Simeon was the son of a shepherd who opted to be a monk. However, he found monastic life too communal for his ascetic tastes, and withdrew to a cave in the hills where he eked out a frugal existence.
Word spread about the ‘holy man in the hills’ and people started to visit his cave so, in an attempt to escape human contact, in 423AD he built his first pillar, 3m high, and lived on it so that people couldn’t touch him.
The story goes that as his tolerance of his fellow humans decreased, he built himself ever higher and higher pillars.
In total he is said to have spent 40 years living on his various pillars, the last of which was 18m high.
He did have a railing around the top to stop him falling off and would preach from his pillar and answer questions from male pilgrims.
He refused to acknowledge women and even his mother was ignored.
After he died in 459 a huge church was built around his pillar and it became a place of pilgrimage for Christians from all over the world.
The design of the church was unique as it comprised four basilicas in the shape of a cross with an octagonal courtyard at the centre, in which lay the pillar, covered with a dome. When it was completed in 491 it was the largest church in the world at that time.
Little remains of the pillar as devout pilgrims presumably chipped bits off until it was reduced to the large boulder that can be seen today. Right in the centre of our photo.
Simeon also spawned generations of imitators.
Around a hundred years after his death another Simeon, known as Simeon Stylites the Younger, began a successful career squatting on his pillar near to Antakya.
A monastery grew up around his pillar the ruins of which can still be visited – but not when it is absolutely pouring down as it was on the day we had planned to go.
And it is said that in the 6th century other stylites could be seen on their pillars on hills all around Antakya.
The fashion for religious pillar living continued well into the middle ages and spread across most of Europe.