Morning congregation. Today the vicar is having a lie in and thanking the Lord and the English football team for his bounty, 3-2, 3-2, 3-2, 3-2 . . . The roof repair fund is blessed.
Please welcome our guest vicar Mr Tachybaptus who will be giving the reading this morning on St Montgomery, more popularly know as Mongomerius the Hermit.
SAINT MONTGOMERY – Hermit, c.540–after 622, canonised 1120, feast day 26 August
St Montgomery is the popular name of Mongomerius the Hermit. Born around 540 in Alexandria, he showed an early talent for religious commentary, and at the age of six wrote a refutation of the Gnostic cosmology of the Gospel According to St Thomas which caused much controversy in his native city, as much for the extreme nature of its views as for the youth of its author.
Not long afterwards his parents, tired of the stone-throwing mobs of zealots who were besieging the house, sent the young Mongomerius to the monastery of St Sporadicus at Perge in Pamphylia, on the south coast of Asia Minor. This establishment, chosen entirely on the grounds of its being at a great distance from Alexandria, had, unknown to them, fallen under the influence of a Manichaean sect who believed that all earthly acts were irredeemably sinful, and no spiritual advantage was to be gained by behaving in a holy manner during their mortal life, since after death the spirit would infallibly rise above worldly corruption and be saved. The brethren therefore indulged themselves freely with food, wine, entertainments and courtesans, and were known as the Pachyprophetae, or Fat Prophets.
By 552, the monks’ behaviour had become so notorious that the famously strict Bishop Serbonius of Perge (later canonised as St Serbonius) ordered the monastery closed and its inmates exiled to atone for their sins as solitary hermits in the desert. Some were directed to live in caves, others on mountains; and those whose offences were judged most gross, including Mongomerius himself, to become stylites, perched on tall columns in the manner of the original St Simeon. The bishop repopulated the foundation with monks of his own choice, subjecting them to the severe Rule of Serbonius, under which they had to remain permanently on their knees while walking, eating and even sleeping.
Thus it was that the young Mongomerius found himself returning to his native Egypt to become a hermit. Thirty-five of his companions were sent to the same region, with strict orders that they were to disperse widely in the desert and avoid contact with each other, or with the people at large. However, they interpreted this rule liberally, setting up what amounted to a village of columns in a valley near Syene (modern Aswan). Nor did they subject themselves to a particularly ascetic life. Benefiting from the reverence of the local people, they received ample food and wine, and soon extended their original narrow columns to make themselves more comfortable.
The Fat Prophets (in common with many other groups) came in for severe criticism from Oedicnemus, Bishop of Syene, in his Pananathema. His wrath was particularly stirred by those members of the sect ‘… who impiously ape the discipline of the holy stylites, and in so doing condemn their souls to eternal torment. Only a year past, the brethren caused a shipload of entire trunks of cedar trees some four cubits in thickness to be carried across the sea from Lebanon, at a cost of two thousand talents of silver, such as were necessary to support their corpulence. Yet even these monstrous masts they profane by adding platforms equipped with featherbeds, tables and parasols (omprelai), that they make take their ease the while they indulge in their gluttonies. Truly, I say to you, they shall have their fill; but their meat shall be glowing coals and their drink molten brimstone.’
It is thought that the fork lift truck depicted in al-Jazarī ‘s Kitáb fí ma’rifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya (Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices) of 1206 was based on a device used for raising the brethren to their columns, and for delivering their meals. The lift is operated by a capstan turned by eight men.
Undeterred by the wrath of the bishop, Mongomerius and his companions pursued their easy existence for some years. However, one day Mongomerius, returning from a visit to Syene leading a mule train loaded with peaches and absinthe, found that a heavy rainstorm in the valley had caused a flash flood that had washed away all the monks’ pillars, and the monks themselves were all drowned.
The sorrowing Mongomerius, having buried his friends, realised that this was a sign from heaven that he should repent and mend his ways. The life that he chose for himself was arduous indeed: he submerged himself completely in the Great Bitter Lake to the south of Serapeum, breathing through a papyrus stem that projected above the surface, from which penitential station he emerged only for a brief period after sunset to eat a scanty diet of herbs. To keep himself at the bottom of the lake he had a large pair of leather trousers constructed, whose legs contained pockets filled with heavy stones.
As Mongomerius pursued his arduous life, his former corpulence melted away and he had to secure his trousers with a rope passing through loops in the waistband. Freed from the vexations of the world above, he rediscovered his youthful literary talent and composed the Apocalypticon, a long commentary on the Book of Revelation, which he wrote underwater with chalk on flat stones and left on the shore at night for a local priest to transcribe on to papyrus. This treatise achieved considerable fame, not least for the unusual circumstances of its composition. Sadly, no copy of the work has survived to the present day.
It is not known how long Mongomerius lived. However, Pope Boniface V visited him in 622, when he would have been about 82 years of age. The elderly hermit refused to surface to greet the Pontiff, and the following morning a stone was found on the shore, inscribed Get thee behind me, Satan, Jesus’ reproof to Peter (Matthew 16.23).
After Mongomerius’ death, his leather trousers and the rope used to fasten them were transferred to the cathedral in Syene. Around 650 a wealthy merchant named Corax, who suffered from a digestive complaint, had a dream in which he was cured by wearing the trousers. Accordingly he gained the bishop’s permission to don the holy garment, tied the rope around his waist, and passed the night lying prone on the cathedral floor. To the astonishment of all, his illness was completely cured. From that time the cathedral became a place of pilgrimage for those suffering from diseases of the stomach and bowels, many cures were recorded, and Mongomerius came to be considered a local saint.
In 1084 Roger, the Norman Count of Sicily, suffering from a serious digestive illness, applied to the bishop of Syene for the loan of the trousers, but failed to secure them; however, he sent a party of raiding knights who managed to carry away the rope, which from that time was lodged at the church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti in Palermo. The holy influence of the rope alone cured not only Roger himself, but many other sufferers, until 1713 when it was stolen from the church, allegedly by a Spanish doctor, and has not been seen since.
Mongomerius was declared a Catholic saint by Pope Callistus II in 1120. His feast day, 26 August, is still celebrated in Palermo, and also in Sainte-Foi-de-Montgommery in the French département of Calvados.