The early Christians were attracted to the desert as a place where they could become more spiritually keen by practicing their beliefs and communing with God in solitude. The earliest desert dweller who fled to the desert to try to perfect his spirituality was, according to Ethel Rolt-Wheeler, St. Antony the Great who lived from 251-356 (5). Helen Waddell identifies the "founder of this way of living" as Paul of Thebes (29-30). St. Paul of Thebes was 23 years older than St. Antony, and they met at the end of St. Paul's life (Waddell 32, 34-39). Regardless of the identity of the first desert father, the term by which these men and women have been referred historically, there were many Christian desert dwellers. Rolt-Wheeler says that in spite of all opposition and difficulties, the lure of the desert and the desire for communion with the divine "drew men in their tens of thousands to the wild places" (7). She goes on to note that "It is computed that the number of Egyptian monks in the year 395 was seventy-six thousand; and of nuns, twenty thousand, seven hundred" (7). This means that in 395 A.D., more than 20 percent of the Christian desert dwellers were women.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.