Template:Infobox Saint

Onuphrius (Greek: Ονούφριος, from Egyptian: Wnn-nfr meaning "he-who-is-continuingly-good"[1]), venerated as Saint Onuphrius in both the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine Rite; Venerable Onuphrius in Eastern Orthodoxy and Saint Nofer the Anchorite in Oriental Orthodoxy, lived as a hermit in the desert of Upper Egypt in the fourth or fifth centuries.[2]

Life and legendsEdit

It is uncertain in which century Onuphrius lived; the account of Paphnutius the Ascetic, who encountered him in the Egyptian desert, forms the sole source for our knowledge of the life of Saint Onuphrius.[2] Even the authorship is uncertain; "Paphnutius", a common name of Egyptian origin in the Upper Thebaid, may refer to Paphnutius of Scetis, a 4th-century abbot of Lower Egypt, rather than Paphnutius the Ascetic.[3] "But Paphnutius the Great [i.e. Paphnutius the Ascetic]," Alban Butler writes, "also had a number of stories to tell of visions and miraculous happenings in the desert, some of them in much the same vein as the story of Onuphrius."[3]

A tradition, not found in Paphnutius' account, states that Onuphrius had studied jurisprudence and philosophy before becoming a monk near Thebes and then a hermit.[4] A tradition held by the Eastern Orthodox Church, also not found in Paphnutius' account and similar to the story of Saint Uncumber (Wilgefortis), states that Onuphrius had been a virtuous young girl named Onuphria who, in order not to lose her virginity to a suitor, prayed to become a man -and had her wish miraculously granted.[5][6]

According to Paphnutius’s account, Paphnutius undertook a pilgrimage to study the hermits’ way of life and to determine whether it was for him. Wandering in the desert for 16 days, on the 17th day, Paphnutius came across a wild figure covered in hair, wearing a loincloth of leaves. Frightened, Paphnutius ran away, up a mountain, but the figure called him back, shouting, “Come down to me, man of God, for I am a man also, dwelling in the desert for the love of God.”[2]

Turning back, Paphnutius talked to the wild figure, who introduced himself as Onuphrius and explained that he had once been a monk at a large monastery in the Thebaid but who had now lived as a hermit for 70 years, enduring extreme thirst, hunger, and discomforts. Onuphrius took Paphnutius to his cell, and they spoke until sunset, when bread and water miraculously appeared outside of the hermit's cell.[2]

They spent the night in the prayer, and in the morning Paphnutius discovered that Onuphrius was near death. Paphnutius, distressed, asked the hermit if he should occupy Onuphrius’ cell after the hermit’s death, but Onuphrius told him, "That may not be, thy work is in Egypt with thy brethren."[2] Onuphrius asked Paphnutius for there to be a memorial with incense in Egypt in remembrance of the hermit. He then blessed the traveler and died.[2]

Due to the hard and rocky ground, Paphnutius could not dig a hole for a grave, and therefore covered Onuphrius’ body in a cloak, leaving the hermit’s body in a cleft of the rocks. After the burial, Onuphrius’ cell crumbled, which Paphnutius took to be a sign that he should not stay.[2]

One scholar has written that Onuphrius’ life "fits the mold of countless desert hermits or anchorites... [However] despite its predictability, Paphnutius' Life of Onuphrius is marked by several unique details... the years of Onuphrius' youth were passed in a monastery that observed the rule of strict silence; a hind instructed him in Christian rites and liturgy. During his sixty years in the desert, Onuphrius' only visitor was an angel who delivered a Host every Sunday..."[7]


File:Saint onuphre.jpg

Both the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches traditionally mark his feast day on 12 June. A Life of Onuphrius of later Greek origin states that the saint died on June 11; however, his feast day was celebrated on June 12 in the Eastern Orthodox calendars from an early date.

Onuphrius' cult spread across the Middle East, Eastern Europe (including Russia), and Western Europe.

The legend of Saint Onuphrius was depicted in Pisa's camposanto (monumental cemetery), and in Rome, a church, Sant'Onofrio, was built in his honor on the Janiculan Hill in the fifteenth century.[8]

Antony, the archbishop of Novgorod, writing around 1200 AD, stated that Onuphrius’ head was conserved in the church of Saint Acindinus (Akindinos) (Constantinople).[9]

There was a monastery dedicated to him at Jableczna, Poland, dating from at least 1498.[10]

Saint Onuphrius was venerated in Munich, Basel, and southern Germany, and the Basel humanist Sebastian Brant (who named his own son Onuphrius[11]) published a broadside named In Praise of the Divine Onuphrius and Other Desert Hermit Saints.[11] Onuphrius was depicted in a 1520 painting by Hans Schäufelein.[12]

Art Edit

File:Yilanli (Snake) Church.jpg

Images of Saint Onuphrius were conflated with those of the medieval “wild man".[13] In art, he is depicted as a wild man completely covered with hair, wearing a girdle of leaves.[8]

He is depicted as a half-man with a long beard and half-woman with a fig leaf in the Snake Church (Yilanlı Kilise) in the Göreme valley open-air museum in Cappadocia, Turkey.[6][14]

He became the patron saint of weavers due to the fact that he was depicted "dressed only in his own abundant hair, and a loin-cloth of leaves".[15]

Name variants Edit

His name appears very variously as Onuphrius, Onouphrius, Onofrius; and in different languages as Humphrey (English), Onofre (Portuguese, Spanish), Onofrio (Italian), etc. However, these European names may derive from the name Godfrey rather than the Egyptian.[16]

In Arabic, the saint was known as Abü Nufar, which, besides being a variant of the name Onuphrius, also means "herbivore."[9]


  1. See article: Gardiner, A. H. The Origin of Some English Personal Names, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 56, No. 2. (Jun., 1936), pp. 189-197. (JSTOR or Athens login required)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Alban Butler, Paul Burns; Butler’s Lives of the Saints (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000), 94.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Alban Butler, Paul Burns; Butler’s Lives of the Saints (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000), 95-6.
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named autogenerated5
  5. Santa Maria Maggiore
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Hermit St Onuphrius « Travelling Cam
  7. Peter W. Parshall; Rainer Schoch, National Gallery of Art (U.S.); Origins of European Printmaking (Yale University Press, 2005), 318.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Alban Butler, Paul Burns; Butler’s Lives of the Saints (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000), 96.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Sant' Onofrio
  10. Jabłeczna
  11. 11.0 11.1 Peter W. Parshall; Rainer Schoch, National Gallery of Art (U.S.); Origins of European Printmaking (Yale University Press, 2005), 319.
  12. St. Onuphrius, c.1520 Print & Canvas Art by Hans Leonard Schaufelein | Fine Art Prints | Canvases | Bridgeman Art on Demand
  13. National Gallery of Art | Press Office
  14. T.C. Nevşehir Valiliği
  15. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named autogenerated6
  16. See ibid.

See alsoEdit

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External linksEdit

es:Onofre fr:Onuphre l'anachorète nl:Onufrius de Grote pl:Święty Onufry pt:Santo Onofre sr:Онуфрије sh:Onufrije uk:Онуфрій Великий

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