and live with the brethren whom you have gathered around you.'26 These reproachful bishops were not merely concerned about the adverse effects of the local climate, but also motivated by the desire to rein in any spontaneous and extreme expressions of ascetic piety instead of the organised monasticism that it was in their power to regulate and control.

The examples of Martin, a monk turned bishop, Felix, a long-dead martyr, and Symeon, a champion ascetic, show the great variety of developments that led to the establishment of a saint's cult. The expressions of that cult, once established, are much more uniform and ubiquitous: pilgrimage to the saint's tomb or other meaningful site, the wish to touch or to possess relics, and the desire to be buried next to the saint. At the root of the cult of saints is thus the desire to establish a tangible connection with the holy man's body, as it had now become an instrument of his salvation and a potential source of divine assistance for others.

The cult of relics and its origins in living discipleship

These cultic practices are usually associated with the cult of dead saints. But -as I would like to argue - all these phenomena are also present in the interaction between living holy men, including martyrs before their execution, and their followers and disciples.

Comparable to pilgrimage to a saint's tomb are the frequent visits to a holy man by admirers - some, but by far not all of them, miracle-seekers - and the presence of disciples around him. Anthony of Egypt was compelled by the continuous throngs of visitors to retreat to increasingly remote locations where he lived the last years of his life assisted by two disciples. To chart more fully the ordinary and daily interactions of holy men and their followers than the sensationalist tendency ofhagiography permits, it is helpful to turn to other kinds of sources. The most immediate documentation are letters exchanged between a holy man and his correspondents. Such letter collections survive from fourth- and sixth-century Egypt, and from sixth-century Palestine, where the correspondence of Barsanuphius andJohn contains no less than 848 items.27 These documents showthe holy man at the centre of a community of followers, which was bound by mutual prayer. Not only was the holy man asked for his prayers, his correspondents always reciprocated by offering their prayers on his behalf. In some cases, the holy man was informed that his prayers

26 Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks 8.15.

27 Eds. F. Neyt and P. de Angelis-Noah, trans. L. Regnault, SC 426, 427, 450, 451, 468.

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