than it—but they struggled against only one element, and only for one day.[54] Alypius, however, always withstood the heat’s flame, as well as the noonday sun’s rays that burned fiercely. A single frigid and icy night caused one of God’s forty soldiers to desert his ranks for hope of the warm baths, thereby losing the greatest hope of all.[55] Alypius, however, was frozen by the frost and the accompanying frigid blasts of the blowing winds for a great many years, but he never wavered from his purpose, although he died, so to speak, and rose again daily, fighting nobly in the arena of his asceticism. And even if some of the saints contended against wild and savage beasts as brave Alypius did, no one [matches him] against the wickedness of demons. Once, during the very dead of the night, Alypius, as he was standing on his column, was struck by a stone that was thrown, as if from a catapult, by the demons, and his shoulder was lacerated when he was struck. Alypius then raised his hands to the starry heavens and revealed the following to the demons, concealing nothing but speaking these words openly to them, “Wretched haters of humankind, why do you try—in vain and to no purpose—to trouble and attack God’s servants? Look upon the stone you hurled; look upon it and behold. This stone will be for me a witness against you of your own wickedness. I shall present it before Christ on the day of His coming. In order that you might know that I consider your attacks to be [no more than] the blows of a small child, behold, I shall even cast down to the ground the roof over my head. This roof often shields me from the rocks you cast. It also prevents me from suffering on behalf of the Lord something similar to what Stephen the Protomartyr did and from winning the same crown that he won. It was you who killed him, through the hands of the Jews with whom you will share the eternal punishment of Gehenna.”[56] When the demons heard these words and realized that righteous Alypius would brave any torment on behalf of Christ, they fled immediately and departed from the region. The following story was circulated by travelers on the road that night who said that at some point on the road they encountered the demons lamenting and bewailing their banishment, shrilly crying out the following words, “Alypius has driven us from our home. Where are we to go now that we have nowhere to stand?”

15. After evening prayer, God’s noble soldier asked his mother for an axe on the pretense of some need. He took this axe and cut the roof of his enclosure from its four [supports], and then he cast it upon the earth—he persisted uncovered in the open air until his final day.[57] When his mother perceived the sound of the [fallen] timbers and saw them broken upon the earth, she began to strike her forehead with her right hand, saying, “Why, my child, have you done such a thing; why have you destroyed the protection for your watch? Have you no fear of the dangers of blizzards, of the furious downpours of springtime storms, or of the random death that thunderbolts bring to many?[58] And who is it that causes these disasters?” Righteous Alypius then wisely answered his mother, saying, “It is not Christ, God the Son of the living God, the truest life of the world, on behalf of whom I pray to make this sacrifice and for whom it is a blessing to undergo even the smallest suffering? Shall we not gladly freeze now, mother, so that we might embrace that unapproachable light in heaven? Shall we not endure the heat of the day here, so that we earn a reward equal to our labor and avoid the punishment of eternal fire?” After he spoke these words and many more like them, he was just able to persuade his mother to approve, not only his decision to cast down his enclosure for Christ, but also his decision to strip his body of his cloak. For she did not know how to pity her son even though she loved him dearly. Whenever he suffered something for Christ, she unnaturally resisted nature,[59] so that she might put God her creator before her created son. And it was delightful and uplifting for all the faithful to see his mother rejoicing in her dearest son, her son rejoicing in his pious mother, and God greatly glorified through them. For who would not praise the fruit of that holy and wondrous woman? Again, who would not consider the root of such wonderful fruit to be blessed? In addition to the rest of the good works that she had performed, she dwelt with her son, serving him and ministering to his needs. She pitched a tent for herself next to his column, where she rejected the pleasures of the world. So she remained, as if she were living in Paradise, laboring with her own hands and providing for her own needs, since she was a widow and unmarried. She dedicated herself to almsgiving to such an extent that she considered owning two small coins worthy of reproach.

16. And so it happened that they were blessed with the fruit of a third coin.[60] Taking it at her son’s command, Alypius’ mother departed to the city in order to exchange it for usable money for the expenditure of their livelihood. But after she made the transaction and prepared to return, she was moved by the entreaties of the poor and gave them all of her money. When her son observed that she was returning emptyhanded, he said, “Where is the money, mother, since we need it for our expenses?” She replied, “It is in God’s hands, but I also believe that it is in the hands of the poor as well as our own. For I judged it impious to value our own sustenance over the cries of those in need, thereby breaking our vow to the Living God, since I believe that we will be shown mercy through the prayers of those who have been shown mercy.”[61] Alypius praised his mother for her actions and gladly accepted their
outcome, since he also came from her.[62] Because of this, God also exalted them, bestowing them with the goods of the earth and the greater goods of heaven. For Alypius’ name and the grace bestowed on him by God were recounted everywhere, and many souls of both men and women were called to repentance because of it. The fervor for God first roused Euphemia, one of the noblewomen from Alypius’ city, so strongly that she abandoned her husband, her children, her friends, and her relatives and enclosed herself near blessed Alypius’ column—she courageously passed through the narrow gate[63] and now lives blissfully on the plains of eternal life.

17. After Euphemia, a love for God also stirred Euboula, who was great among women as well as the first abbess of the women’s monastery. She achieved such a level of virtue that once, when she offered incense in the middle of the night, she visibly struggled against a demon for many hours. This demon would not allow her to continue [with her devotion] but vied to prevent the holy woman from offering nocturnal prayers to the Lord as was her custom. Having previously lived a luxurious and celebrated life,[64] she became illustrious for her pursuit of a life of virtue, and her success was matched by few women upon the earth. Shortly thereafter, there was someone similar to these holy women,[65] namely Mary, Alypius’ own sister,[66] who rejected all worldly things, both her husband and ephemeral luxury,[67] and she practiced her asceticism so courageously[68] that her self-control served as a model for all nuns who followed her in ascetic conduct, even until this very day. In a short time, many other women, both local and from far away, assembled. They cast their possessions upon the ground and knelt before holy Alypius, saying, “Father, may we be saved through you. If you have run the race for the incorruptible crown of victory, we shall also courageously do this. Even if we are weaker by nature, by your example we have been honored by Him who is greater, since we have the same potential for virtue. For there is no male or female in Christ.[69] Let us strive to buy this spiritual pearl of great price through you.[70] May we join you in your conduct. But let the greater reward be yours; let us only have a share in your conduct. Do not be disheartened at us, because we are of a fragile, fickle sex. We know about life. We have passed through its pleasures, we have experienced everything, and we have realized that everything is vanity. We know only one thing, to live for Christ and obey His commandments. Be assured that we have been betrothed to Him, our dearly beloved.”

18. When Alypius heard these words, he began to cry, since he admired their fervent dedication to God. Then he looked to heaven and entreated God from the bottom of his heart, saying, “Lord, lover of humanity, who heal our sins with repentance, may the words of your servants rise before you, and may it be for these women as they believe. Also, grant your servant the strength to assure the souls of those who take refuge in the font of your mercy, and grant him the strength to offer them, on the day of your coming, as unashamed of their holy deeds, since they have clothed themselves in the light of your justice and holiness, for the glory of your magnificent sanctity.” After he made this prayer, he had two holy monasteries built across from each another, and between them he separated the bodies of each sex—I could not say that their spirits and souls [were any different]. He also gave this canon and rule to the holy women: that they never be seen by men, since even the most virtuous are liable to error. Now they observed this commandment so rigidly that, although they were permitted by holy Alypius, they even refused to see their earthly fathers on account of their rejection of [earthly] death as meaningless.[71] They did this so that they might, because of their self-control,[72] transcend even this worldly bond.

19. Holy Alypius’ mother also participated in this lifestyle with the other women, keeping the same canon, but she had not received the nuns’ habit though she was often encouraged to do so by holy Alypius—she thought a nun was no different from a deaconess.[73] But sleep persuaded her, that is, some divine revelation persuaded her to beseech holy Alypius to bestow on her the habit of asceticism. For during her dream she seemed to hear the melody of holy women singing harmonious and divine songs for their God and King. She was pleased in her spirit, and she desired to enter the monastery, where groups of choruses chanted, wanting to join them in their songs and hymns. But she was denied access by the doorkeeper, who guarded its entrance, saying, “You will not enter; you cannot join God’s pious maidservants, since you are an outsider and do not share their ascetic habit.” Alypius’ mother was ashamed at this rebuke but became determined. When she awoke, she knelt before her holy son and convinced him that she should take the monastic habit, relating to him everything that she saw in her dream. When she received it that morning,[74] she was gladdened and rejoiced with the other nuns, since she no longer lacked anything for her perfection in virtue. She planted the seeds of many various acts of righteousness [on earth], and now she enjoys boundless fruits [in heaven].

20. So blessed Alypius arranged for the men and women to be separated and live apart from each other. But as to God and their subsequent mode of living, he arranged for them, like true siblings in Christ, to differ in no way from each other, maintaining an equal-spirited love for each other. He also arranged for them to praise their benefactor and author of their lives, so that they might propitiate the King of Creation seven times a day through the sublime melody of their songs. God, His angels, and His saints enjoy listening to singing, but it is even sweeter to observe the human of God standing between heaven and earth, like an ethereal angel, on his pillar, with his hands stretched upward as he sings the praises of the Trinity through three groups. Alypius himself joined in song the recluses who happened to be at the base of his column. Furthermore, the choruses of the group of monks stood on one side, and those of the women on the other. So great was the beauty of their hymns to God that passersby would often, upon hearing their singing, become so entranced that they forgot whatever they were doing and remained there until the music concluded.

21. I shall recount some of those great miracles that God performed through His servant, and let no one doubt them. For there were many eyewitnesses of this particular miracle: a light descended from heaven and came to a rest on top of the column above holy Alypius’ head, remaining for some time. Now this miracle occurred at night, when there were unceasing roars of thunder, uninterrupted flashes of lightning, and a downpour of rain—[occurring at this time], I think, so that not all would dare to gaze upon the glory of these ineffable wonders. The place was illuminated with such a brilliance of light that many who did not have a clear view believed that Alypius’ enclosure[75] was completely engulfed in flames. But Alypius was deeply joyful and quietly spoke the mysterious words one says before the distribution of the Eucharist,[76] reciting the “Of Your mystical supper.”[77] Both before[78] and after the appearance [of the light], Alypius wanted to prevent the miracle from becoming known, since he was wary of ephemeral human praise. But something else proclaimed the coming of that luminary—the cross that had been fixed to the timbers of his enclosure above. The cross began to shake and give off a hissing sound,[79] which continued until the fire again took the shape of a column, rose into the clouds, and ascended into the heights of heaven. Not only one or two, not just ten or fifty people witnessed this miracle, but even many others besides—this miracle was so great that it could even be observed in the capital city.

22. And indeed, the empress of that time made many requests of the human of God through a letter. She also sent him a great sum of money, some of which she sent with the letter, the rest of which she promised to send if he should in turn dispatch the cross on his column to the imperial palace. Alypius persuaded her, through his letter of response, that she would receive exactly what she desired if she waited awhile for its arrival—Alypius foresaw the empress’ coming death with the clearness of his mind. He received this grace from the Father of Lights,[80] to announce what was to happen as if it were present before him. He predicted who would become emperor and also who would become patriarch. And his predictions were confirmed soon thereafter because they were true to what happened. After this, some came to him, wanting to learn from him, as from a prophet, whether their spouses, their friends, and their family members who were far away were still alive. Others came, intending to receive the cure of a chronic illness. Alypius had [success] as none of the experienced and learned doctors did, and he also shed tears on behalf of those in pain, in order that the sick might receive healing from above. Others, oppressed by the violence of their lords and masters, and harmed by the injustice of even worse crimes, [came to him], and he untied the knots and undid the thongs of their violent deeds.[81] Unlike everyone of this world who is vainglorious in his “wisdom,” [Alypius acted] not with the “learned” words of human wisdom but with the teachings of the Holy Spirit.[82] His every action and thought was founded in prayer and entreaty, so that he might benefit everyone, and Christ before all. To some he sent letters. Others, he exhorted publicly. Most often, he bestowed them with gifts.[83] Everyone involved in senseless hatred and terrible strife, who tore at each other with swords, came to him and departed harmoniously, even embracing each other—[they became] brothers in spirit, akin in mind. All of this caused everyone to glorify God. Alypius, since he was a peacemaker, joyfully earned the right to enter the hoped-for ranks of the children of God.[84] He also was joyfully[85] blessed in the poverty of his spirit[86] and amidst persecution,[87] so that he inherited the Kingdom of God.

23. Even if those who mourn will be called “blessed,”[88] who was more blessed than Alypius, who out of compassion, mercy, and love for God shed streams of tears as offerings? The man loved Christ his Lord so much that every year when he preached Christ’s passion in the Gospel—for this was his custom—he began to cry because of the dishonor and violence done to Him. He was so plagued with grief that he thought that he saw Christ amidst his very sufferings. Since he was numbered among the meek, he was seen to inherit the earth.[89] Insofar as he surpassed the commandment in his almsgiving, Alypius will be shown mercy for his merciful deeds.[90] What is the need to recount this? Once, a beggar asked him for the covering of a garment. With no hesitation, Alypius took the tunic that he wore, and wrapping it around his right hand, he cast it down from his column with a gladness of heart—though his left hand was unaware of this furtive deed.[91] For he acted for God, who disapproves of sounding the trumpet for one’s piety.[92] Then the poor man who had been shown mercy, departed after his request was fulfilled, giving thanks to God for His providential care for what he needed.

24. Alypius remained fixed in the air [in this state] until one of his God-loved recluses[93] looked upward and noticed his nakedness. The monk then said, “O holy and blessed soul, what power of discourse, what eloquence of the wise can expound upon your divine virtue, on the blessed course of your life from birth, on the wisdom of your sagacious youth,[94] on the incomprehensible endurance of your advanced age, on your meek and courteous behavior to all? You cared for every victim of injustice more eagerly than any father ever cared for his own child. Did anyone ever break the fangs of the unrighteous and make them drop their prey from their teeth as you did?[95] Who preserved the poor from their masters; who helped orphans?[96] Who came to their aid like you? Was the praise of anyone ever on the lips of widows or the poor, as yours was? These accolades belong to holy and righteous Job and to you, since you are like Job, even surpassing him, since in the midst of his misfortunes he cursed his own birth, saying, ‘May that day be cursed; may it not be among the days of the year.’[97] Not so for you, since you resolutely accepted everything, as when that terrible blizzard covered you with snow, preventing you from rising for many days, as it attacked and pierced your internal organs with frost. Moreover, the natural coldness of old age, which no longer receives the warmness marshalled from the liver, also accompanied [that coldness]. Then, the stretching sinews in your legs, the power of these tendons languished with the result that you could no longer stand upright. But you did not say, ‘
Cursed be the day when I was born, and the night when they said, ‘a male-child is born’’ [Job 3:3]. Nor did you curse the stars of that night that they would be clouded in darkness.[98] You did not say, ‘Why did I not die at birth; why did I not come forth from the womb and expire?’ [Job 3:11]. Nor did you say, ‘Why did my knees collapse and pitilessly waste away when they were pierced by the cold?’ Instead, you said, ‘What lesson has God justly taught me? As long as I have hands to stretch forth in prayer and a mouth to proclaim the praise and glory of my Creator, through whom believers receive their salvation, why do I need feet when I am crucified? I bid farewell to my feet after eighty-five years; they have done their duty for my body. In a short time, the rest of this vessel will pass away, when dust returns to dust.’[99] Besides, you would have given thanks like [Job], O pious and divine Alypius, if you had children and suffered, like Job, the loss of your children; [you would have given thanks] if you had lost your yokes of oxen, your camels, your pastured donkeys, and your servants. You voluntarily renounced all of these for Christ, but if you had been deprived of them, you would have borne their loss cheerfully, since you chose the strenuous path through the narrow and difficult gate.[100] For this reason, your branches stretch from sea to sea; your offshoots extend to the rivers. Just as when someone sees the bountiful fruit of a noble tree and is eager to graft it onto his own plants, so did the other cities, as if they were picking a divine and choice root, accept your disciples as holy bishops and teachers in their lands, receiving them as gifts of noblest nature.[101]

25. And I, Father Alypius, the least and latest offshoot of your growth, dared to compose this funeral oration,[102] choosing only a few of your many deeds, most of which I witnessed myself.[103] From your accomplishments I learned how your righteous soul was tested like gold in a furnace and the excellence of its beauty was not tarnished. Previously, I had questioned, fool that I am, as I contemplated why you—you who had undergone misfortunes for fifty-three years, who had struggled against the very air and the dangers beneath it, who are righteous and performed righteous deeds—I contemplated why you were deprived of half of your body.[104] I also wondered why you, after your feet had failed you, had to lie on one of your sides for fourteen more years—lying on only one side is even burdensome for those sleeping on soft beddings and blankets if they are too weak to roll over.[105] But you suffered still another terrible affliction, a final torment; you had to scrape, as Job did, the putrefaction [from your skin] with a potsherd.[106] And while I was at a loss about this tragedy,[107] I remembered the divine utterance that Job heard amid the hail and snow: that you, holy Alypius, suffered these trials for no other reason than that your righteousness might be made manifest at that time. I also agree with wise Solomon who taught the following about the souls of the righteous, “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of Himself. Like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.[108] In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the chaff. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever.”[109] Surely, even if your illness grieved us at the time,[110] we did not sufficiently recognize [this suffering as] the testing of your praiseworthy endurance, since “endurance produces character.”[111] But now we understand, since even your body, after the departure of your soul, received its own honor from its creator, for there was not a single person, either in the city or the surrounding area, who did not earnestly gather around your body to venerate it as holy. The women pushed forward with their children and still nursing babes amid the shuffle, rending themselves and weeping, as they strived over your holy remains, lest your body be taken away before their beloved children lose the opportunity of its blessing. In this way did the men and women from the city scarcely allow your remains to be removed.[112]

26. Let us conclude this speech for your repose, Father Alypius, by recounting your final and greatest miracle. For who is unaware that on the third day after your departure[113] a young man was seized by a noonday demon,[114] but drawing near to your tomb, he was, after being violently shaken, relieved of the unclean affliction on that very day? Now that I have, O blessed soul, recounted this final miracle of yours, I bring my speech to its conclusion. O Alypius, who soar above what is comprehensible to mind, understanding, and perception, and have achieved the gratification of enjoying what is greater, remember your sons and daughters. Guard, protect, and watch over them, guiding them toward the luminous rewards of their works so that by following in your footsteps they might join in your blessed dwelling. Never forget, holy Alypius, the lambs of your sheepfold. Even though you enjoy the glory of the courtyards as you live with the beauties of the divine, watch over us and have compassion on the men and women whom you once had with you and have now left as orphans, since you spoke the following to us, “I give you the peace of Christ. Rejoice and keep well, my children. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid, for I advocate on your behalf. The Holy Spirit’s consolation and the powerful succor of Christ Jesus our Lord will be granted to you. To Him be glory and power, now and always, forever and ever, amen.”

Translation: Charles Kuper

[1] Emperor Heraclius ruled 610–641. MS B reads “Maurice” for “Heraclius” (Maurice ruled 582–602), but this is an anomaly in the tradition.
[2] That is, Hadrianopolis.
[3] Or, “his conduct and lifestyle exceeded those of everyone before him.”
[4] The author continues the light imagery of the lanterns through the rest of the sentence. The ram did not return or “lighted upon” (ἀνελάμψε) its den until Alypius was born or “came to light” (εἰς φῶς προῆλθεν).
[5] Almost three years have elapsed.
[6] Reading προσκυλισθεῖσαν for Delehaye’s προσκυλισθῆναι.
[7] As we find out below, his name is Theodore.
[8] There is evidence for a bishop of Hadrianopolis named Theodore in a document dated to 518. It is likely that this Theodore corresponds to one of the two Theodores in the
Life of Alypius (hereafter abbreviated LA). See Delehaye, Les saints stylites, lxxviii.
[9] For λογικός meaning “spiritual,” see Lampe, λογικός C, esp. C.1.a.
[10] The first shepherd in this sentence is the second Theodore, and the second shepherd the first Theodore.
[11] Cf. Psalms 110:10.
[12] Gk., οἰκονόμος (oikonomos).
[13] The Greek word “proestos” (προεστώς) can refer to a number of “leaders,” including bishops, priests, abbots, eucharistic celebrants, and heads of local churches. I have purposely translated this term generically because of its range of meanings. See Lampe, προίστημι B.6.
[14] I have reversed the order of these two final clauses to make the English translation flow better.
[15] For meaning and context, see Matthew 6:19–20.
[16] Cf. Matthew 19:21–22.
[17] Cf. Malachi 3:1.
[18] Reading ἀποστείλαι for Delehaye’s ἀποστεῖλαι.
[19] Reading ἐνδύσει for Delehaye’s ἐνδῦσαι.
[20]Cf. Ephesians 6:14, 17.
[21] Cf. Matthew 13:8.
[22] Cf. Psalms 36:6.
[23] Such an extortion of a stylite by his mother is not without parallel. Martha, the mother of Symeon Stylites the Younger, makes a similar but lengthier exhortation just before her own death. Cf.
Life of Martha the Mother of Symeon Stylites the Younger, 19–23.
[24] The Greek word “proedros” (πρόεδρος), similar to proestos above, often means “bishop” but can refer more generally to a “leading member of the clergy.” See Lampe πρόεδρος.
[25] Reading ἔμεινεν for Delehaye’s μένει.
[26] Gk, Οὕτω γὰρ οὕτως εὐδοκίᾳ τινί.
[27] Presumably, an angel.
[28] The description of Alypius’ search for a mountaintop location for his pillar is closely parallel to the corresponding passage in the
Life of Symeon Stylites the Younger (65). Both even allude to the same passage from the Psalms. Cf. Psalms 62:1–2.
[29] The same tool is explicitly mentioned as part of the accoutrement of Antony the Great (cf. See
Life of Antony, 50). Another tool mentioned is an axe, which is also found in this vita (LA 15).
[30] The Greek word τούτῳ is ambiguous here and could refer to either the column or the statue. Prima facie, it seems more likely that the statue is meant, especially because the author refers to it as “almost alive” (ὥσπερ ἐμψυχομένῳ), but because Alypius calls this his cornerstone and later throws down the statue, the column must be meant here.
[31] Cf. Psalms 117:22.
[32] That is, the devil.
[33] That is, the icon and the cross.
[34] Throughout this vita, Alypius’ status often wavers between person and object. When Alypius first becomes a stylite, the author describes the process of mounting the pillar as one of self-monumentalization, comparing the saint to a bronze statue (LA 13). His ascent of the pillar is also described earlier as a “choice holocaust” to God (LA 11). In this passage, Alypius becomes a liturgical object; he is “the chosen golden vessel” (τὸ χρύσεον σκεῦος καὶ ἐκλεκτόν). Using such metaphors for stylites is not unique to the
Life of Alypius as they are also found in the vitae associated with Symeon Stylites the Younger and his mother Martha (cf. Life of Symeon, 113 and Life of Martha, 12).
[35] Gk., proedros (πρόεδρος), see note above.
[36] Gk., αἰδοῖ τοῦ ἀρχιερέως. The word “high priest” (archiereus, ἀρχιερεύς) has the same ambiguity as proestos and proedros before, though it often means “bishop.” See Lampe, ἀρχιερεύς E.
[37] Gk., episkopos (τὸν ἐπίσκοπον), the unambiguous word for bishop, which supports translating the aforementioned words as “bishop.”
[38] Gk., τὴν ἐπὶ Κωνσταντινούπολιν θάλασσαν; lit., “the sea to Constantinople.”
[39] It is clear from the following lines that this person is Euphemia and not Vassa. Here Symeon Metaphrastes either adds the word “Euphemia” to make this clearer for his reader, or he had, as Delehaye suggests, a more accurate version of the text at hand. See Delehaye,
Les saints stylites, lxxvii.
[40] I have translated τὴν σεμνότητα similarly to αἰδοῖ above.
[41] Gk., ἐπὶ τὰ μεγαλοφυέστερα.
[42] Cf. Matthew 10:9–10. That Alypius only owns a single tunic is important later on in LA 23.
[43] Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:10.
[44] Cf. Ephesians 6:12.
[45] Or, “listeners.” Gk. οἱ πιστοί.
[46] This is consistent with LA 24, which states that Alypius was eighty-five years old after standing on the column for fifty-three years.
[47] I omit Delehaye’s γὰρ and follow the reading of MS C. Delehaye’s punctuation connects this simile with the following sentence, but this creates an awkward anacoluthon. The force of this clause better corresponds to what precedes it.
[48] Lit., “He was sweet and inexhaustible to all.”
[49] This motivation for mounting the pillar is similar to that of Symeon Stylites the Elder. Cf. Theodoret’s
Life of Symeon Stylites, 12.
[50] Gk., ἄνεισιν ἑαυτὸν στηλώσας ἐπὶ τῷ κίονι—a remarkable and bold metaphor. Yet according to the rhetoric of the vita, it is not a metaphor at all. Alypius simply is a living monument, exceeding the endurance of even bronze statues.
[51] That is, the good thief (cf. Luke 23:39–43). Because stylitism was often compared to the crucifixion, this reference is especially relevant.
[52] For this meaning of ἄδικος, see LSJ, ἄδικος II.2.
[53] The vita gives the following chronology for Alypius’ career. He enters a small cell at the age of thirty and remains in it for two years (LA 12). At the age of thirty-two, he ascends his pillar (LA 13). At the age of eighty-five (LA 24), he loses the ability to stand upright after having stood on the column for fifty-three years (LA 25). After fourteen years of lying upon the column on his side, he dies at the age of ninety-nine (LA 25). His entire ascetic career, therefore, would be sixty-nine years (ages 30–99). Seventy years is a satisfying approximation of this.
[54] These are Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria. Cf. Daniel 3:1–30.
[55] These are the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. Usually the emphasis of this event is on the pagan guard who joins the remaining thirty-nine Christian soldiers and was martyred with them, but here the author highlights the one Christian soldier’s inability to pass a single night against the elements, a feat Alypius performed daily.
[56] Stephen’s martyrdom (stoning) is recounted in Acts 7:54–60.
[57] This can be contrasted with the
Life of Daniel the Stylite. Daniel initially stands on his column without any protective structure but is later persuaded by the Emperor Leo to add one. Cf. Life of Daniel the Stylite, 54.
[58] Fear of lightning strikes was more than a rhetorical trope. John Moschus records that a certain Symeon Stylites from Cilicia, otherwise unknown, was struck by lightning and died. Cf.
Pratum Spirituale, 57.
[59] That is, she denied her natural maternal instinct to prevent her son from suffering.
[60] Or, “a third of a solidus.” This denomination was known as a tremissis, which was a small golden coin weighing about 1.5 g and was one of the major denominations of Byzantine gold (See
The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, “tremissis”). Here the author connects the actual denomination of the coin with the conclusion of the previous section. Alypius’ mother, who was reluctant to own even two coins, had to give this “third coin” (a third of a solidus) to the poor.
[61] Cf. Matthew 5:7.
[62] The author is punning on the related roots of the words “consequence/outcome” (gegonos, γεγονός) and “offspring” (gennema, γέννημα).
[63] Cf. Matthew 7:13–14.
[64] There is some confusion in the MSS as the exact meaning of this clause.
[65] Gk., ἐξομοιοῦνται. The plural presumably includes Mary and the other nuns about to be described.
[66] Because the author of the
Life of Alypius consistently provides the names of important nuns in the community, including Alypius’ own sister, the fact that his mother is only referred to as “his mother” throughout is best explained by analogy to the Gospel of John, where the name of Christ’s mother is never mentioned.
[67] The syntax of this clause is wanting, though its meaning is clear. Symeon Metaphrastes either preserves or creates a more syntactical reading of this line: “Shortly thereafter, Mary also, the sister of that holy man desired to emulate these holy women and said farewell to all these things of the earth, rejecting her husband and worldly luxury.”
[68] Gk.,
andrisamene (ἀνδρισαμένη); lit. “she acted so much like a man.” Throughout this and the following section, the author contrasts the physical differences between the sexes with the similarity of their souls for virtue.
[69] Cf. Galatians 3:28.
[70] Cf. Matthew 13:45–46.
[71] The implication is that Alypius allowed the nuns to visit their fathers in times of extreme illness or injury.
[72] Gk.,
enkrateia (ἐγκρατεία).
[73] Canon 15 from the Council of Chalcedon states that a deaconess must be forty years old when ordained and that she must not (re)marry. The details included in this vita about Alypius’ mother are consistent with these stipulations (cf. LA 2).
[74] Or, “the following morning.”
[75] Alypius, as we are told earlier (LA 15), has destroyed his enclosure and thrown it upon the ground. One can read the presence of an enclosure here as conflicting with this earlier passage, but a more charitable reading can account for this apparent incongruity by considering the nature of the divisions of the vita. Although parts of the text are organized chronologically, the author had thematic divisions in mind as well, as the reference to miracles at the beginning of this section attests—miracles (thaumata, θαύματα) are a standard, recognized subsection (even subgenre) of late antique and medieval hagiographies. Because LA 21 marks the transition to the next thematic division of the saint’s deeds, its contents do not necessarily follow in time what preceded them in the text.
[76] Lit., “the mystical mystery of the paradosis.”
[77] Gk., τοῦ δείπνου σου τοῦ μυστικοῦ, καὶ τὰ λοιπά. Often called “Of Thy Mystical Supper” in English.
[78] Presumably because it was made known to Alypius in advance.
[79] A similar miracle occurs in the
Life of Theodore of Sykeon, where a number of small crosses animate and begin to vibrate. Cf. Life of Theodore of Sykeon, 127.
[80] Cf. James 1:17.
[81] Cf. Isaiah 58:6.
[82] Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:13.
[83] What these gifts were is unclear.
[84] Cf. Matthew 5:9.
[85] Cf. Matthew 5:12.
[86] Cf. Matthew 5:3.
[87] Cf. Matthew 5:10.
[88] Cf. Matthew 5:4.
[89] Cf. Matthew 5:5.
[90] Cf. Matthew 5:7. Alypius “surpasses the commandment” by giving his only tunic to a beggar in the following episode. Cf. Luke 3:11.
[91] Cf. Matthew 6:3.
[92] Cf. Matthew 6:2.
[93] The inclusion of this recluse, the only male member from Alypius’ community mentioned in the vita, might be explained by the fact that it would be inappropriate for a woman to behold the saint’s nakedness. It is also tempting to see this anonymous figure as representing the author, especially because he speaks in his own voice in the following section.
[94] Cf. LA 4.
[95] Cf. Job 29:17.
[96] Cf. Psalms 9:35.
[97] Cf. Job 3:6.
[98] Cf. Job 3:9
[99] Cf. Genesis 3:19.
[100] Cf. Matthew 7:14.
[101] The author continues the arboreal and vegetative metaphors that began in LA 3 and are pervasive in this vita. For a similar observation to what is said about Alypius’ disciples here, see the
Life of Daniel the Stylite, 53.
Epitaphios logos (τὸν ἐπιτάφιόν σοι τοῦτον λόγον).
[103] The most explicit reference to the author’s identity in the vita.
[104] When Alypius lost the ability to stand on his feet. Cf. LA 24.
[105] Anacoluthon. I have translated this clause as if it were a complete sentence.
[106] Cf. Job 2:8.
[107] Reading ἐπαποροῦντι for Delehaye’s ἐπαποροῦντα.
[108] Cf. LA 9 & 11, where Alypius is likened to a golden vessel and a choice holocaust respectively.
[109] Wisdom 3:1–8, slightly modified.
[110] There is an untranslatable play on Alypius’ name here, which, as mentioned above, means “without pain/grief.”
[111] Cf. Romans 5:4.
[112] Omitting φίλτατοι τοῦ ἁγίου.
[113] Lit., “when your remains encountered the fourth day.”
[114] Cf. Psalms 90:6.


The Life of Alypios the Stylite stands as one of the few texts describing the life and career of a pillar-saint or stylite. According to the anonymous author, it was composed shortly after the saint’s death, which occurred during the reign of the emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641). This sets 610 as the terminus post quem, though a date in the mid or even late 7th century is plausible. Narrowing this down further is difficult because the author includes almost no historical detail that would help contextualise when Alypios died, and it is also uncertain just how soon after his death the text was composed. Like many hagiographies, the Life has more than one purpose. The author states his hope at the beginning that it will serve as a model of virtuous conduct for subsequent generations, but he also pursues many other aims. He provides a justification for the practice of stylitism in a non-traditional location and dedicates significant space to honouring the first female members of the community, to name two examples.

There are no known translations of the
Life of Alypios into any other language, but its impact persisted as late as the 12th or even early 13th century. It was presumably the sole source for the version of Alypios’ vita included in the Menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes in the 10th century (BHG 64), as well as for the contemporary encomium by the monk and priest Antonius (BHG 66d). It is worth noting that the 10th century author of the Life of Luke the Stylite presents Alypios as one of four canonical stylites from the past, the others being Symeon the Elder, Daniel, and Symeon the Younger. Finally, Alypios is the subject of another encomium by the 12th and early 13th century monk, Neophytus the Recluse (BHG 66). Delivered on 26 November, Alypios’ feast day, the speech contains a brief version of the saint’s career, while also commemorating Neophytus’ mother Eudoxia, who had died on that day, and his father Athanasius, who died in August.

Life of Alypios survives in three known manuscripts: (A) National Library of France, Greek 1059, 188v–206 (11th c.); (B) Vatican Library, Greek 807, 269v–278v (10th c.); and (C) Vatican Library, Greek 808, 421v–439 (11th c.). All three are readily accessible online via the DVL and Gallica portals respectively. Hippolyte Delehaye prepared the edition of this vita, using A as the basis of his text.


The Life of Alypios the Stylite is an important witness to the practice of stylitism during a time in late antiquity when it was a recognizable, if extraordinary, mode of ascetic behavior. Mounting a pillar, although ostensibly an extreme anchoritic lifestyle, almost required the formation of a corresponding cenobitic community both because of the logistics of caring for the stylite’s welfare and in order to manage the many visitors that this conspicuous form of self-denial was known to attract. The vita navigates this apparent paradox, presenting Alypios as both a hermit who battles with demons and as a public holy man who guides his monastic community and works miracles for all.

Life of Alypios is composed as an encomium, and this genre impacts how the narrative of Alypios’ career and the formation of his community is structured. The major divisions of the encomium are the following: proem (prooimion, προοίμιον), family background (genos, γένος), education (anatrophē, ἀνατροφή), deeds (praxeis, πράξεις), comparison (sunkrisis, σύγκρισις), and epilogue (epilogos, ἐπίλογος). Many of these can be further subdivided, and this can be seen most clearly in the sections comprising Alpyius’ deeds. First, Alypios’ early career through the ascension of his column is narrated (5–14). Then, the focus of the vita shifts to the formation of the monastic community that arose around Alypios’ column. The pious women who joined this community, especially the saint’s mother, are given pride of place here (15–20). Finally, some of Alypios’ miracles (thaumata, θαύματα) are recounted, an important element of most hagiographies (21–23).

One of the most remarkable aspects of this text is its extended treatment of the female members of the community, particularly its focus on Alypios’ mother. These sections are noteworthy for two reasons: 1) they constitute a quarter of the entire vita although having only a tangential connection to Alypios; 2) despite the assertion that the community consists of two monasteries, one for women and the other for men, the author describes the former in detail and almost completely ignores the latter. This seems to suggest that the female half of the double monastery was larger, more important, and better known than its male twin, or at least, this is how the author wished to portray it.

Literary influences might also contribute to our understanding of these sections. The other famous stylite of the 6th century was Symeon the Younger, about whom a sizeable amount of literature is extant. Most relevant here are the extended treatment that Symeon’s mother Martha receives in her son’s
vita and the fact that she was also the subject her own independent vita. In both cases, Martha is portrayed as playing a significant role in the history of the monastery that arose around Symeon’s column. Though none of the texts associated with either community explicitly refers to the other, the two were undoubtedly aware of each other and probably viewed each other as rivals of a sort. It is attractive, therefore, to read the sections devoted to the women of Alypios’ community not only as a reflection of historical reality but also as a literary response to Martha’s importance as promoted in the texts associated with Symeon’s community, texts that have been traditionally dated a few decades before the Life of Alypios.

The absence of explicit references to previous stylites notwithstanding, the author of the text shows great familiarity with motifs developed in earlier stylite literature more generally and expands upon them. One particularly striking example is how the
vita plays with the status of the stylite’s body: is Alypios a living statue, a liturgical object, or a sacrificial victim? In a tour de force of late antique portraits of stylites, the author even describes the saint’s ascent of his column as an act of self-monumentalization (heauton stēlōsas, ἑαυτὸν στηλώσας). Literary passages like this are corroborated by material culture: the ubiquity of monumental statues on columns as well as artistic depictions of stylites where the saint’s body coalesces with the pillar itself, ambiguously existing as both architecture and person. This rich dialogue between the literary and visual languages has much to say about how stylites were perceived and venerated in this period, and the Life of Alypios is an essential part of reconstructing this conversation.


Editions and translations:
Delehaye, H, Les saints stylites (Subsidia Hagiographica 14; Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1923), 148–169 (Greek text).

Kuper, C.N., "The
Life of Alypios the Stylite (BHG 65)," English translation with notes. Published here.

Further reading and bibliography:
Delehaye, H., Les saints stylites (Subsidia Hagiographica 14; Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1923).

Halkin, F.,
Inédits byzantins: d'Ochrida, Candie et Moscou (Subsidia Hagiographica 38; Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1963).

Hinterberger, M., “Byzantine Hagiography and its Literary Genres: Some Critical Observations,” in: S. Efthymiadis (ed.),
The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography: Volume II, Genres and Contexts. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014), 25–60.

Kristensen, T.M., “Using and Abusing Images in Late Antiquity (and Beyond): Column Monuments as Topoi of Idolatry,” in: S. Birk, T.M. Kristensen, and B. Poulsen (eds.),
Using Images in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014), 268–282.

Ousterhout, R., “The Life and Afterlife of Constantine’s Column,”
Journal of Roman Archaeology 27 (2014), 304–326.

Ritter, M., “The end of late antiquity in Paphlagonia: disurbanisation from a comparative perspective,” in: K. Winther-Jacobsen and L. Summerer (eds.),
Landscape Dynamics and Settlement Patterns in Northern Anatolia during the Roman and Byzantine Period (Geographica Historica 32; Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2015), 119–131.

Schachner, L.A., “The Archaeology of the Stylite,” in: D.M. Gwynn and S. Bangert (eds.),
Religious Diversity in Late Antiquity. (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 329–97.

Stang, C.M., “Digging Holes and Building Pillars: Simeon Stylites and the “Geometry” of Ascetic Practice,”
Harvard Theological Review 103:4 (2010), 447–470.

Stramara, D.F., Jr. “Double Monasticism in the Greek East, Fourth through Eighth Centuries,”
Journal of Early Christian Studies 6:2 (1998), 269–312.

Record Created By

Charles N. Kuper

Date of Entry


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S02437Alypios, stylite and monastic founder of Hadrianopolis in Paphlagonia, ob. early 7th c.ἈλύπιοςCertain

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