St. Simeon couldn’t lose the crowds.
Wherever he went, whether it was a city, a mountain, a desert, anywhere, they found him and disrupted his monastic life. Then, while passing through a small town in Syria, he spotted his solution: a column. If he couldn’t escape the crowds by moving horizontally, he would find peace by moving vertically.
That’s right, he decided to live on top of a column.
Born to a shepherding family at the end of the 4th century, Simeon was a zealous Christian from a young age. When he was 16, he joined a monastery, but was eventually asked to leave due to his extreme austerity.
He then shut himself up in a small hut for a year and a half and dedicated himself to prayer. In addition to confining himself to the small space, he refused food and drink for all of Lent. When he finally emerged from the hut still in good health, it was hailed as a miracle. After that, he confined himself to a small area on a mountain.
His holiness, wisdom, and incredible feats of austerity made him famous, and soon he was inundated with crowds of people seeking wisdom, prayer, or just a peek at the strange holy man.
That’s when he decided he needed to do something radical to maintain his monastic life and climbed up to the top of the column. He lived on top of a column for four decades until his death.
His original column was just 9 feet high, which was replaced a few times for higher columns, until his last one was about 20 feet high. At the top of his column was a platform about 1 meter squared.
Of course, the crowds kept coming. There was a ladder to the top that he allowed a small number of people to climb every afternoon to speak to him for counsel. Two walls were also eventually built surrounding the column to keep the crowds from getting too close. He also kept in contact with the rest of the world via letters. He may have kept in contact with St. Genevieve of Paris, as well as sent a letter to the Roman emperor supporting the Council of Chalcedon
It’s unclear exactly how long Simeon lived on top of the column: various sources peg the number of years between 37 and 49. Either way, he was up there for several decades until his death. In 459, his body was found dead, stooped over in prayer.
But his monastic life lived on: many other monks, inspired by his holy example, also lived on columns in the years after his death. Based on the Greek for pillar, they were called stylites.
You can actually see the remains of his last column in Syria today (if you can get there safely). Just the stub of the column is left, on which is a boulder in the photo below: