The story of Hypatia is one which evinces the hazardous potentials of the belief-infected mind. The story involves three main characters; Hypatia, a wise “pagan” female philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and teacher, Bishop Cyril of Alexandria, a megalomaniacal Christian whose only want in life was the complete control and Christianization of Egypt, and Osteres, the Roman prefect of Alexandria smitten by the beautiful mind of Hypatia, and whom, according to historical records, Bishop Cyril attempted to assassinate. These three characters were born on a collision course that ended with the horrific flaying of one of history’s finest female philosophers.
Hypatia lived in Alexandria during the late fourth and early fifth centuries and was renowned for instructing large audiences on a wide range of subjects including, but not limited to, mathematics, science, astronomy and Neoplatonic philosophy. Her audiences included pagans, Jews and Christians, who commonly travelled long distances to receive her brilliant instruction. Her father Theon, a celebrated mathematician, was said to be the last Mathematician associated with the world-famous Museum of Alexandria. As an aside, Hypatia was recorded in the ‘Suda’ (Byzantine Encyclopedia) as remaining a virgin until her death.  This encyclopedia informs us that she rebuffed a suitor by showing him her menstrual rags in order that she might demonstrate the ugliness of carnal desires. The picture painted of Hypatia by both Christian and non-Christian historians was that of a wise, witty and strong woman, who aspired for nothing more than the acquisition of knowledge and virtue.
The Church historian Socrates, not to be confused with the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, spoke of Hypatia in his work entitled ‘Ecclesiastical Histories,’ saying:
‘There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more’.
Socrates expressed unabashed admiration for Hypatia and was sincerely sympathetic to Hypatia’s gruesome demise, unapologetically condemning this act of insanity committed by his fellow Christians, thereby demonstrating that even among the faithful there are those who value humanity above blind and zealous devotion to those phantoms popularly called gods. What’s also interesting is that even though Bishop Cyril was accused of commissioning this brutal attack, Socrates did not lift his pen once to vindicate him, which may suggest that even Socrates believed him to be responsible for this macabre murder.
In the third volume in his series entitled ‘History of the Christian Church,’ historian and theologian Phillip Schaff adds:
‘This lady, a teacher of the Neo-Platonic philosophy in Alexandria, distinguished for her beauty, her intelligence, her learning, and her virtue, and esteemed both by Christians and by heathens, was seized in the open street by the Christian populace and fanatical monks, perhaps not without the connivance of the violent bishop Cyril, thrust out from her carriage, dragged to the cathedral, completely stripped, barbarously murdered with shells before the altar, and then torn to pieces and burnt, a.d.415 Socrates, who relates this, adds: “It brought great censure both on Cyril and on the Alexandrian church’.
Despite Bishop Cyril’s attempt to assassinate Osteres and the likelihood that he was in some way involved in the horrid murder of Hypatia, not to mention the fact that he also incited vicious Jewish pogroms in Egypt, in which countless Jewish families were disenfranchised and slaughtered, Bishop Cyril was elevated to sainthood by the Church and to this day he continues to be venerated as such in most Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
The seventh-century Church father, John of Nikiu, did not harbor the same affections for Hypatia as his forbearer Socrates and in his account, he almost went as far as to say she deserved her inhumane execution. In his historical work entitled ‘The Chronicle,’ he wrote:
‘And in those days there appeared in Alexandria a female philosopher, a pagan named Hypatia, and she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through Satanic wiles…A multitude of believers in God arose under the guidance of Peter the magistrate…and they proceeded to seek for the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments. And when they learnt the place where she was, they proceeded to her and found her…they dragged her along till they brought her to the great church, named Caesareum. Now this was in the days of the fast. And they tore off her clothing and dragged her…through the streets of the city till she died. And they carried her to a place named Cinaron, and they burned her body with fire’. 
John failed to acknowledge any of Hypatia’s well-documented virtuous qualities, on the contrary, he depicted her as a “satanic beguiler” of the people. In his eyes, she was an enemy of the Church and as the good Christian that he was, he did his utmost to dehumanize her and establish justification for his brethren’s devilish behavior. She was a “sorcerer” and an “enchantress” and her punishment delivered by the “believers of God” was just in his eyes. This type of pathological apathy is all too common in the depraved mind of the fanatical true believer; the person who has become so obsessed with their religious beliefs that they can commit the most heinous acts without a single qualm. It seems that in too many instances religious beliefs have an almost magical power of turning human beings into immoral monsters. Such was the case with Bishop John of Nikiu. According to the ‘History of the Patriarchs’, written by Severus, Bishop of Al-Ashmunyn (Heliopolis), John of Nikiu lived under the Patriarchs John of Semnûd, Isaac, and Simeon. One day, when John disciplined a monk guilty of some “moral offence” so severely that the monk died ten days later, the Patriarch Simeon removed John from his office.
Whether fundamental Christianity causes this kind of mental illness or attracts the mentally ill is a matter for debate, however one thing certain, insanity has been this religion’s hallmark throughout the majority of its history.
From the numerous historical accounts which have attempted to describe the depraved nature of this crime and the danger of unrestrained Christianity that it so clearly illustrates, none have done so in so poignant a manner as that of the former theologian turned freethinker, M.M Mangasarian, who said:
‘Cyril, the Asiatic archbishop, passing frequently the house of Hypatia, and seeing the long train of horses, litters, and chariots which had brought a host of admirers to the female philosopher’s shrine, conceived a terrible hatred for this Pagan girl. He did not relish her popularity. Her learning was rubbish to him. Her charms, temptations for the ruin of man. He hated her because she, a frail woman, dared to be free and to think for herself. He argued in his mind that she was competing with Christianity, taking away from Christ the homage which belonged to him. With Hypatia out of the way the people would turn to God, and give him the love and honor which they were wasting upon her. She was robbing God of his rights, and she must fall; for He is a jealous God. Such was the reasoning of Cyril, whom the Church has canonized’.
Mangasarian follows his eloquent summary with an inspired portrayal of Hypatia’s death, delivering one of the most scathing assaults on the Christian religion, writing:
‘The next morning, when Hypatia appeared in her chariot in front of her residence, suddenly five hundred men, all dressed in black and cowled, five hundred half-starved monks from the sands of the Egyptian desert — five hundred monks, soldiers of the cross — like a black hurricane, swooped down the street, boarded her chariot, and, pulling her off her seat, dragged her by the hair of her head into a — how shall I say the word? — into a church! Some historians intimate that the monks asked her to kiss the cross, to become a Christian and join the nunnery, if she wished her life spared. At any rate, these monks, under the leadership of St. Cyril’s right-hand man, Peter the Reader, shamefully stripped her naked, and there, close to the alter and the cross, scraped her quivering flesh from her bones with oystershells. The marble floor of the church was sprinkled with her warm blood. The alter, the cross, too, were bespattered, owing to the violence with which her limbs were torn, while the hands of the monks presented a sight too revolting to describe. The mutilated body, upon which the murderers feasted their fanatic hate, was then flung into the flames. Oh! Is there a blacker deed in human annals? When has another man or woman been so inhumanly murdered? Has politics, has commerce, has cannibalism even committed a more cruel crime? The cannibal pleads hunger to cover his cruelty — what excuse had Hypatia’s murderers? Even Joan of Arc was more fortunate in her death than this daughter of Paganism! Beautiful woman! murdered by men who were not worthy to touch the hem of thy garment! And to think that this happened in a church — a Christian church! I have seen the frost bite the flower; I have watched the spider trap the fly; I have seen the serpent spring upon the bird! And yet I love nature! But I will never enter a church nor profess a religion which can commit such a deed against so lovable a woman. No, not even if I were offered as a bribe eternal life! If, O priests and preachers! instead of one hell, there were a thousand, and each hell more infernal than your creeds describe, yet I would sooner they would all swallow me up, and feast their insatiable lust upon my poor bones for ever and ever, than lend countenance or support to an institution upon which history has fastened the indelible stigma of Hypatia’s murder!
If we, of this present generation, are responsible for Adam’s sin, and deserve the penalties of his disobedience, as the clergy say we do, then the Church of today is responsible for Hypatia’s fate. How will they take this practical application of their own dogma? It will not do for them to say: “We wash our hands clean of St. Cyril’s sin”; for if Adam can, by his remote act, expose us all to damnation, so shall Bishop Cyril’s dark deed cleave forever unto the religion which his followers profess’.
The murder of Hypatia foreshadowed a purely Christian era in which such human sacrifices became common practice among the faithful. This Christian orgy of blood spanned well over a thousand years and true and sincere believers in Christ amassed a body count yet to be achieved by their ambitious Islamic counterparts. The followers of Christ turned large portions of this planet, from Alexandria to Tahiti, into a wasteland filled with the corpses of all those who dared to question, criticize and resist their particular brand of dangerous credulity. So, let Hypatia be remembered not merely for her virtue, intelligence and dignity, but also as a cautionary tale of the vile and vicious profanity which inevitably manifests as a result of religion unchecked by the sanity of godless secularism, for when such religiosity is allowed to roam free upon the earth, hell ceases to be a supernatural fiction and becomes a corporeal reality.
- W. Foote and J. M. Wheeler, Crimes of Christianity, Kanya Books, 1965, p. 87.
- Online Suda – Upsilon 166: Hypatia, cited at: stoa.org/sol
- Socrates Scholasticus, cited in, Philip Schaff, Socrates and Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories, Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886, p. 254.
- W. Foote and J. M. Wheeler, Crimes of Christianity, Kanya Books, 1965, p. 89.
- Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 3: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, A.D.311-600, Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1819-1893, p. 50.
- John, Bishop of Nikiu: Chronicle, London, 1916, Chapter LXXXIII:
- Severus ibn al-Muqaffa, History of the Patriarchs, cited at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/severus_hermopolis_hist_alex_patr_03_part3.htm#JOHN_III
- M Mangasarian, The Martyrdom of Hypatia (or The Death of the Classical World), Independent Religious Society, Speech Delivered at Majestic Theatre Chicago, 1915.
7 thoughts on “Hypatia & Christianity: Beauty & the Beast – History Speaks”
And people wonder why atheists (those who once believed, especially) are so “angry”. How about the FACT that barbarians like this CYRIL are deified within the church?!?! Martin Luther dealt with Jews much like Hitler did!
I TREMBLE under the rush of anger, impotent to release it as it wants to be released.
I had never heard that story before. And, I had taken courses in ancient history when in college. Why would that be left out? I think the people who control what we learn in both public schools and community colleges shy away from the atrocities of the christian church. And, even with what is known about the Nazi history in Europe, it was avoided like the plague when I was in high school. I continue to be seriously disappointed to find out just how badly I was “educated” in high school. I’m making up for lost time. It’s as if the christian influence over our education is purposely keeping us in the dark. If we don’t know anything to start with, we will never question anything. We don’t know what we don’t know and can’t ask questions because we will never know just what to question. Why the catholic church went so far as to give this brutal, vicious man sainthood is beyond me. Speaks to their own cruelty throughout history. It seems that if history is ignored, it will just go away.
I am sorry, but this article is extremely innacurate.
Bishop Cyril, was NOT accused of any of his contemporaries for Hypatia’s death. He wasn’t even present and there is absolutely no evidence that he ordered this desgraceful attack: George Florfosky (“Byzantine Fathers”, page 457) says that “There is an absemce of any substantial evidence that links Cyril with the event.” and J.M. Rist (“Hypatia”, page 224) seems to agree: “There appears no reason to implicate Cyril in the murder itself”.
Cyril definitely is to blame for encouraging the most fanatical Christians, but no serious historian accuses him of ordering her death.
As for John of Nikiu, he lived centuries after Hypatia’s death and he did not exactly had a good reputation as he was removed from his offices. All other Christian sources that describe the event are unanimous in their condemnation with Socrates characteristiclly saying “Surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort.” (Ecclesiastical History (VII.15))
As for M.M Mangasarian, what he says is ahistorical. According to Pierre Chuvin (The Last Pagans) “According to the Pagan Damascius, who writes in the beginning of the 6th century, the Bishop, passing in front of Hypatia’s house and seeing an assembling crowd, discovered by chance the popularity of the Philosopher. Of course it is improbable that Cyril, who was ordained a Bishop in the October of 412, would be informed of Hypatia’s popularity in March, 415. Hypatia was famous for one to two decades”
Nor was Hypatia was not a young, beautiful “girl” who tempted Cyril. She was an old woman by the time of her death.That’s part of the legend that was born about Hypatia in the 18-19th century, where various “humanists” tried to pass poetry and literature as history: For instance the myth that Hypatia was offered and refused to convert actually comes from a short dramatic play written by Leconte de Lisle called “Cyril and Hypatia” in which Cyril tries to convince her to convert to save her life, but she refuses. In Maurice Barres’ novel “La vierge assassinee” she is presented teaching at Serrapeum until a mob of Christians arrive to lynch her at which point the two pagan protagonists try to convince her to leave, but she refuses.
You seem to be accusing religious people of believing what they want to believe and lacking critical thinking, but you seem to be very eager to believe romanticized legends if they fit your narrative without any fact-checking whatsoever.
All excellent points in an excellent blog by a very courageous author! Religious bigotry makes people into monsters.
Just thought I would drop off this art I found on Imgur. Apparently the artist has not been able to find coverage for the piece but has shared it for educational purposes.
The destruction of the temple of Demeter at Eleusis (Attica, Greece) and slaughter of its priests and priestesses by Early Byzantine Christians acting under the edicts of the Theodosian and Justinian codes. Original Art. Oil on Canvas 58 in X 54 in
I am not an atheist but a Hindu. In India and East India we have had vile attacks by the church to destroy heathen culture. World media does not learn about it, because global media is controlled by the 3 Abrahamic brothers
It is not even confirmed tgat the murderers were in fact Christian. Atheists commit murders and so do Christians. It seems like people are inherently flawed, not nessessarily their beliefs…