The Patron Saints of Hermits

Temptation of Saint Anthony (Bosch)

Last time, I shared a few thoughts on the word lonely and how it’s (lazily) related to, yet quite different from the word alone. I even got into what it means to be alone (and lonely) in your dreams! There was, however, something about the lonely that I have neglected to mention: they have patron saints!

At least I think they do. It’s not entirely clear. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Saints (which, oddly enough, doesn’t contain a definition of saint as far as I can tell), there are no patron saints of the “lonely,” but there are patron saints of “hermits.” Given that hermits choose to live alone (yet recognizing that alone and lonely are not the same thing), I figured “close enough.” (How’s that for lazy?)

So who are these saints of the hermit set? Here’s the run-down according to the ODS:

Antony of Egypt – He sold all of his possessions at the age of 20 and went to live among local ascetics. From 286 to 306, he lived in complete solitude in a deserted fort as Pispir. Here he underwent “a series of temptations usually associated with the hermit life” [?]; at the end of this period, he left solitude to guide the disciples who had gathered around him. Later in his life, he moved to Alexandria, where he was reported to have worked miracles.

Giles – Not much is know about this guy, but the ODS says that he lived as a hermit near the mouth of the Rhone River. Injured in a hunting accident, he later became the patron of (and I quote) “cripples, lepers, and nursing mothers.” In England, “162 ancient churches” and “at least 24 hospitals” were dedicated to him.

Temptation of Saint Hilarion (Tassaert)

Hilarion – The son of pagan parents in Palestine, Hilarion went to Alexandria to study and became a Christian. He visited Antony at the height of his fame, then returned to Palestine where he discovered his parents were dead. In response to the news, he sold all of his stuff and then became a hermit at Majuma. His austerity drew crowds and he is said to have preformed miracles. To escape the masses, he moved on to Dalmatia. Eventually, his fame caught up with him and he went on the move again. He landed in Cyprus, where he lived the rest of his life. He died at the ripe old age of 80.

In addition to these fellows, there is another saint, Gemma Galgani. Although she is not counted among the patron saints of hermits, she is associated with loneliness — although not by ODS. On the contrary, her link to the lonely comes from a website that characterizes her as “The Saint Who Knew Loneliness,” so I thought I’d include her here.

Gemma Galgani (note the stigmata)

Galgani – Orphaned at the age of 18, Gemma Galgani wanted desperately to become a nun, but the convent of her choice wouldn’t accept her due to “a series of illnesses.” Word on the street is that she “experienced to the highest degree the isolation of loneliness” as a result this rejection, yet she kept it together and remained obedient and patient, and became renowned for her “heroic poverty.” (On the freakier side of things, she was said to occasionally experience the stigmata and also appeared to suffer diabolical possession.)


Additional and or Supplementary Info:

1.) Um, What’s a Saint?

In general, a saint, according to the Basic Catholic Dictionary, is:

“Any person known for Christian holiness; [or] in the strictest sense, a person who has manifested heroic virtue during his or her life and who is officially honored by the Church as one who has attained heavenly glory and as one through whom God freely chooses to exhibit exceptional generosity.”

Whew, that’s a mouthful. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church offers a better, more straightforward definition (of sorts): “The practice of venerating and invoking the saints … rests on the belief that the saints are both close to God (because of their holiness) and accessible to man (whose nature they share).”

2.) Okay, So What’s a Patron Saint?

Put simply, a patron saint is a “saint looked upon as a special guardian of a person, place, or institution” (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language) or “the guardian saint of any nation, place, craft, activity, or person” (American Heritage Dictionary). For what it’s worth, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church agrees and offers nearly the same description as the American Heritage.

The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature agrees as well, but has a lot more to say on the subject. For example, it is within its pages that we learn the word patron goes back to Roman times, where it was used to characterize a relationship in which “a Roman citizen, desirous of a protector, might attach himself to a patron, whose client he thenceforward became….” The patron, the book goes on to say, “was the guardian of his client’s interests, public and private; as his legal adviser, he vindicated his rights before the courts of law. The client was bound, on various occasions, to to assist the patron with money….”

If you’re wondering what all of this has to do with saints, keep going ….

“Patron, in time, came to be a common designation of every protector or powerful promoter of the interests of another; thus also the saints — who were believed to watch over particular interests of persons, places, trades, etc. acquired in the Middle Ages the designation of patron saints.”

Now you know.

Published by Joe3

Founder of the College Park Community and Butter Lamb Reference Libraries

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