Christian Ascetics: Baradatus

In my study of early Christian asceticism, I find it fascinating when I come across such brave and almost superhuman figures as Simeon Stylites, the holy individual who has imprinted with his spirit and devoted nature on many men and women the power of faith.

Among the lesser known ascetics was a very faithful figure known as Baradatus.  He lived in the 5th century in the Syrian desert.  Almost nothing is known about him, and what little information we do possess comes from the writings of Theodoret, who was the Bishop of Cyrrhus, in Syria.  It is through his Religious History that we can learn with great interest about the types of penance he devised for himself.

Like most hermits in the 5th century, Baradatus fled from the company of people, and sought peace through prayer and meditation, but also through painful ascetic practice, as was very common of the times.

In order to find salvation, Baradatus built a small lattice confin-like structure, made of interwoven pieces of wood.   Apparently the device was fashioned in such a way that it had many openings, so as to be open to all the conditions of the weather.  As Theodoret writes, the box in “no way conformed to the dimensions of a human body, but in which he had to live bent double, for neither its depth nor its lenght was of a convenient size.”

Baradatus had crawled into the tiny torture device, in wich he lived in a very unpleasent manner.  We have no way of knowing his daily schedule, as Theodoret nor any other person who came to visit him has left us any information.   We do not know how he got his food.  Was it brought to him or did he get out of the box and go fetch his food from a nearby garden?  We can probably be suret that whatever he ate it was very meager, and very rare.  Most ascetics of the period ate maybe once a day, and some who were very devout only ate on Sundays, and gave whatever they had to the poor or their visitors.   Often hermits of the desert lived near open streams, where they had small vegetable gardens and lived off their gardens year round, and their diets consisted of an almost vegan menu.

We do not know how Baradatus lived for most of the day.  Did he get out of the box when he needed to empty himself of waste? Or did he simply leave the waste in the living coffin, thus making the endurance even more troubling?

We do know that he must have suffered from tremendous burns, as the Syrian desert is unbearably cruel.  The burn marks must have left great swelling on his body, and it must have also been uneven because of the lattice design.

However devout Baradatus was, when Theodotus who was the Bishop of Antioch showed up and saw the conditions in which the holy man was living he ordered him to come out of this enclosure and to serve God in other ways.  This must have happened sometime in the 420s, because we know that Theodotus was the Bishop of the See of Antioch in the 420s.

But nevertheless Baradatus continued to labor for the sake of his and the world’s salvation.  The desire for penance made him devise an even more painful form of worship.  Having woven a body suite out of leather, he put it on and was completely covered from head to toe, with only openings for the nose and mouth so as to breathe.  He could not even see.

Baradatus lived in this suit until his final days.  But not only did he wear the suit, he also chose to stand, without moving, with his arms stretched to the skies.

We know that Baradatus was very ill for a large part of his life, however we are not sure if these illnesses came to him because of his ascetic practices or because  of other means.

I have done much research on the case of Baradatus but I cannot seem to find any other information about him except for the small mentions in little known works in languages other then English.  Nevertheless Baradatus appears as a fantastic being from the past.  One can imagine the lonely figure, subjecting himself to the boiling conditions of the Syrian desert.  One wonders what thoughts and prayers were uttered in such states of bleak existance.   Theodoret talks about the fact that he was a wise man, and that apparently when speaking with him, he showed the keen sense of wisdom and reasoning comparable with one who has studied the “labyrinthes” of Aristotle.  However, one wonders what reasoning Baradatus offered for the self-torture devices that he placed upon himself?  Whatever his reasoning, we do know that he was not mad, but found peace through such an existance.

I welcome anyone to send me information on Baradatus.

The photo of the ancient city of Palmyra in the Syrian desert near Damascus.  Today it is a ruin as most ancient cities.  The photograph is by Hovic on Flickr.


~ by alexmalina on February 9, 2009.

3 Responses to “Christian Ascetics: Baradatus”

  1. What an interesting story, yet so typical of the time. I did find a little information on Baradatus with several hits from Google Books and one in CCEL.ORG. If you’ve not visited CCEL you must, it is an excellent free database for early Christian literature.

  2. Dear Weston!

    Thank you for the info, I will most definitely use this resource.

    Kind Regards,

  3. […] are extreme forms of asceticism, and they can be found in early Christian Desert Fathers such as Baradatus and Marana and Cyra, as well as certain Sadhus in India and Buddhist’s in Thailand.  Extreme […]

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