Saint Anthony of the Desert (251 – 356), also known as Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Anthony the Abbot, was born in Egypt to rich, landowner parents who died when he was eighteen years old. Upon becoming an orphan, Saint Anthony gave away all his wealth and retreated into the desert to lead a hermit’s life of abstinence and prayer. He fought many battles against the devil and his demons, which first tempted him in different ways, and when these were unsuccessful, resorted to appearing to him in hideous forms and to physically beating him. Saint Anthony, unfazed by these trials, remained in the desert, in his quest to grow ever closer to God. Eventually, he was joined by others who sought a life of prayer and solitude and, with them, formed the first Christian monastic communities. We are told that he once fell into dejection, finding uninterrupted contemplation beyond his strength. An angel then appeared to him and taught him to alternate prayer and manual labour. Following the angel’s advice, he alternated plaiting mats of palm-tree leaves and prayer. In this routine he found peace again.
Saint Anthony died peacefully at the age of 105 and, following his instructions, two of his disciples buried him in a grave next to his cell. He had only two mantles at the time of his death. He left one to Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, who later wrote his biography, and the other to Saint Serapion of Thmuis. Today, some of his relics, a skull and a leg bone, rest in the Church of Saint Trophime, in Arles.