The Saint who lived on a pillar
24.02.2010 - 24.02.2010 15 °C
A grinning Mr Walid met us with his dark green classic car outside the Baron Hotel in the morning. He told us he'd take us on the day tour to the ruins of Qala'at Samaan (church of St Simeon) in a "very nice car" and he wasn't wrong!
The Church of St Simeon is a short, 45-minute ride northwest of Aleppo. The landscape was an intruiging mix of low-rise rocky hills, with small tufts of grass and clusters of trees squeezed into the gaps between the well-weathered, light-grey rocks.
We read in our trusty guide book about St Simeon, who was an interesting albeit odd character. He was born in 386 AD, the son of a shepherd, and at a young age opted for a monastic life. However he found his life as a monk was not austere enough, so he retreteated to a cave in the barren hills for self-imposed severity. News of this secluded hermit caused admires to flock to his cave, but he hated visitors so much he built taller and taller pillars upon which to live so people couldn't touch him. His tallest pillar was 18m high and he chained himself to it so he didn't fall off during the night. He began to preach daily but wouldn't speak to women and his own mother was barred from approaching his column.
Apparently at the time of his death in 459 he was the most famous person in the 5th century. After his death a vast martyrium was built in his honour around the pillar, which had four basilicas (making a shape of a cross) radiating from the sides of a central octagon, and had an impressive 5,000 square meters of floor space.
The pillar was today just a smooth boulder, after having centuries' worth of pilgrims chipping away at it. We walked through the well-kept site and poked our heads into the adjacent abbey and cemetary. Again, we were lucky to not have many other tourists at the site, save for a small bus-load of Spaniards and young local boys who proffered small, wilted bunches of wild flowers for sale.
A intricately carved stone, c. 475 AD... looks as if it was carved only yesterday
The abbey of St Simeon
Chalky admiring the olive grove
The remains of the bapistry
Jac outside the church
The remains of St Simeon's pillar
St Simeon's pillar
Chalky dwarfed by the basilica
The rocky plain