Vulfolaic the Stylite: Orientalism and Performing Holiness in Gregory’s Histories

  • Karen A. Winstead


Syria,” Peter Brown observed in one of his many brilliant essays on late antique spirituality, was known in the West as “the great province for ascetic stars.”1 Perhaps the most dazzling of those cynosures was Simeon Stylites (A.D. 390–459), whose reputation for flamboyant self-mortification mounted in step with his physical elevation: he stood atop a series of ever-taller pillars for the last thirty years of his life and died sixty feet above the ground, a cult figure in his own lifetime.2 Simeon s example spawned generations of imitators. As Hippolyte Dela-haye wrote in his 1923 study of the stylite movement:

Pendant de longs siècles l’héroïque extravagance du grand Syméon exerça une véritable fascination sur l’esprit des ascètes orientaux; et malgré les difficultés matérielles qu’entraîne le séjour dans un ermitage élevé au-dessus de terre, le nombre de stylites qui sont nommés dans l’histoire ecclésiastique est véritablement étonnant. Il y a plus. Les textes ne manquent pas où les stylites sont cités comme formant une catégorie à part; le nom désigne une élite de moines relativement nombreuse et fort considérée.3

[For centuries, the heroic extravagance of the great Symeon captured the imagination of Eastern ascetics; and despite the material difficulties involved in occupying a hermitage raised off the ground, ecclesiastical history identifies a truly astonishing number of stylites. There is more. There is no lack of references to stylites as a category unto themselves; the name designated a monastic elite that was relatively numerous and highly regarded.]


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  1. 2.
    Robert Doran also provides translations of the Greek versions by Theodoret and Antonius in The Lives of Simeon Stylites (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1992).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Hippolyte Delehaye, Les Saints Stylites (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1923), cxvii.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    For an analysis and overview of recent approaches, see Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn, “Introduction: Reading Hagiography,” in their Writing Faith: Text, Sign, and History in the Miracles of Sainte Foy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 1–21.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    References are to and quotations are from the following texts: Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks, trans. Lewis Thorpe (New York: Penguin, 1974)Google Scholar
  5. Gregorii Episcopi Turonensis Historiarum Libri X, ed. Bruno Krusch, Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum, Vol. 1 (Hanover, 1885).Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    For a discussion of Gregory’s use of cults in the service of episcopal authority, see Raymond Van Dam, “Gregory of Tours and His Patron Saints,” in his Saints and Their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 50–81.Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    For more on Gregory’s role in the development of Martin’s cult, see Sharon Farmer, Communities of Saint Martin: Legend and Ritual in Medieval Tours (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 26–29Google Scholar
  8. 21.
    Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors, trans. Raymond Van Dam (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1988), 41Google Scholar
  9. Gregorii Turonensis Opera: Miracula et Opera Minora, ed.W. Arndt and B. Krusch (Hanover, 1885), 764.Google Scholar

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© Claire Sponsler and Xiaomei Chen 2000

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  • Karen A. Winstead

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