Cult and pilgrimage sites of Byzantine Era Stylites in Asia Minor and Syria

the Example of Alypius of Hadrianopolis 


 This project is part of the larger undertaking „Salvation and Satisfaction in Life[JJ1] “ carried out by the Roman Germanic Central Museum in Mainz and funded by the Leibniz Association

Project Leader and Contact Person:

Ina Eichner

The Project

The cult of the pillar-saints or Stylite Cult was founded in northern Syria by the Christian, Simeon Stylites the Elder; it was one of the phenomena associated with late antique and Byzantine pilgrims. While the Syrian pillar-saints, or stylites, surrounding Simeon the Elder have been studied, much less is known about stylites in neighbouring Asia Minor. Their number, according to various sources, is quite large. Alypius, who climbed a pillar in his hometown of Hadrianopolis, stands out for introducing the tradition of the great Syrican stylites. As indicated in the written record, two monasteries – one for ascetic nuns, the other for ascetic monks - were built near the foot of his pillar.

Alypius died in 640 CE in Hadrianopolis in Paphlagonia (Fig. 1) and his bones were deposited in a local church dedicated to Saint Euphemia. His cult was not limited to Hadrianopolis: a monastery in Constantinople was dedicated to him and his head reliquary is still preserved in the Koutloumousiou Monastery on Mount Athos to this day. 

Fig. 1 Hadrianopolis/ Paphlagonia: overview of the city

A geophysical survey employing both georadar and geomagnetic methods was carried out in September 2013 by Dr. Sirri Seren and his team. As a result, the sacral center of Hadrianopolis was located, which may also have been associated to the pilgrimage site of the holy Alypius (Fig. 2). At least three religious buildings and a stand-alone cross-shaped construction have been found in close proximity to one another in this area.

Fig. 2 Hadrianopolis/Paphlagonia: GPR image of the sacral center of the town with two contiguously constructed churches (left), a cross-vaulted building on the right (above) and the apse of a third church, right (below). (GPR: Archeo Prospections ZAMG, Dr. Sirri sera)

The floor plan of a cross-vaulted domed structure is evident in the GPR image; this building type developed in the Middle Byzantine period. A second church structure appears to be attached to its north side, indicating an ensemble reminiscent of monastic churches with an attached pilgrim shrine, as are also seen in Greece (for example at Hosios Loukas / Boeotia).

In addition to the geophysical survey, compiling information for a topographic map of the city was started in 2013 and should be completed in 2015 (Fig. 3). All above-ground visible ancient monuments are recorded there.

Fig. 3 Hadrianopolis/Paphlagonia, Survey of the metropolitan area in 2013

Aim of the Project

The aim of the project is to clarify the cult of Alypius and its development within the context of urban development.

How did the settlement change during the 6th - 7th centuries CE, with its increasing significance as a pilgrimage site for St. Alypius? Can archaeological evidence be linked to traditional textual sources?

Other planned investigations should clarify the function of religious buildings possibly associated with the existence of the Alypius site in Hadrianopolis.

Whether and to what extent the example of the ultimate stylite, Simeon Stylites the Elder, had on the archaeological record will also be examined.