Friday, August 29, 2014

Votive Plaque of St. Simeon Stylites

From the Louvre:
The plaque, dating from the late 6th century, was long thought to be part of a reliquary but recent scholarship suggests it is an ex-voto plaque dedicated to Saint Simeon Stylites, because of the inscription in Greek letters along the bottom of the plaque. The inscription reads "In thanks to God and to Saint Simeon, I have given." Recent research has allowed scholars to site the plaque in its original context and seems to lend support to the hypothesis of its votive function. The plaque was part of the treasure of the church of Ma'arrat an Numan in Syria. The treasure also contained a number of other similar small silver plaques engraved with invocations and dedicatory inscriptions. . . .

Unfortunately, the dedication does not indicate whether the saint in question was Simeon Stylites the Elder, who lived in northern Syria between AD 390 and AD 459, or Simeon Stylites the Younger, inspired by the older saint, whose dates are approximately AD 521-592, and who was worshipped at the Admirable Mountain near Antioch. However, the scene illustrated on the plaque suggests the origins of stylitism (from the Greek stylos, meaning a column), which was a particular form of asceticism whose followers spent their lives sitting atop a pillar. This form of mortification was first practiced in the 5th century by Simeon the Elder, who avoided worldly temptation by living on a high column. The saint is depicted as an elderly, bearded man wearing a loose hooded garment and with a large shell above his head. He is perched atop a column behind a latticed parapet. There is a ladder leaning against the pillar and an opening halfway up it to get in and out. The saint is holding a book and seems plunged in deep thought, calm in the face of the danger of the monstrous serpent that is threatening him. The animal is thought to be a reference to an episode from the life of Saint Simeon the Elder, when a snake came to visit the saint to request his help in treating his sick mate.

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