Austria town picks Belgian man for St. George hermitage

A formal hermit has been selected for one of Europe’s last inhabited hermitages. Stan Vanuytrecht will lead a life of solitude at the 350-year-old St. George hermitage nestled on a cliff above a small Austrian town.

Stan Vanuytrecht has beaten 49 hopefuls from around the world to become one of Europe’s last official hermits, Erich Rohrmoser, the mayor of the Austrian town of Saalfelden, announced on Wednesday. Vanuytrecht’s life without running water, electricity or pay in a 350-year-old hermitage commences April 30.

“I thought I didn’t have a chance,” the Austria Press Agency quoted Vanuytrecht, a 58-year-old pipe-smoking retiree with a white beard, as saying. “When I read about the Saalfelden hermitage I thought to myself: This is my place – that’s the place for me.”

In hermitages – secluded places such as caves – a single person lives an ascetic life devoted to religious spirituality. Vanuytrecht’s post in Saalfelden, near Salzburg,  offers solitude from evenings to mornings, while locals and pilgrims visit during the day to pray and to share their problems with the hermit. He had previously served in the Belgian armed forces and worked as a surveying engineer for electricity companies.

In addition, Vanuytrecht trained to become a clergyman and has visited imprisoned people and people dealing with addiction or mental health issues since he became a deacon three years ago. He also worked as a volunteer paramedic in a hospital emergency room for 11 years.

“I think these experiences are an advantage for a hermit,” Vanuytrecht said. “It’s important to be able to listen without judging.”

‘He radiates calm’

Rohrmoser and the local priest Alois Moser chose their hermit after careful consideration. “We opted for Stan Vanuytrecht because his personality appealed to us,” Rohrmoser said. “He radiates calm and comes across as well-anchored.”

Vanuytrecht’s predecessor, the Austrian priest and psychotherapist Thomas Fieglmüller, had moved out after only one year. “Life in the hermit’s cell is spartan but the nature is very beautiful,” he told the daily Salzburger Nachrichten. “I met lots of nice people and had good conversations.” However, he added, “there was also criticism from apparently archconservative Catholics because I didn’t have a cowl or a beard.”

History’s famous hermits include Buddha, a sixth-century BC teacher whose philosophies anchor the faith derived from his name.

mkg/msh (AFP, dpa)

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