FEast: Jan. 17th
butchers, grave diggers, skin diseases
Of the Desert
Anthony was born in Northern Egypt and led a somewhat standard life until his parents suddenly died and left him to care for his sister when he was 20. About this time he had also become more inspired by several Christian teachings, especially Jesus’ command to leave all of one’s belongings behind and follow him. Anthony decided to do just this and spent several years learning from a local hermit. He then set out for a harsh area of the desert where he sought to imitate Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. During this time, he began to have battles with the devil, which included intense emotions and visions as well as physical strain. He took shelter in a local tomb after winning his first “battle” but was still continually attacked by demons in the shapes of wild beasts and the villagers that came to care for him were amazed by how terribly this affected him.
At the age of 35, Anthony decided to live in complete solitude and moved to a mountain along the Nile. For 20 years he resided here, living in an abandoned fort, with a tiny crack through which pilgrims brought him food and begged him to teach them his ways. When he did emerge in the year 305 to do so, he was surprisingly perfectly healthy.
Anthony instructed those who had come to him for several years and a community established itself for the new monks.
He then retreated again for the last 45 years of his life to a monastery (that is still named after him to this day) Del Mar Antonios. He lived less strictly than before, allowing visitors, visiting the community he had helped teach, and even recklessly traveling to Alexandria during a Christian persecution to aid prisoners. He traveled to the city once again later on to preach against Arianism.
He died at the age of 105, and asked his followers to bury him in an unmarked location in the desert so that the spot would not attract pilgrims.
His friend St. Athanasius wrote a book of his life that grew increasingly popular over the years, especially in the middle ages. He was said in his lifetime to have cured people of ergotism, so when the disease afflicted Europe in the 1100s, it was called “St. Anthony’s Fire” and a group of brothers who ran a skin disease hospital in Grenoble, France walked through towns asking for alms wearing hoods, ringing bells, and accompanied by pigs. This imagery was later worked into images of St. Anthony as well.
Though Anthony was by no means the first hermit or even the first Christian hermit, and though his community formed around him rather than having organized it himself, Anthony is recognized as one of the most important Desert Fathers, having taken asceticism to new levels and thereby is often known as a founder of Christian monasticism.
wHAT wOULD HE CARE ABOUT TODAY?
International alliance of dermatology patient organizations
While the demons you wrestled with were said to be real, physical beings, there regardless were evil forces that you had to battle for your whole life. Give those of us engaged in fierce battles with evil and pain the strength that you had to not only survive, but to guide others and create something big and lasting. Amen.
As mentioned in the biography, Anthony was later depicted in a hood because of the French brothers, and I kept this detail. The demons that are depicted as attacking him in various artwork throughout history are featured on the sweatshirt also. He carries a cane because he is said to have carried a staff that was involved in miracles. His eyes have an other-worldly kind of light because of the visions he saw, and I chose to depict him with vitiligo as he is the patron of skin diseases.