11th December 2020

Every day of the year is a saint’s day – some days serve for more than one saint. Today, 11th December, has two: the Pope Damasus I and Daniel the Stylite – the what?

A stylite was someone who spent his life in devotion on top of a pillar. The first to adopt this extraordinary life style was St Simeon the Stylite in the 5th century and after his death, Daniel took his place. In fact Daniel had two pillars supporting a platform on which was a shelter. There he remained for 33 years until his death at the age of 84. During that time many came to consult him on spiritual matters, including at least one emperor. Whether they had to climb the pillar to talk to him is not recorded, although we do know that he only came down from his perch once – for the emperor’s visit.

So what was the idea? He saw this as a way of devoting himself to prayer and meditation (how far he welcomed visitors or simply tolerated them is not recorded!). Many have sought similar isolation – anchorites, hermits and some monastic orders – but stylites do seem to be at the extreme end of this spectrum.

Of course you don’t have to sit on top of pillar to pray. In fact there is a case for seeing a life in the community as enabling prayer to be informed – to relate to the needs and problems of our society in our prayers. So let’s endeavour to make our prayers relevant and ‘down to earth’.

David T Roberts