Commemorated on January 19
Saint Macarius the Great, one of the Egyptian desert recluses and a disciple of Saint Anthony the Great, is depicted on the right edge of the Triumph of Death fresco in Pisa. A group of leisurely aristocrats and their animals occupy the central part of the fresco. These rich young men and women riding horses, surrounded by their decorative hunting dogs have gone on a pleasant journey. Suddenly, their path, somewhere deep in the woods, is barred by three open sarcophagi with bodies in different degrees of decomposition. Everybody in the scene, including the men, women and even the animals are horrified by this terrible and palpable presence of death. The unsupportable stench hits their noses. The abhorrent scene dismays them. Only Saint Macarius the Great, made wise and powerful by his faith, stands above them all. The mystic Saint teaches the youngsters a lesson about life and death by reading from the scroll. The Florentine sculptor Benvenuto Cellini was inspired by this depiction of Saint Macarius in his painted portrait.
Macarius of Egypt founded a monastery that bears his name, the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great, which has been continuously inhabited by monks since its foundation in the fourth century. St. Macarius’ face used to be enlightened with grace in an amazing way to the extent that many fathers testified that his face used to glow in the dark; and thus appeared his name as “the glowing lantern.” This description was transferred to his monastery, and thus it was called “the glowing lantern of the wilderness” or “the glowing monastery,” which meant the place of high wisdom and constant prayer. Today it belongs to the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The entirety of the Nitrian Desert is sometimes called the Desert of Macarius, for he was the pioneer monk in the region. The ruins of numerous monasteries in this region support the local tradition that the cloisters of Macarius were equal in number to the days of the year.