Anthony the Great (c. 251–356)

  • Hermit in the desert

    Around the end of the 3rd century there were a growing number of hermits in Egypt and Syria. Christians went into the desert to live there alone or in groups. With their ascetic way of life and prayer they laid the foundations for Christian monasticism.

    Someone who became famous through his exodus to the desert was Anthony the Great who is also known as Antonius Eremita or as Antonius Abbas, “father of the monks”. It is said that he lived in isolation in strictest ascesis, and was tormented by visions of demons.

    Anthony owes his fame to his biographer Athanasius (c. 293 -373), whose Vita Antonii was very popular with Eastern and Western Christians.

    Artists were particularly fascinated by his life. As so-called Temptations of St Anthony, depictions of the steadfast Anthony fighting demons became a popular theme. They show the desert as a place of desolation where wild animals dwell, terrifying chimeras appear, and where violence and seduction - lust and terror - prevail.