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The Temptation of Saint Hilarion, by Dominique-Louis-F Papety, 1843-44 (Wallace Collection)
291 AD, Thabatha, south of Gaza in Palestine
371 AD, Cyprus
Roman Catholic ChurchEastern Orthodox ChurchesCoptic Church
"The Temptation of Saint Hilarion", by Octave Tassaert, c.1857 (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)
Saint Hilarion (291 - 371) was an anchorite who spent most of his life in the desert according to the example of Saint Anthony of Egypt.
1 Early life
2 Beginnings of Monastic Life
3 His Time at Majoma
8 External links
Hilarion was born in Thabatha, south of Gaza in Palestine of pagan parents. He successfully studied rhetoric with a Grammarian in Alexandria. It seems that he was converted to Christianity in Alexandria. After that, he shunned the pleasures of his day-- theatre, circus and arena--and spent his time attending church. According to St. Jerome, he was a thin and delicate youth of fragile health.
Beginnings of Monastic Life
After hearing of Saint Anthony, whose name "was in the mouth of all the races of Egypt" (according to St. Jerome), Hilarion, at the age of fifteen, went to live with him in the desert for two months. As Anthony's hermitage was busy with visitors seeking cures for diseases or demonic affliction, Hilarion returned home along with some monks. At Thabatha, his parents having died in the meantime, he gave his inheritance to his brothers and the poor and left for the wilderness.
His Time at Majoma
Hilarion went to the area southwest of Majoma, the port of Gaza, that was limited by the sea at one side and marshland on the other. It was the abode of robbers. With him he took only a shirt of coarse linen, a cloak of skins given to him by St. Anthony, and a coarse blanket. He led a nomadic life, subsisting only on dried figs, which he ate after sunset.
After he was beset by carnal thoughts, he reduced his diet to the juice of herbs and less figs and took to praying, singing, the hoeing of the soil and the production of baskets made from rushes. Although he was quite starved, "so wasted that his bones scarcely held together" (Jerome) he still frequently heard voices, of infants or of domestic animals, which he identified as demons, and had visions of naked women, voluptuous meals, chariots and gladiatorial contests:
So many were his temptations and so various the snares of demons night and day, that if I wished to relate them, a volume would not suffice. How often when he lay down did naked women appear to him, how often sumptuous feasts when he was hungry! (Jerome, Life of St Hilarion, 7)
He finally built a hut of reeds and sedges in which he lived for four years. Afterwards, he constructed a tiny low-ceilinged cell, "a tomb rather than a house", where he slept on a bed of rushes, and recited the Bible or sang hymns.
He never washed his clothes, changed them only when they fell apart and shaved his hair only once a year. He was once visited by robbers, but they left him alone when they learned that he did not fear death (and had nothing worth stealing, anyway), promising to mend their ways.
Saint Jerome gives a detailed account of his diet:
from 20-23: half a pint of lentils moistened with cold water
23-27: dry bread with salt and water
27-30: wild herbs and roots
31-35: six ounces of barley bread, and boiled vegetables without oil
After that, he suffered from signs of malnutrition, his eyesight grew poor, his body shrivelled and he developed dry mange and scabs, so he had to slightly modify his diet.
35-63: six ounces of barley bread, and boiled vegetables with oil
63-80: six ounces of water, boiled vegetables with oil and a broth made from flour and crushed herbs, taken after sunset
After he had lived in the wilderness for 22 years, he became quite famous in Palestine. Visitors started to come, begging for his help.
His first miracle was when he cured a woman from Eleutheropolis (a Roman city in Palestine) who had been barren for 15 years. Later, he cured blindness, raised children from the dead, healed a paralysed charioteer, and expelled demons. He even cured horses affected by evil magic and tamed a mad Bactrian Camel.
Saint Hilarion Castle, Kyrenia, Cyprus
In time, a monastery grew around his cell, which was so beset by visitors, especially females, that Hilarion fled.
After numerous adventures, always beset by enthusiastic visitors seeking his help, Hilarion died in Cyprus in 371 AD.
In 390 AD at Bethlehem, Jerome wrote of Hilarion's life. According to...(and so on)
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