Archive for August, 2014

St Cuthbert: The Saint Who Tried (and Failed) to Live in Obscurity

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2014 by citydesert

“The saint who tried (and failed) to live in obscurity
St Cuthbert retired to an island and would only open his window to give blessings”
“Catholic Herald” (London), 29 August 2014
Saint Cuthbert 1
“St Cuthbert was a monk, bishop and hermit associated with the monasteries of Melrose and Lindisfarne. After his death he became one of the most important medieval saints of northern England and is regarded as the region’s patron saint.
Cuthbert is believed to have been born to a noble family on the Scottish Borders in the mid-630s, about 10 years after King Edwin’s conversion to Christianity in 627. The kingdom’s politics were violent, with episodes of paganism, and Cuthbert’s primary task was the spread of Christianity.
The earliest biographies of Cuthbert record many miracles and he never gave up travelling from village to village in order to spread the Gospel. When Alchfrith, king of Deira, founded a new monastery at Ripon, Cuthbert became guest master. He then became prior in 664. He spent most of his time among the people, ministering, carrying out missionary journeys, preaching and performing miracles.
Fountains abbey
As a missionary he travelled from Berwick to Galloway and eventually founded an oratory in Dull at a site which eventually became the University of St Andrews. He is also thought to have founded St Cuthbert’s church in Edinburgh.
Cuthbert retired in 676 and eventually ended up at Inner Farne Island, off the Northumbrian coast, where he gave himself up for a life of austerity.
inner farne
At first, he received visitors but he eventually confined himself to his cell and only opened his window to give a blessing.
In 684 Cuthbert was elected Bishop of Hexham but was reluctant to leave retirement. Yet he was consecrated at York by Archbishop Theodore and six bishops on March 26 685. After Christmas in 686 he returned to his cell on Inner Farne Island where he died in March 687. He was buried the following day at Lindisfarne and his remains taken eventually to Durham.
Following his death numerous miracles were attributed to his intercession. Most famously Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, was inspired in his fight against the Danes by a vision he had of Cuthbert. Later Cuthbert became a symbol for the Royal House of Wessex, who were greatly devoted to Cuthbert, who became an important political symbol.”
Saint Cuthbert  2
“Cuthbert (c 634-687) was raised in the traditions of Celtic Christianity. Although he subscribed to Roman ways after the Synod of Whitby (664), he remained an exemplar of a less triumphal, more inward form of religion than that represented by the dominating personality of St Wilfrid, the Pope’s henchman.
“Above all,” wrote the Venerable Bede, “Cuthbert was afire with heavenly love, unassumingly patient, devoted to unceasing prayer, and kindly to all who came to him for comfort.” There can be no question of Cuthbert’s holiness. But whereas he is traditionally presented as a shepherd boy, it is clear from the stories told about him that he lived on easy terms with royalty and aristocracy. Cuthbert’s name is Anglo-Saxon, and he was probably born in the Lothians.
At 15 he entered Melrose Abbey, later moving to Ripon, only to be expelled when King Aldfrith of Northumbria fell under the influence of the Romanising Wilfrid.
Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbey, c. 1800

Back at Melrose, Cuthbert succeeded as prior in 664. In the tradition of Irish monastics, he travelled around the country preaching. Fiercely ascetic, he would stand in the freezing sea to pray.
Subsequently he became prior at Lindisfarne, where, obedient to the decision at Whitby, he performed the difficult task of introducing Roman rites and customs.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

“When he was fatigued with the bitter taunts of his opponents,” it is recorded, “he would get up and without a sigh of vexation adjourn the chapter. The next day, as though he had met with no opposition, he would repeat his arguments until by degrees he had them brought round to his way of thinking.”
From 676 Cuthbert lived as a hermit on the small, rocky island of Inner Fane, although at the end of his life he served briefly as bishop, first at Hexham, then at Lindisfarne. By this time, though, ecclesiastical power in Northumbria had moved south to York.
Cuthbert died on Inner Fane, and over the next century a cult developed around his undecayed remains at Lindisfarne. When the Vikings sacked Lindisfarne in 793 his body was removed to Norham, on the river Tweed. During the ninth century his reputation spread as far as Germany.
From 875 to 883 Cuthbert’s corpse was taken on a series of peregrinations, no doubt with the aim of raising funds for the community established in his name. His cadaver was variously reported to be at the mouth of the Derwent, at Whithorn in Galloway and at Crayke near York.
Then for more than a century the body was at Chester-le-Street until it was again moved in 995, first to Ripon, then to Durham, where in 1194 it was accorded an honoured place in the new cathedral.
St Cuthbert's Shrine
The Shrine of St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne in Durham Cathedral

Cuthbert’s magnificent shrine was destroyed at the Reformation; his memory, however, has proved more durable.”

“The Gospel Book of St. Cuthbert is arguably one of the most important surviving medieval manuscripts, and it is a cause for celebration that it has been secured by the British Library in a purchase from the collection of Stonyhurst College in Lancashire. The procurement was funded by a number of major grants of public money as well as many smaller donations from the public at large. It is appropriate, then, that the book has been digitised in full and made available free-of-charge to all on the British Library’s website, as part of a project to inform and educate a broader audience about the book’s importance.
St Cuthberts Gospel 1
Cuthbert was born c.635, and lived his adult life as a monk in various foundations in the north of England, becoming most closely associated with Lindisfarne (where he was prior and later bishop) and Inner Farne (where he spent most of his later life as a hermit until his death on 20th March 687). The Gospel Book that takes his name is of obvious codicological importance: it dates from the late seventh century and is the earliest intact European book in existence, ‘the only surviving high-status manuscript from this crucial period in British history to retain its original appearance, both inside and out’, with the original binding enclosing the text of St. John’s Gospel, likewise unaltered since it was produced.
Yet also, just as in the medieval period, it is the association with St. Cuthbert that lends this book its particular fascination. It was placed in Cuthbert’s tomb at Lindisfarne when it was first opened in 698, and remained alongside the body of the saint until the tomb was opened again at Durham Cathedral Priory in 1104, an event witnessed by the chronicler Symeon of Durham. The book was found, according to a thirteenth-century inscription in the book, ‘near the head of our blessed father Cuthbert lying in his tomb’.
The tomb had been moved out of Lindisfarne in the eighth century, and the body and book together were carried by the community of monks around northern England, then to Chester-le-Street and eventually to Durham. The wanderings of the Gospel Book continued after the destruction of the tomb in the sixteenth century: it was donated to the English Jesuit community at Liège in the eighteenth century, was briefly misplaced while on loan to the Society of Antiquaries in the early nineteenth century, and has eventually come to rest at the British Library (where its new classmark – Add. MS 89000 – scarcely hints at the book’s importance).
St Cuthbert's Gospel 2
When Cuthbert’s tomb was first opened in 698, it was found that ‘the skin had not decayed nor grown old, nor the sinews become dry…but the limbs lay at rest with all the appearance of life’. The incorruptability of a body was crucial evidence in the canonization process, and (whether accurate or not) such accounts are repeated over and again in medieval hagiographies. Holy books, too, were imbued with similar properties of indestructability: according to Symeon, the Lindisfarne Gospels (also at the British Library) were washed overboard during a voyage across the Irish Sea but were found miraculously unharmed on the shore. Few librarians nowadays would be willing to trust the safety of their collections to the intervention of a guardian saint!

Cuthberts Cross
“This Pectoral Cross was removed from the coffin of St Cuthbert on the last occasion that it was opened on Thursday 17th May 1827. Made of gold the stones are garnets. The cross was discovered deeply buried amongst the robes on the breast. A portion of the silk cord, twisted with gold, by which it had been suspended, was found upon the breast. A tradition, however, says the bones were not St Cuthbert’s these having been removed to safety in another part of the cathedral some time between 1542 and 1558. But the cross may well still have been his, placed with another body as a “ruse”.”
Saint Cuthbert  3
Apolytikion in the Third Tone:
WHILE still in thy youth thou didst lay aside all worldly care and didst take up the sweet yoke of Christ, O godly-minded Cuthbert, and thou wast shown forth in truth to be nobly radiant in the grace of the Holy Spirit. Wherefore, God established thee as a rule of faith and shepherd of His rational flock, O converser with Angels and intercessor for men.
Kontakion in the First Tone:
HAVING surpassed thy brethren in prayers, fasting, and vigils, thou wast found worthy to entertain a pilgrim-angel; and having shone forth with humility as a bright lamp set on high, thou didst receive the gift of wonderworking. And now as thou dwellest in the heavenly Kingdom, O our righteous Father Cuthbert, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Saint Cuthbert  4
See further:

The Echo of Desolation

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2014 by citydesert

“In the writings of a hermit we always hear something of the echo of desolation, something of the whispers and the timid gazing around of isolation; from his strongest words, even from his screaming, still resounds a new and dangerous kind of silence, of concealment. Whoever has sat down, year in and year out, day and night, alone in an intimate dispute and conversation with his soul, whoever has become a cave bear or digger for treasure or guardian of treasure and dragon in his own cavern – it can be a labyrinth but also a gold mine – such a man’s very ideas finally take on a distinct twilight colouring and smell as much of mould as they do of profundity, something incommunicable and reluctant, which blows cold wind over everyone passing by.
The hermit does not believe that a philosopher – assuming that a philosopher has always first been a hermit – has ever expressed his real and final opinion in his books. Don’t people write books expressly to hide what they have stored inside them? – In fact, he will have doubts whether a philosopher could generally have “real and final” opinions, whether in his case behind every cave there does not still lie, and must lie, an even deeper cavern – a more comprehensive, stranger, richer world beyond the surface, an abyss behind every reason, under every “foundation.” Every philosophy is a foreground-philosophy – that is the judgment of a hermit: “There is something arbitrary about the fact that he remained here, looked back, looked around, that at this point he set his shovel aside and did not dig more deeply – there is also something suspicious about it.” Every philosophy also hides a philosophy; every opinion is also a hiding place, every word is also a mask.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil”, Part 9, aphorism 289 – quoted on Hermitary:
“Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philologist, philosopher, cultural critic, poet and composer. He wrote several critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and aphorism.
Nietzsche’s key ideas include the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy, perspectivism, the Will to Power, the “death of God”, the Übermensch and eternal recurrence. One of the key tenets of his philosophy is the concept of “life-affirmation,” which embraces the realities of the world in which we live over the idea of a world beyond. It further champions the creative powers of the individual to strive beyond social, cultural, and moral contexts.
Nietzsche’s radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth has been the focus of extensive commentary, and his influence remains substantial, particularly in the continental philosophical schools of existentialism, postmodernism, and post-structuralism. His ideas of individual overcoming and transcendence beyond structure and context have had a profound impact on late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century thinkers, who have used these concepts as points of departure in the development of their philosophies.”
Nietzche 2
See further:
Nietzche 3

Saint Symeon Stylites of Lesbos

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2014 by citydesert

September 1 is the commemoration of Saint Symeon Stylites of Lesbos.
“Saint Symeon Stylites of Lesbos (765/766-844) was a monk who survived two attempts on his life during the second period of Byzantine Iconoclasm (814–842). He followed a similar model to Simeon Stylites, residing on a pillar-like structure similar to a tower. There he isolated himself form the world and fasted, prayed and studied. He is venerated with his two brothers, Saint George the Archbishop of Mytilene and Saint David the Monk.”
See also:
Byzantine defenders
Alice-Mary Maffry Talbot “Byzantine Defenders of Images: Eight Saints’ Lives in English Translation” [Dumbarton Oaks, 1998] “The seven vitae feature holy men and women who opposed imperial edicts and suffered for their defense of images, from the nun Theodosia whose efforts to save the icon of Christ Chalkites made her the first iconodule martyr, to Symeon of Lesbos, the pillar saint whose column was attacked by religious fanatics. Life of St. Theodosia of Constantinople Life of St. Stephen the Younger Life of St. Anthousa of Mantineon Life of St. Anthousa, Daughter of Constantine V Life of the Patriarch Nikephoros I of Constantinople Life of Sts. David, Symeon, and George of Lesbos Life of St. Ioannikios Life of St. Theodora the Empress.”

Hermits in the Landscape

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2014 by citydesert

Graham Jones “Saints in the Landscape: Heaven and Earth in Religious Dedications” [Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2007]
4108 Saints CVR
Hermits often feature, because of their tendency to geographic stability, as “local Saints”, or “Saints in the Landscape”.

“I have recently finished reading “Saints in the Landscape” by Dr Graham Jones, Senior Research Associate at Oxford University. This is a wonderful book, so full of original insights that I am filled with admiration. Many people have tried, and failed, to make sense of the pattern of saint-dedications in the British Isles. Dr Jones is the first person to have developed a coherent theory and backed it up with lots of credible evidence. Reading the book was a revelation. I felt that the explanation I had been searching for had suddenly been handed to me, complete and convincing.

“…the origins of many churches may be earlier than is normally assumed, and that deeply ancient ways of seeing the world and calling on supernatural help survived to influence medieval and even modern attitudes…
“…John the Baptist can be associated with upland or woodland pasture…
“Many annual parish outings may well be the linear descendants of an intermediate category of local pilgrimage…”
“…extensive meadows were opened at Lammas of which (St) James’ feast a week before was herald.
“(Holy) wells have their own patterns of naming, very different from those of churches.
“Hare Pie Bank is an Iron Age shrine characterised by the ritual deposit in the first century BC of thousands of gold and silver coins and a ceremonial helmet belonging to a high-ranking officer in the Roman army… Note: I intend to track this helmet down – presumably it is in the British Museum.
“The King’s Watch was one of the English processional customs which gave Midsummer its character.
“…the communal landscape and the maintenance of law through an ascending order of rituals, mutual societies, and an attachment to saints of the region and later the realm… symbolised a sense of identity…
“…ancestors were commemorated at the feast of All Souls…
“(St) Swithin’s protection was sought by communities farming certain types of soil…
“Ellenmas… the beginning of the dairying season and of the movement of stock to summer pastures…
“Places with Michaelmas livestock fairs represent by their very nature agrarian systems which take us back to a period earlier than the introduction of farming for the sale of surplus crops…
“Peter and Paul appear to be frequent patrons at places in England which were under royal control…

These are just a few examples. Every page of the book has similar illuminating facts and hypotheses. Dr Jones has written a book that goes a long way towards explaining why the society in which we live is structured the way it is.”

For Dr Graham Jones, see further:
For his Electronic Atlas of Saints’ Cults in England and Wales:
Leonard statue
“It is no surprise that the most popular patron saints for medieval chapels associated with forests included those whose legends connected them precisely with the forest and/or hunting. Most prominent are Leonard, who was said to have helped Clovis’ wife give birth during a hunt in the forest, and Giles, who reportedly protected a wounded hind from the huntsmen of the Visigothic king Wamba, despite being wounded himself.
Other forest saints are Hubert, Eustace, and Procopius – linked by the season of their feasts and the iconography of a stag bearing the cross between its antlers. These and other themes are explored in Graham Jones, Saints in the Landscape (Tempus, 2007).
The ending on Holy Cross Day, September 14, of stag and hart hunting and the start of hunting hind and doe, gives added meaning to the images of cross-bearing stags. It also draws attention inter alia to the dedication of the hunting lodge of the Scottish kings at Holyrood, whose approach from Edinburgh Castle is via the church of St Giles.”
Leonard prays outside his forest hermitage near the town of Noblat (19th c. French painting on fabric, private collection)
St Leonard icon
“St Leonard, or Lienard, was a French nobleman of great reputation in the court of Clovis I, and in the flower of his age was converted to the faith by St. Remigius, probably after the battle of Tolbiac.
Being instructed in the obligations of our heavenly warfare, wherein the prize of the victory is an assured crown of immortal glory, he resolved to lay aside all worldly pursuits, quitted the court, and became a constant disciple of St. Remigius. The holy instructions and example of that saint made every day deeper impressions upon his tender soul, and Leonard seemed to have inherited the very spirit of his master, and to be animated with the same simplicity, disinterestedness, modesty, zeal, and charity. He preached the faith some time; but finding it very difficult to resist the king’s importunities, who would needs call him to court, and burning with a desire of giving himself up entirely to the exercises of penance and contemplation, he retired privately into the territory of Orleans, where St. Mesmin or Maximin governed the monastery of Micy (called afterwards St. Mesmin’s), which his uncle St. Euspicius had founded, two leagues from the city, in 508. In this house St. Leonard took the religious habit and inured himself to the fervent practices of regular discipline under the direction of St. Mesmin and of St. Lie or Laetus, a holy monk of that house, who afterwards died a hermit.
St Leonard 2
St. Leonard himself aspiring after a closer solitude, with the leave of St. Mesmin left his monastery, travelled through Berry, where he converted many idolaters, and coming into Limousin, chose for his retirement a forest four leagues from Limoges. Here, in a place called Nobiliac, he built himself an oratory, lived on wild herbs and fruits, and had for some time no other witness of his penance and virtues but God alone. His zeal and devotion sometimes carried him to the neighbouring churches, and some who by his discourses were inflamed with a desire of imitating his manner of life joined him in his desert, and formed a community which, in succeeding times, out of devotion to the saint’s memory, became a flourishing monastery, called first Noblat, afterwards St. Leonard le Noblat. The reputation of his sanctity and miracles being spread very wide, the king bestowed on him and his fellow-hermits a considerable part of the forest where they lived. The saint, even before he retired to Micy, had been most remarkable for his charity toward captives and prisoners, and he laid himself out with unwearied zeal in affording them both corporeal and spiritual help and comfort, and he obtained of the governors the liberty of many. This was also the favourite object of his charity after he had discovered himself to the world in Limousin, and began to make frequent excursions to preach and instruct the people of that country. It is related that some were miraculously delivered from their chains by his prayers, and that the king, out of respect for his eminent sanctity, granted him a special privilege of sometimes setting prisoners at liberty; which about that time was frequently allowed to certain holy bishops and others. But the saint’s chief aim and endeavours in this charitable employment were to bring malefactors and all persons who fell under this affliction to a true sense of the enormity of their sins, and to a sincere spirit of compunction and penance, and a perfect reformation of their lives. When he had filled up the measure of his good works, his labours were crowned with a happy death about the year 559, according to the new Paris Breviary. Many great churches in England of which he is the titular saint, and our ancient calendars, show his name to have been formerly no less famous in England. In a list of holidays published at Worcester in 1240, St. Leonard’s festival is ordered to be kept a half-holiday, with an obligation of hearing mass and a prohibition of labour except that of the plough. He was particularly invoked in favour of prisoners, and several miracles are ascribed to him. His name occurs in the Roman and other Martyrologies.
Solitude has always charms to the devout servant of God, because retirement from the world is very serviceable to his conversing with heaven. Solitude and silence settle and compose the thoughts; the mind augments its strength and vigour by rest and collection within itself, and in this state of serenity is most fit to reflect upon itself and its own wants, and to contemplate the mysteries of divine grace and love, the joys of heaven and the grounds of our hope. How shall a Christian who lives in the world practice this retirement? By not loving its spirit and maxims, by being as recollected as may be in the midst of business, and bearing always in mind that salvation is the most important and only affair; by shunning superfluous amusements and idle conversation and visits; and by consecrating every day some time, and a considerable part of Sundays and great festivals, to the exercises of religious retirement, especially devout prayer, self-examination, meditation, and pious reading.”
Taken from Vol. III of “The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints” by the Rev. Alban Butler:

See further:

Alone, Not Lonely: On Modern Hermits

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2014 by citydesert

An extract from “Alone, Not Lonely: On Modern Hermits” by Andy Wright on February 14, 2014 in “Modern Farmer” at
”Who hasn’t fantasized about a life off the grid? A life without the usual obligations. Without instant messaging. It is the ultimate in rural idyll, the extreme version of buying a summer home upstate.
Which is why I was more than intrigued to find that there were hermits just a couple hours away from me in Sonoma, California, best known as an upscale wine destination. According to its website, Sky Farm Hermitage “provides an ideal setting for anyone seeking a retreat in silence and solitude in a simple and rustic environment.” It’s mantra? “Be Still. Be Silent. Be Watchful.” For just $85 a night, the life of a hermit could be mine. And so I did something that seemed supremely novel at the time, and emailed a hermit.
There are two kinds of hermits.
Well, actually, there are two major categories with lots of subcategories. There are the hermits who live like Knight, in some form or another. People who prefer to live alone and self-sufficiently. They are the subjects of documentaries, some of them write books.
Some call Henry David Thoreau one. And surely there are some we will never know about. From there you can spiral out. Some have described Japan’s hikikomori, young men and women who have withdrawn from society and live isolated in rooms, as hermits. And then there are spiritual hermits. Hermits who live secluded lives dedicated to introspection—contemplative silence. The existence of spiritual hermits has been recorded since ancient times, from Greece to Siberia to Thailand. Many say Lao Tse, the author of the “Tao Te Ching” lived as a hermit. Saint Paul of Thebes is often credited as being the first Christian hermit. Born in 230 near Egypt, he is said to have lived in a cave for 70 years. (Caves are a popular dwelling for hermits of yore, and occasionally, hermits of today.) There are Buddhist hermits and Hindu hermits. There are hermits who live alone, and hermits who live in close proximity to other hermits. Many hermits live mostly in silence, but they aren’t all cut off.
Dear Andrea,
Peace and blessings.
Happily there are some openings for June Weekends– 6/21-21 or 6/28-30 are both free right now.
Might either of these work for you?
Sr. Michaela
It took just little over a day for the hermit to write back.
Her name is Michaela; I didn’t know her last name (Terrio) until well into our relationship. We exchanged a few more emails and after I admitted I knew absolutely nothing about visiting a hermitage, she proposed a phone call. (Hermits have phones!). I was uncharacteristically nervous about the call. Would Michaela sniff me out for the un-spiritual fraud that I was? I have, after all, no religious affiliation. I rarely spend time alone. I once balanced my laptop on the toilet in case I needed to chat about work during a shower.
But Terrio didn’t seem to care. She didn’t ask me, in her quiet, calm voice, why I wanted to come to Sky Farm, and she certainly didn’t ask me what my religion was. She told me, among other things, that while I was there, I probably wouldn’t see other people, but that if I did, it was okay to say “hello” if it seemed like the other person was okay with it. We agreed that I would take a bus to the city center of Sonoma and she would pick me up in her car (hermits have cars!) and take me the rest of the way to the hermitage, and then we hung up.
Hermits have to deal with a lot of misconceptions. Like that they all live in caves, or that they hate people or that they don’t go to the grocery store.
To bust some common hermit myths, I turned to Karen Fredette, a woman who finds herself in the strange position of being a spokesperson for hermits.
Alone 1
Fredette grew up Catholic and joined a monastery when she was 17. She lived there for 30 years before moving to West Virginia to live as a hermit in a small cabin, which she did for six years. Then she met her husband, Paul at a nearby parish where she worked to earn a little money. “Even hermits have to eat,” says Fredette. “We both pursued our separate vocations for a while but then finally decided that God was calling us to marry.”
Fredette says she no longer considers herself a hermit now that she’s married.
The Fredettes run a website for hermits and “those attracted to solitude,” and a newsletter for hermits called “Raven’s Bread,” which is printed and mailed. The newsletter features hermits’ stories, a letter from the Fredettes, book and article suggestions, a bulletin board and even a one-panel comic starring a character called Wood B. Hermit.
Fredette has written books about the hermit life and has a YouTube series. The website receives 650 hits a day, the newsletter is sent out to about 1,200 people worldwide.
It is the use of technology that raises the most eyebrows when it comes to the modern hermit existence.
“A lot of people are confused that hermits have computers,” says Fredette. I reached her by video chat one morning at her secluded home, tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. She popped up on my screen, seated in her wood-paneled living room in front of her own computer, wearing a light blue, embroidered shirt and glasses.
Ravens Rest
“Computers are a great aid to many people in hermit life,” she says. “One time we asked the readers of Raven’s Bread, are computers good or not good for hermits? Some people thought that, well, a computer would be all right, but not any connection to the Internet and others said, well, it would take a lot of self-control not to get drawn in to spending all your time on the computer with Internet or email.”
Conflicting opinions aside, computers are good for making money, Fredette pointed out. While some hermits are lucky enough to live on land owned by spiritual groups, many still have to pay rent and buy the basics. If you can sell your wares or skills online then you can conduct your work while minimizing contact with others.
But plenty of hermits have day jobs.
Fredette once cleaned houses. “The people I worked for were away at their day jobs and I’d come in and clean their house very quietly and leave.” She knows hermits who work as nurses. She knows a hermit who picks grapes at a winery. She sends newsletters to the suburbs and the city. In 2001, Fredette conducted a survey of her readers and received 132 responses. 31 percent lived in rural areas, almost as many lived in urban areas, a third lived in suburbia and eight lived in an inner city. “There can be hermits walking down the street,” says Fredette. “You’ll not know them for who they are.”
Fredette says a typical day for a hermit will include praying, spiritual reading and being contemplative: “Focusing on one thing at a time and not multitasking.”
The burning question, of course, for those of us who sit with our Facebook pages open and cellphones within arms reach, is: Why?
It’s important, Fredette says, for people to realize that hermits are not people-haters. Fredette describes it as a calling.
“There’s a spiritual connection,” she says. “You can picture a wheel, there’s a hub, there’s the spokes going out to the rim and the people on the rim are usually moving pretty fast and about to fly off. But if you’ve got the spokes going to the hub where the hermits are, they are sort of in a way holding society from flying completely apart. It’s a spiritual realization, but I think it’s a real one.”
So is it hard to be a hermit?
“One can get very lonely,” Fredette admits. “I think it would be very strange if they didn’t go through periods of loneliness. But if you stick it out, if you can go through the loneliness – and you have to – you reach a lower level. And that’s solitude. That is a very rich, beautiful place.”
When I arrived at Sonoma’s quaint town square, I kept trying to pick Michaela out of the crowd. No, not her, too fancy. No, not her, too pregnant. I had plenty of time to wonder if I would get to meet the other hermits, if they would talk about me amongst themselves and if they would like me. Perhaps my neurotic need for approval from the hermits was something I could ponder during my crack at peace and solitude.
Alone 2
When I finally did meet her she had short, curling hair, wire-rimmed glasses and a warm smile. She was driving a white Mini Cooper. I wasn’t sure if I should go in for a handshake, but she greeted me with a hug.
We drove up a long, winding road, past rolling wheat-colored hills dotted with trees. As we cruised past neat rows of grapes, we made small talk about how over the years wineries had crept closer and closer to the hermitage. Sky Farm sat at the end of the long road. It consisted of a small cluster of buildings surrounded by trees, hills and rocks framed by a bright blue sky. Hawks circled overhead, a flock of wild turkeys bustled around the grounds and lizards with jewel-green bellies surfaced and vanished.
sky farm
Michaela showed me the kitchen and library (mostly books about hermits) where there was a picture window and took me to a tiny chapel built into an enormous wine barrel. (This was Wine Country, after all.) Inside it was dark and cool. There was a small stained-glass window and an altar with an enormous Bible on it.
Finally, Michaela took me to my hermitage: I felt like I was at a religious boutique hotel. It was a small cottage with a bright yellow door, a gleaming kitchen and a small porch with a cast iron bench from which I could survey my surroundings. Once Michaela had showed me around the cottage, she said goodbye and left me alone.
That time I spent with Michaela, scarcely an hour, was the only time I was in her physical presence.
The first thing I did was poke through every drawer. I was relieved to find a corkscrew. At the last minute I had brought a bottle of wine with me (this was about being solitary, not sober, I had decided) and apparently this was okay. No Bible in the bedside table, but I found an individual packet of tissues and a plastic bottle of holy water.
The second thing I did, on my quest to explore my capacity for solitude, was hike out onto the road in search of cell reception so that I could text my boyfriend that I had arrived safely. This is my Carrie Bradshaw moment, I thought. I suck at being a hermit.
By the time I returned, the sun was dipping behind the mountains. I sat on my porch and watched the sky turn gold, then pink, then purple, then grey and finally black. It was incredibly quiet. I watched the stars turn on one by one and then I went to bed, preparing to wake up to a full day of hermitting…
Sky Farm Hermitage Chapel
When I woke up at Sky Farm I laid in bed for a while before opening up some yogurt and eating it on the porch, where I looked out at a violet morning sky and another guest hermitage just a few yards from mine. There was another weekend hermit in there; I could hear him or her making their own breakfast. But I never saw them. (I never saw anyone, actually, while I was at Sky Farm.) Maybe he or she never came out.
With breakfast out of the way, I had an entire day ahead of me. I had decided early on that I wasn’t going to force any spiritual awakenings. This was more an experiment about being alone than anything else. To that end, I had packed reading material.
First I read the New Yorker back-to-back. (Okay, I skipped a long political story.) Then I walked to a bench overlooking a dry creek and sat there for a while. There were well-positioned benches scattered throughout the grounds and I spent a lot of my time rotating through them. I tried sitting in the chapel. I flipped through the bible.
I went to the library and snooped (there was Trader Joe’s ice cream and raviolis in the freezer) before settling in to read books about hermits. My favorite was one that chronicled a hermit conference in 1975 in Wales. “There is,” it read, “as all who took part in this meeting were vividly aware, an almost comic incongruity in convening a meeting to speak about a life given to solitude and silence.”
I went for a walk in the heat, I returned, and then I sat some more.
Sitting and looking became my primary activity. Here’s the thing about sitting and looking: you hardly ever do it. But what else is there to do when you have no one to talk to, no internet connection and are surrounded by nature? Frankly, I found that I excelled at sitting and looking.
Sitting and looking became my primary activity. Here’s the thing about sitting and looking: you hardly ever do it. But what else is there to do when you have no one to talk to, no internet connection and are surrounded by nature? Frankly, I found that I excelled at sitting and looking…
After I left the hermitage, weeks passed before I spoke to Terrio again. Would she even agree to let a journalist interview her about her life? But Terrio was happy to talk to me, and we picked a date when I could call her up and ask her all manner of personal questions.
Before Terrio was a hermit, she was a just a regular girl growing up in “the middle of nowhere.”
Specifically, nowhere was the San Joaquin valley, a rural swatch of land near Sacramento covered in farms. Her family was Catholic, and church was important to them. Whenever her dad brought her and her siblings into town, they’d visit two places: the pet store and the church. After high school she headed to Fresno State to study medicine. She only finished one year.
“I just had this profound sense of how loved I was by this divine being,” says Terrio, laughing. “I understood my happiness would be in some form of service. And I thought it would be medical service, but then it was the monastery.”
Terrio was on a religious retreat in Aptos, California when a friend asked her if she wanted to go pray at a monastery. The monastery was home to Poor Clare Nuns, an order that has existed for centuries. She immediately felt she belonged there.
“It was a cloistered order which means once you went in you didn’t go out except for things like a doctor appointment,” says Terrio. “You didn’t go home to see your family. They could come see you but you were separated so they were sort of on one side of a grating and you were on the other and the first year they could come every month, the second year every two months. Once I was in final vows, just a couple times a year. That was very hard for me, because family was important.”
It wasn’t a seamless transition. Like any parents whose kid has a Big Idea, her mother and father said, “We’ll talk about it when you come home.” It was hard for them, Terrio says, when they realized she was serious. And then there was the “sweetheart” she had to part with.
“I never, never anticipated not having children or a husband,” says Terrio. “Or not having a family.”
In time, she says, the nuns came to feel like her “monastic family.” She stayed at the monastery for 17 years. Then, one day, she was ready to leave.
Terrio was working at a spiritual retreat when she became friends with a group of monks and together they dreamed of finding a patch of land where they could “do a hermit life.” They quickly realized that they didn’t have the capital to buy real estate. That’s when Father Dunstan Morrisey, the founder of Sky Farm, came calling.“In my life,” says Terrio, “things that I need always come to me.”
Dunstan Morrissey
Morrisey, a monk, founded Sky Farm in 1974 and now that he was getting on in years, he was looking for a group of younger hermits to take it over. Within a month of contacting Terrio, she and her friends had been made board members of Sky Farm, a non-profit, and within a year she had moved there. That was ten years ago.
Most mornings, she emerges from her hermitage and sits with a cup of coffee before beginning her prayer. Then she has breakfast and commences doing what she calls her “dailies”: feeding the cats, watering the plants. “It’s a flexible day but it goes back and forth between prayer and work and the practice of just being still,” says Terrio. “It means physical stillness at times, but it means an inner stillness.”
Everything sounds idyllic and lovely — mostly. Finally, I blurt out what’s been nagging me this whole time: “I just can’t fathom how you don’t get lonely.”
Terrio takes the question in stride. “It’s really and truly a deep sense of connection,” she says, echoing what Fredette told me. “I feel deeply connected.”
When I left the hermitage, my return to “real life” was swift. I was ferried away by a friend in her car to the highway, where we sat in a traffic jam caused by a nearby NASCAR competition.
When I told the same friend over cocktails at a loud bar that I was writing about hermits, she said: “Oh, so they’re just like people who work from home!” She wasn’t the only person to make that joke. I laughed, since I’m one of those people and it is true, I spend most of my days alone. So many people are now familiar with the experience of never shedding their pajamas, not leaving the house for days, never hearing their voice out loud all day long. And that rubs up against one of the other great angsts of our time, that all of our connectivity — Snapchat, Gchat, Facebook — is somehow serving to push us further apart. We’re stressed out about talking too much and just as freaked out about being alone.
“Digital detox” has come to be accepted as a reasonable response to our connected lives. Urban centers seem increasingly accessible only for the very rich, and rural living, and the solitude it affords, holds appeal. But choosing to be alone, really alone? That decision still seems shocking.
But after talking to Terrio and Fredette, I realize that the joke equating hermits with housebound workers didn’t make sense. Terrio and Fredette don’t feel lonely. They feel deeply in touch with the world around them, even if that world doesn’t include much contact with people.
It turns out, though, that even among hermits, there are gradations of solitude. As Terrio tells me, she was going on a retreat the next week to have some “serious deep quiet.” Even hermits can feel crowded in on by life.

See further:
For Karen and Paul Fredette:
where god is ever found
“Hermits are a rare breed. Married hermits are about as common as spotted owls. Marry a Roman Catholic priest to a former nun, nest them in a mountainside hermitage named Still Wood, and you may have a brand new species. This memoir is a three-way love saga – God, a priest and a nun joined to minister to hermits world-wide and to the mentally disabled in the isolated mountain county of “Bloody” Madison, North Carolina. Each chapter weaves together incidents from four periods of my life – seventeen years in a middle-class Catholic home; thirty spiritually challenging years as a cloistered nun; six transformative years as a hermit, and sixteen loving years as a wife. My earlier book, “Where God Begins to Be, A Woman’s Journey into Solitude” has created a crowd of curious readers asking “Why would you?” and “How could you?” marry a priest and continue your commitment to eremitical life? Answering this unforeseen Call has colored my autumn years with excitement, love and challenge.”
Where god begins to be
“In her inspiring, vividly composed and always faithful book (Susan Muto), Karen Karper [Fredette] describes a world where life is rich in being rather than in having. Selected as a Catholic Book of the Month, Where God Begins To Be fulfills Murray Bodo’s observation that ” instead of myth fabricated from a few fragments, we have here the details-the nitty-gritty, muddy details-of a hermit’s daily living.” Karen is a “Seer who brings you along with her, joyfully.” (Richard Rohr) “In deftly drawn vignettes, Karper’s story, told with simplicity and gentle honesty, is one of faith deepening, beauty awakening, and love discovered.” (Gerald May)”
Consider the Ravens
Paul A. Fredette and Karen Karper Fredette “Consider The Ravens: On Contemporary Hermit Life” [iUniverse, 2011]: “If you have ever wondered about how hermits live, or if you are an active participant in the eremitical life, then it’s time to make this ultimate resource guide part of your book collection. Written by the editors of “Raven’s Bread”, an international quarterly newsletter that provides guidance on hermit life, “Consider the Ravens” is a seminal study on eremitism as it has developed since the 1950s… Essentially, you’ll learn about the eremitic life straight from the hermits themselves, and it’s never an easy task to get their opinions and advice! The voices of many of today’s hermits can now be heard loud and clear for the first time. Find the answers to your questions about a vocation as old as spirituality itself and discover why eremitism is becoming more popular than ever in “Consider the Ravens”.

For Sky Farm:
For Fr Dunstan Morrissey:
For “Modern Farmer”:

Saint Jerome: The Lives of Three Hermits

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2014 by citydesert

Jerome 1
“Saint Jerome (Latin: Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus; Greek: Εὐσέβιος Σωφρόνιος Ἱερώνυμος; c.  347 – 30 September 420) was an Illyrian Latin Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, who also became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia. He is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate), and his commentaries on the Gospel of the Hebrews. His list of writings is extensive.”
Jerome 2
“Saint Jerome Writing”, also called “Saint Jerome in His Study” or simply “Saint Jerome”, an oil painting by Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi (or Amerighi) da Caravaggio ( 1571?-? 1610), generally dated to 1605-1606; the painting is located in the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

Saint Jerome wrote four works of a hagiographic nature:
• the “Vita Pauli monachi”, written during his first sojourn at Antioch (ca. 376), the legendary material of which is derived from Egyptian monastic tradition;
• the “Vitae Patrum” (“Vita Pauli primi eremitae”), a biography of Saint Paul of Thebes;
• the “Vita Malchi monachi captive” (ca. 391), probably based on an earlier work, although it purports to be derived from the oral communications of the aged ascetic Malchus originally made to him in the desert of Chalcis;
• the “Vita Hilarionis”, of the same date, containing more trustworthy historical matter than the other two, and based partly on the biography of Epiphanius and partly on oral tradition.
Jerome Three Biographies
Saint Jerome “Three biographies: Malchus, St. Hilarion and Paulus the First Hermit” [CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013]: “Saint Jerome is an ancient Latin Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, and who became a Doctor of the Church. Though often considered exclusively a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, Jerome was a Latin Christian who predated the East-West Schism which occurred in the 11th century. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia. He is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate), and his commentaries on the Gospel of the Hebrews. His list of writings is extensive. He is recognised by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Church of England (Anglican Communion) as a Saint. Jerome is commemorated on 30 September with a memorial. The “Vitae Patrum” (“Vita Pauli primi eremitae”), a biography of Saint Paul of Thebes; the “Vita Malchi monachi captive” (ca. 391), probably based on an earlier work, although it purports to be derived from the oral communications of the aged ascetic Malchus originally made to him in the desert of Chalcis; the “Vita Hilarionis”, of the same date, containing more trustworthy historical matter than the other two, and based partly on the biography of Epiphanius and partly on oral tradition.”
“The Life of Paulus the First Hermit”: The Life of Paulus was written in the year 374 or 375 during Jerome’s stay in the desert of Syria, as is seen from c. 6, and was dedicated to Paulus of Concordia as stated in Jerome’s Ep. x. c. 3.
Text available on-line at:
See further:
Hilarion the Hermit
“The Life of Saint Hilarion the Hermit”: “S. Jerome’s “Vita S. Hilarionis Eremytæ”, written in Bethlehem A.D. 390, is a vividly detailed narration of the life of a Fourth Century monastic leader who would otherwise be known only from a few scattered references. It is also an exciting tale of high adventure, consciously meant by its author — one of the most talented writers of late antiquity — as competition for the popular novels of the day. The reader will find depicted here a chariot race, a menacing pirate ship, a tsunami, and much else — even a whiny, sarcastic demon in a magic mirror! But what is most memorable in the long run is S. Hilarion himself, longing desperately for solitude and obscurity, roaming the world anonymously to escape his reputation as a wonder-worker, but never able to harden himself toward the suffering of those in need of healing.”
Text available on-line at:
See further:
Malchus the Hermit
“The Life of Malchus, The Captive Monk”: The life of Malchus was written at Bethlehem, a.d. 391. Text available on-line at: and
See also:
See further:,%20a%20hermit%20in%20Syria

See further:
Cain & Lossl jacket
Andrew Cain and Josef Lössl “Jerome of Stridon: His Life, Writings and Legacy” [Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2009]: “Jerome of Stridon (c.346-420) is arguably the greatest polymath in Latin Christian antiquity; this is the most comprehensive and up to date volume on his life and work available in English today. Familiar debates are re-opened, hitherto uncharted terrain is explored, and problems old and new are posed and solved with the use of innovative methodologies. This is an indispensable resource not only for specialists on Jerome but also for students and scholars who cultivate interests broadly in the history, religion, society, and literature of the late antique Christian world.”

Quantity of Immersion

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2014 by citydesert

James K.A. Smith “Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation” (Cultural Liturgies), [Baker Academic, 2009]
Desiring the Kingdom
“James K.A. Smith says we have a “quantity of immersion” problem in American Christianity (see “Desiring the Kingdom”). As American Christians we are immersed day after day in the sinful culture around us. That culture is shaping and influencing us whether we realize it or not, and the liturgies of our culture are forming habits and practices in us. We are naïve to think that a once-a-week meeting of Christians for two hours on Sunday morning is a sufficient response to this immersion problem. Some have responded to this challenge, like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, by joining up into actual monastic communities in urban centers across the U.S. But Wilson-Hartgrove readily recognizes that this is not for everyone, and in his book on new monasticism he does not insist that it is the only way to do church. But it should be evident to us all that we need more than a weekly gathering to sustain our Christian faith.
We need help developing new practices and new habits that will counter the onslaught of cultural immersion we all experience. Smith proposes two particular ways that monastic life can help us with this “quantity of immersion” problem. First, monastic life meant abstention from certain cultural practices. Monastic life from the start meant an abstention from certain majority culture practices that others deemed normal, right, and good. This is not a separatist withdrawal, but a careful recognition of the formative power of certain habits and the realization that to be distinct in the world we have to abstain from them. Smith clarifies:
It may be the case, given the “quantity-of-immersion” challenge we’ve noted, that a Christian community that seeks to be a cultural force precisely by being a living example of new humanity will have to consider abstaining from participation in some cultural practices that others consider normal. Now please note that I am not counseling abstention “from culture” as such, which would amount to pietist withdrawal from the goodness of creation…It would be an abstention from participation in particular (“majority”) cultural practices because of their liturgical formative power…(209-210)

It’s not about seclusion, argues Smith, but rather about living distinctly in the world. It is about forming new habits within this same cultural context, habits and practices that point us ever towards God even while we live here.
Secondly, Smith suggests that monastic life can teach us much about the rhythms of daily worship. Many will readily recognize the importance of daily worship. The church has long emphasized the importance of daily Scripture reading and prayer. These habits are often done, however, in isolation with a bent towards an individualistic faith. Smith offers an alternative approach; he writes: “The monastic traditions (and other premodern configurations of society), on the other hand, point to habits of daily worship that are communal and sacramental, including daily communion – practices of daily gathered worship that are holistic, activating the imagination through bodily participation…not just monks, but also families and students, laborers and lawyers, could find ways to gather daily for worship that is nourishing and formative. For instance, many urban churches offer daily noontime communion, which makes it possible for those engaged in nonmonastic vocations to nonetheless gather with others for full-bodied worship. Often, reflective of “intentional community” (which can take many forms), such daily gatherings can be fostered by geographical proximity. You might say that this is fighting quantity with quantity; Dietrich Bonhoeffer simply describes it as “life together.”” (211)
Engaging in daily worship with others helps us to wage war against the inundation of worldly habits that surround us constantly.

New monasticism teaches us to consider how doing life with other believers can help us persist in godly spiritual disciplines and healthy practices. You could go off and join a small Christian commune, and that’s one way to deal with the difficulty of being a Christian in America, to quote Wilson-Hartgrove (see “New Monasticism”). But you could also adopt and modify the practices of monastic life for our current cultural situation and our modern church structures. New monasticism, then, has much to teach us.”

For James K.A. Smith, see further:
James Smith
Imagining the Kingdom
James K.A. Smith “Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works” (Cultural Liturgies) [Baker Academic, 2013]

See further:
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove “New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church” [Brazos Press, 2008] and Wilson-Hargrove’s blog, “The Everyday Awakening”:
“The Everyday Awakening is an attempt to chronicle the revival that’s happening in everyday places–not under the big top, but in places like the one where you are. I report on signs of hope I see in regular “feature” stories, invite personal stories in “testimonies,” and offer a weekly “Front Porch” meditation from the little corner of God’s quiet revolution where I live at Rutba House in Walltown.”