A history of the monastic high life
The trend continues today...the modern equivalent is those people who buy a luxury van and drive around by themselves for a few years. Too bad there was no instagram in the Middle Ages.
Loved this. Thank you. Pillar-dwelling was new to me as an idea - andI find it fascinating!
Loved it. Always a great read. Thank you 🙏
This is one of the many reasons I love Substack. I suffered two bouts of guffawing while reading this and feel enormously cleansed and sanctified contemplating these holy orders, as well as grateful for my comparatively luxurious life.
Long live Substack which offers me long tail mornings from @JoyceVance on the indictments to pillared monks.
Nice story but I think that you are too dismissive of Athanasius' first hand account and should point out that it was written by someone who knew him quite well. Also, the way you referenced Vita Antony gives the impression that it was written quite a bit later but it was known in Italy within a few years of Antony's death, soon enough to be significant in the life of Augustine not many years later.
A wonderful read! And I'm especially glad you've started from so far, it was very interesting to learn about the origins of European monasticism and how it all ties together!
One thing that kinda irks me though - "Russian Empire" didn't exist until 1721, by 1454 it wasn't even a Tsardom yet?.. Just the "Grand Duchy of Muscovy"? Not to mention before that, when it was even less of a thing? The way you use it in this text seems to refer to the Kyivan Rus, or, at least, Eastern Slavic areas - and equating them is both misleading and really icky, considering modern russian propaganda. "Russia" and "Russian Empire" don't make sense here either as political terms or as geographic areas - so they stand out quite badly to me
East Asia had its medieval period as well and monks sought isolation to focus on the Absolute as well. People and their squabbles and politics are very distracting and this is true even inside monasteries where the focus is on prayer and contemplation or meditation. I know, I was one such monk in a mountain minastery. To get away on ones own there were various logistical problems to be solved: primarily shelter from the elements and animals as well as a rellably constant source of food and water. Generally friend and family and layman "ground crews" were necessary. The stylites of the west undoubtedly had such. Eastern monks also went to high places as well as did those in the west. Many, many monasteries were sited in mountain environments. Often these monasteries acted as the center around which a halo of hermitages sprang up. This is where the solo practicers trod their path. Some of these hermitages were sited even higher up on the mountain than the monastery,,quite vertiginously actually. Other monks went low tech and built their hermitages, like treehouses in the branches of trees. The Chinese "Birds Nest Monk" was one such. Pillars, I am unaware of, but such a solution wouldn't have been rejected. The drive to be alone with the Absolute and distanced from human distractions remains very strong in people even to the present day. And the journey to high isolated environments is still practiced. I know- I tried this life myself in my younger, fervent years. I still dream of living my last years in such a small shelter perched high near some summit!
Looked up Maxime Qavtaradze and he lives in a gorgeous little cottage on top of a natural limestone monolith surrounded by mountains. I imagine it gets chilly but apart from not being on the sea, it's an absolute dream home. Stylite my arse.
This is great, I knew about the stylites but never really knew why they did it, so thank you. One question, I've always wondered how they managed their, um, toilet needs. Did they just pee off the side? And what about the other thing?
I just started reading your substance with this article, and I found it fascinating! I'm working on outlining a fantasy novel right now, and the Simon Pillars are already giving me some inspiration for the worldbuilding. Thanks for the good read.
Also, I was a little disappointed that you did not mention the giant wooden rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You guys should do a podcast about their depiction of the Middle Ages
What a delightfully written article. Informative for someone who knows nothing about the subject but not a bore. Glad I found you!