Brother Harold Palmer, Hermit of Shepherd’s Law

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Harold Palmer began his religious life in the (Anglican) Society of Saint Francis at Glasshampton Monastery as temporary cook 1958 and served there for 27 years. He felt a calling to the eremitical life, and was encourage to explore this vocation by Mother Mary Claire of Sisters of the Love of God at The Convent of the Incarnation – known as Fairacres. As a young Franciscan monk, Brother Harold had visited enclosed orders in Europe, and been impressed by the zeal with which the monks pursued the life of contemplation. Despite his own order’s refusal to allow him to live apart, he was determined to fulfil his dream of becoming a hermit, and persisted until permission was granted. The Society of St Francis agreed to him doing so, but required that he meet his own costs, and he worked as a hospital orderly to do so. He was able to visit Mount Athos and Italy visiting contemplative communities.

He first explored the ruins upon which the Shepherd’s Law hermitage is built in 1969, in the company of Stephen Platten, now the Anglican Bishop of Wakefield, and he was encouraged by the owner of the land, the very English Sir Ralph Carr-Ellison. He went to Shepherds Law (near Eglingham, Northumberland in England)for a few hours on Good Friday in 1971, and then, after the celebration of the Easter Vigil, he began his life as a hermit in an old loaned caravan positioned within the ruined walls.
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The original eighteenth building on this site with an arch gateway and false battlements, was probably built as an eye-catcher, and was in ruins by the 1850s. There was later a small farm on the site, now replaced by the hermitage which has restored some of the original collapsed structure.

To begin with there was no water nor any other facilities at all. Every day Brother Harold had to descend to the roadside and fill a small milk churn with water from a cattle trough and carry it back to the Hermitage. The building of the Chapel took 7 years to complete and was dedicated at an ecumenical service on Saturday September 18th 2004 by the Archbishop of York. Alongside the Chapel a special steel frame clad with timber was constructed as a bell-cote for a 5 cwt 15th century church bell named ‘Resounding Thomas’.

Harold was keen to heal the separation between Anglicans and Catholics. After 25 years, he felt he must become a Catholic, and was accepted as a consecrated hermit by the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. But he was allowed to continue living in his hermitage and he continued his ministry among Anglicans, as a “companion” of his Franciscan community.

On 18 September 2004 the new chapel of the Hermitage of St Mary and St Cuthbert, built in a beautiful Romanesque style, was dedicated by the Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, assisted by the Bishops of Newcastle and Wakefield and the Roman Catholic Vicar-General of the Hexham and Newcastle Diocese, representing Bishop Kevin.
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The Archbishop of York dedicated the new church of St Mary and St Cuthbert, built in a Romanesque style, with sandstone walls and tiled roofs. The foundation stone was laid seven years ago. A stone from Durham cathedral, carved with the cross of St Cuthbert, was placed beneath the altar. The church has no electricity. “Shepherd’s Law stands against the prevailing culture,” commented Brother Paschal, a friend of Harold’s who is guardian of the Anglican Franciscan friary at Alnmouth. “And it has a message that the world needs to hear. The message is simple. Here is a man who has spent over 30 years on a bleak hilltop because God exists.”

The service of dedication was a joint effort by Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists and members of the United Reformed Church. Harold, who first set up home on the spot in a caravan in 1971, has been praying for Christian unity for hours each day ever since.

Brother Harold was keen to heal the separation between Anglicans and Catholics. After 25 years, he felt he must become a Catholic, and was accepted as a consecrated hermit by the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. But he was allowed to continue living in his hermitage and he continued his ministry among Anglicans, as a “companion” of his Franciscan community.
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See
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherhowse/4267536/Sacred-mysteries.html
http://www.franciscanarchive.org.uk/2005jan-routes.htm
http://www.joomag.com/magazine/The_Portal_June_2013/86923/p11
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For the interior design of the Church, see http://www.taylorandgreen.co.uk/shepherd%27s%20law.html
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“The hilltop site known as Shepherd’s Law seemed uninhabitable at first: ruins were all that was left of the eighteenth-century folly farm, exposed to the worst of the Northumbrian winters. But seven years of toil, with support from friends and the local community, had brought the house into being, complete with a library and a chapel in the loft. In 1989, the four-celled annex was added so that others could enjoy the solitude. Maybe, in time, like-minded souls would join Brother Harold permanently and form a modern-day community of hermits. There was just one thing missing. In 1996, work began on the outside chapel, funded by a legacy from Brother Harold’s mother; it had only recently been completed. The decades of human endeavour that had gone into the little settlement made Grand Designs look like a walk in the park.

Then we crossed the yard to meet the hermit himself. The voice that answered John’s knock was cheery, but the dimness inside made it hard to see the person behind it. First to emerge out of the gloom was Brother Harold’s smile, a twinkle-eyed, mischievous look compounded by the absence of his two front teeth. His face followed, framed by a beard and a woollen chullo with ear flaps and dangling tassels. Then came the outfit, a funky affair made up of various lines of defence against the cold: grey jogging pants, navy socks with sandals, and a fleece of the deepest rose. There was no electricity in the hermitage – artificial light, when needed, came from the paraffin lamps hanging from the ceiling – and the unadorned breeze blocks of the walls added to the obscurity. But with its dark wood furniture and crackling fire, the place had a homely air which made it a cosy retreat from the wind and rain.
We pulled up chairs around the wood stove and the hermit invited me to ask questions.”
http://thesecretlifeofgod.wordpress.com/book-spirituality-religion-britain-2/hermit/

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