For the 15th-century papal legate, see Onofrio de Santa Croce.
Saint Onuphrius
Icon of Onuphrius. Provenance and date unknown.
Died4th or 5th century
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Oriental Orthodox Churches
Eastern Catholic Churches
FeastJune 12
Attributesold hermit dressed only in long hair and a loincloth of leaves; hermit with an angel bringing him the Eucharist or bread; hermit with a crown at his feet[1]
Patronageweavers;[1] jurists[2] Centrache, Italy[1]

Onuphrius or Onoufrios (Greek: Ὀνούφριος), venerated as Saint Onuphrius in both the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Catholic Churches; Venerable Onuphrius in Eastern Orthodoxy and Saint Nofer the Anchorite in Oriental Orthodoxy, lived as a hermit in the desert of Upper Egypt in the 4th or 5th centuries.[3]

Life and legends

Onophrius was one of the Desert Fathers who made a great impression on Eastern spirituality in the third and fourth centuries, around the time that Christianity was emerging as the dominant faith of the Roman Empire. At this time many Christians were inspired to go out into the desert and live in prayer in the harsh environment of extreme heat and cold, with little to eat and drink, surrounded by all sorts of dangerous animals and robbers.[4]

It is uncertain in which century Onuphrius lived; the account of Paphnutius the Ascetic, who encountered him in the Egyptian desert, forms the sole source for our knowledge of the life of Saint Onuphrius.[3] Even the authorship is uncertain; "Paphnutius", a common name of Egyptian origin in the Upper Thebaid, may refer to Paphnutius of Scetis, a 4th-century abbot of Lower Egypt, rather than Paphnutius the Ascetic.[5] "But Paphnutius the Great [i.e. Paphnutius the Ascetic]," Alban Butler writes, "also had a number of stories to tell of visions and miraculous happenings in the desert, some of them in much the same vein as the story of Onuphrius."[5]

The name Onuphrius is thought to be a Hellenized form of a Coptic name Unnufer, ultimately from the Egyptian: wnn-nfr meaning "perfect one", or "he who is continually good", an epithet of the god Osiris.[6]

A tradition, not found in Paphnutius' account, states that Onuphrius had studied jurisprudence and philosophy before becoming a monk near Thebes and then a hermit.[2]

According to Paphnutius’s account, Paphnutius undertook a pilgrimage to study the hermits’ way of life and to determine whether it was for him. Wandering in the desert for 16 days, on the 17th day, Paphnutius came across a wild figure covered in hair, wearing a loincloth of leaves. Frightened, Paphnutius ran away, up a mountain, but the figure called him back, shouting, “Come down to me, man of God, for I am a man also, dwelling in the desert for the love of God.”[3]

Stone carving above the entrance of the Onuphrius monastery in Akeldama, Jerusalem (Potter's field). The image shows Onuphrius bowing down to an angel. Notable features are his long beard and leaf loincloth.

Turning back, Paphnutius talked to the wild figure, who introduced himself as Onuphrius and explained that he had once been a monk at a large monastery in the Thebaid but who had now lived as a hermit for 70 years, enduring extreme thirst, hunger, and discomforts. He said that it was his guardian angel who had brought him to this desolate place.[4] Onuphrius took Paphnutius to his cell, and they spoke until sunset, when bread and water miraculously appeared outside of the hermit's cell.[3]

They spent the night in the prayer, and in the morning Paphnutius discovered that Onuphrius was near death. Paphnutius, distressed, asked the hermit if he should occupy Onuphrius’ cell after the hermit’s death, but Onuphrius told him, "That may not be, thy work is in Egypt with thy brethren."[3] Onuphrius asked Paphnutius for there to be a memorial with incense in Egypt in remembrance of the hermit. He then blessed the traveler and died.[3]

Due to the hard and rocky ground, Paphnutius could not dig a hole for a grave, and therefore covered Onuphrius’ body in a cloak, leaving the hermit’s body in a cleft of the rocks. After the burial, Onuphrius’ cell crumbled, which Paphnutius took to be a sign that he should not stay.[3]

One scholar has written that Onuphrius’ life "fits the mold of countless desert hermits or anchorites... [However] despite its predictability, Paphnutius' Life of Onuphrius is marked by several unique details... the years of Onuphrius' youth were passed in a monastery that observed the rule of strict silence; a hind instructed him in Christian rites and liturgy. During his sixty years in the desert, Onuphrius' only visitor was an angel who delivered a Host every Sunday..."[7]

Other Languages
català: Sant Onofre
čeština: Onufrius
español: Onofre
Kiswahili: Onufri mkaapweke
Nederlands: Onufrius de Grote
português: Onofre do Egito
slovenščina: Onufrij Veliki
српски / srpski: Онуфрије
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Onufrije
Tagalog: San Onofre
українська: Онуфрій Великий