Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Ammon, Hermit
[Founder of the Hermitages of Nitria.] THIS great saint was born in Egypt of a rich and noble family. At the age of twenty-two years his tutors and trustees obliged him to marry, in the year 308; but, on the day of his marriage, he read to his wife what St. Paul has written in commendation of the holy state of virginity, by which she was easily persuaded to consent to their making a mutual vow of perpetual continence. They lived together eighteen years under the same roof in perfect continency; and he was so severe in his mortifications as to have gradually inured and prepared his body to bear the austerity of long fasts. For having spent the day in hard labour in tilling a large garden in which he planted and cultivated balsamum, a shrub about two cubits high, which distils balsam and produces an apple, some time ago more famous in medicine than at present, (the tree is cultivated like a vine, and produces its fruit in the third year,) at evening he supped with his wife on herbs or fruits, and immediately retired to prayer, in which exercise he passed a great part of the night. When his uncle and other friends who opposed his retreat were dead, he retired to Mount Nitria with his wifes consent. She assembled and governed in her house a society of religious women, who in the exercises of a penitential and ascetic life, vied with the most fervent anchorets in the deserts, as is related by Rufin and others. St. Ammon first inhabited this desert; which Cassian places five miles from the city Nitria. In the close of the fourth century, Cassian reckoned fifty monasteries on Mount Nitria, inhabited by five thousand hermits. St. Ammons first disciples lived dispersed in separate cells, till the great St. Antony advised him to found a monastery, and to assemble the greatest part of them under the inspection of an attentive superior. That great patriarch of monks made choice himself of the place for erecting this monastery by setting up a cross.1 If St. Antony sometimes visited St. Ammon, our saint often repaired to St. Antony on Mount Troicus, where he then kept his cell. St. Ammon lived in great austerity, when he first retired into the desert, taking only a refreshment of bread and water once a-day. This he afterwards extended to two, and sometimes to three or even four days. The desert of cells into which St. Ammon extended his hermitages, was ten or twelve miles distant from Mount Nitria, though one continued wilderness.2 St. Ammon wrought many miracles. That which follows seemed to St. Athanasius to contain so important an instruction, as to deserve to be inserted in his life of St. Antony, where he has recorded it. The authors of the histories of the Fathers of the desert, and of the life of St. Ammon also mention it. One day, as he was going to cross a river called Lycus, when the banks were overflowed, in company with Theodorus his disciple, he desired him to withdraw, that they might not be seen naked in swimming over. Ammon, though alone, stood pensive on the bank, being unwilling and ashamed, out of modesty, to strip himself, reflecting that he had never seen himself naked. God was pleased to recompense his virginal love of purity by a miracle, and whilst he stood thus, he found himself on a sudden transported to the other side of the river. Theodorus coming up, and seeing he was gone over without being wet, asked him how it came to pass, and pressed him so earnestly, that he confessed the miracle to him, making him first promise not to mention it to any one till after his death. St. Ammon, otherwise written Amun, died at the age of sixty-two years; and St. Antony, though at the distance of thirteen days journey from him, knew the exact time of his death, having seen his soul in a vision ascend to heaven. St. Ammon is honoured on the 4th of October in many Greek Menologies. See Palladius, Rufin, Socrates, Sozomen, &c., in Rosweide; also Cotelier, Mon. Græc. t. 1, p. 352. Cassian Collat. 6, c. 1, &c.