St. Daniel the Stylite (409 – 493 AD) was a saint famous for his ascetic exploit of living on a pillar. For thirty two years St. Daniel dwelt inside a small tower atop a pillar in prayer enduring heat, rain and cold. According to one version, St. Daniel’s pillar was located in the vicinity of Constantinople near the Church of the Archangel Michael in Anapolis, while other theory has it that it was near the city of Sosthenia (contemporary Istinye, Turkey).
The earliest redaction of the Life of St. Daniel the Stylite is believed by some researchers to have been compiled soon after his death by one of his disciples. It is considered by historians as a documentary source on the history of the 5th century Byzantium.
According to his hagiography, St. Daniel was born in Syria near the city of Samosata (contemporary Samsat, Turkey) in the village of Bethara. His parents, Martha and Elijah, pious Christians, were childless. In her prayers Martha vowed that if she had a child, she would dedicate him to the Lord. Martha soon gave birth to a son who was without a name until he was five years of age. When the boy turned five, his parents went to the monastery and asked the igumen to help them. The igumen opened the Holy Script randomly on the Book of the Prophet Daniel. The parents saw it as a sign and named the boy Daniel.
At twelve years of age, saying nothing to no one, the child left home for the monastery. During his trip with the monastery igumen to Antioch, Daniel visited Simeon the Stylite, a Christian ascetic saint who lived on a small platform on top of a pillar in Aleppo (contemporary Haleb, Syria). The saint allowed Daniel to climb the pillar and blessed him. The meeting with the ascetic made a great impression on Daniel. Wishing to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he left the monastery. Before heading for Palestine, Daniel met Simeon and spent two weeks on the pillar. But the ascetic miraculously appeared to Daniel and convinced him to go to Constantinople.
The saint secluded himself in the vicinity of the Byzantine capital in an abandoned sanctuary and spent there nine years. After the death of Simeon the Stylite, Daniel decided to follow his teacher. He ascended the pillar set up his disciples in a desert and spent upon it thirty two years in fast and prayer. During his dwelling on the pillar, Daniel was ordained to presbyter by the Patriarch of Constantinople. The conditions of dwelling on the pillar were extremely heavy. Once St. Daniel was found covered with a crust of ice. It took the worried disciples some doing to convince the saint to build a roof over his dwelling.
In his lifetime St. Daniel became famous for his many miracles. He was venerated all over the Byzantine Empire and had a great influence on Byzantine emperors. St. Daniel had the gift of foresight and predicted his death. His burial ceremony was accompanied by many miracles.
In Byzantine and medieval Russian art Daniel the Stylite was commonly depicted as an old man in monastic clothes sitting upon a pillar. His figure is usually shown chest-length in a prayerful pose, sometimes with a scroll. The pillar was depicted as a column or a tower, sometimes culminating in a ciborium. A similar image of the saint is found on a miniature of the 976 – 1025 AD Menologion of St. Basil II (Vat. gr 1613. Fol. 238). St. Daniel is depicted both individually and together with other stylites, for example, on a 16th century icon of Simeon the Stylite and Daniel the Stylite from the Andrei Rublev Museum. An image of St. Daniel is also found among selected saints, such as the 15th century Paternity icon from the State Tretyakov Gallery collections.
Daniel the Stylite is commemorated on December 24 (December 11, O.S.).
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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