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St Simeon and the stylites: 5th century AD

In the late 5th century the Syrian desert is full of hermits living on columns; they become known as stylites, from the Greek stulos ('pillar'). They are following the example of Simeon, a hermit so holy and so wise that crowds throng into the desert to seek his advice.

To preserve something of his solitude Simeon begins, in the year 423, to live on a pillar. The crowds are even more intrigued. To escape them, the pillar grows higher. For twenty years the saint lives more than than 15 metres up in the air. The pilgrims shout up their problems and fears. The saint yells back, by all accounts with good Christian advice. It is the world's first agony column.

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