Onuphrius (Greek: Ονούφριος, from Egyptian: Wnn-nfr meaning "he-who-is-continuingly-good), venerated as Saint Onuphrius in both the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine Rite; 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 fourth or fifth centuries.
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. A tradition held by the Eastern Orthodox Church, also not found in Paphnutius' account and similar to the story of Saint Uncumber (Wilgefortis), states that Onuphrius had been a virtuous young girl named Onuphria who, in order not to lose her virginity to a suitor, prayed to become a man -and had her wish miraculously granted.
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.”
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. Onuphrius took Paphnutius to his cell, and they spoke until sunset, when bread and water miraculously appeared outside of the hermit's cell.
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." 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.
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.
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...
Both the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches traditionally mark his feast day on 12 June. A Life of Onuphrius of later Greek origin states that the saint died on June 11; however, his feast day was celebrated on June 12 in the Eastern Orthodox calendars from an early date.
Saint Onuphrius was venerated in Munich, Basel, and southern Germany, and the Basel humanist Sebastian Brant (who named his own son Onuphrius) published a broadside named In Praise of the Divine Onuphrius and Other Desert Hermit Saints. Onuphrius was depicted in a 1520 painting by Hans Schäufelein.
Images of Saint Onuphrius were conflated with those of the medieval “wild man". In art, he is depicted as a wild man completely covered with hair, wearing a girdle of leaves.
He became the patron saint of weavers due to the fact that he was depicted "dressed only in his own abundant hair, and a loin-cloth of leaves".
In Arabic, the saint was known as Abü Nufar, which, besides being a variant of the name Onuphrius, also means "herbivore."