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Anthony the Great

Anthony the Great (251 - 356), also known as Anthony of Egypt, Anthony of the Desert, and Anthony the Anchorite, was a leader among the Desert Fathers, who were Christian monks in the Egyptian desert in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. His feast day is celebrated on January 17th in both the eastern and western churches.

He was born near Heraclea in Upper Egypt. In 285, he sold all that he had, gave the proceeds to the poor, and withdrew into the desert. A number of other Christians heard of his holiness and went there to join him, forming what may have been the first monastic community.

His biography was written by Athanasius of Alexandria and titled Life of St. Anthony the Great. Many stories are also told about him in various collections of sayings of the Desert Fathers. He instructed his followers to bury his body in an unmarked, secret grave, lest his body become an object of veneration.

Some of those stories concern the Temptation of St Anthony, or rather, the temptations; tales are told of demons who appeared to Anthony in the wilds on more than one occasion and attempted to lure him from his ascetic practices. These stories are perpetuated now mostly in paintings, where they give an opportunity for artists to depict their more lurid or bizarre fantasies. Many pictorial artists, from Hieronymus Bosch to Salvador Dali, have depicted these incidents from the life of Anthony; in prose, the tale was retold and embellished by Gustave Flaubert.

Not to be confused with Anthony of Padua (1195-1231).