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I started as a mediaevalist, and my Ph.D. thesis was on aspects of antifeminist thought during the period 1150 to 1250, which involved the study of ascetic writers, both mediaeval and earlier.  St. Jerome was one of the most important of them and I found him fascinating.


It was suggested to me when I presented my thesis, that I pursue my research by looking at other early ascetic Christian writings which had led to the antifeminist attitude of many clerics in the Middle Ages, and this, in turn, led me to a study of the ascetics themselves.  Their lives, as recounted by early writers, were so extraordinary, that one wondered how much was true.  I set out to investigate and try to sort fact from fiction.


I made frequent trips to the British Library where much of my research was done, and improved my knowledge of patristic Greek, reading all early descriptions of the ascetics which I could lay hands on.   In my blog, I present stories written by the ascetics’ contemporaries and near contemporaries.  They may not all be accurate and some may be contradictory but they are the nearest you will get to the reality of ascetic life in the early centuries of Christianity


In order to try and find tangible remains, I visited Syria on three occasions between 2004 and 2007. I went to the places where various ascetics are believed to have lived. and photographed what is left of the stylites’ pillars, together with churches, recluses’ towers and other buildings of the Byzantine era. I had intended to return in 2010, but this was prevented by the outbreak of war.  My photographs provide what may be the last record of many of the early Christian buildings, including the church of St. Symeon Stylites and his pillar, which was irrevocably damaged in 2013.  My blog will include some of these photos.


I now live in Hebei province, China, and am hoping to publish my book on the early Christian ascetics in the near future.  Meanwhile, I am working on a book on Theodoret of Cyrrhus.

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