Archive for May, 2015

A Time to Keep Silence

Posted in Uncategorized on May 10, 2015 by citydesert

Patrick Leigh Fermor “A Time to Keep Silence” (New York Review Books Classics)[NYRB Classics, 2007]
A time to keep silence
“While still a teenager, Patrick Leigh Fermor made his way across Europe, as recounted in his classic memoirs, “A Time of Gifts” and “Between the Woods and the Water”. During World War II, he fought with local partisans against the Nazi occupiers of Crete. But in “A Time to Keep Silence”, Leigh Fermor writes about a more inward journey, describing his several sojourns in some of Europe’s oldest and most venerable monasteries. He stays at the Abbey of St. Wandrille, a great repository of art and learning; at Solesmes, famous for its revival of Gregorian chant; and at the deeply ascetic Trappist monastery of La Grande Trappe, where monks take a vow of silence.
Finally, he visits the rock monasteries of Cappadocia, hewn from the stony spires of a moonlike landscape, where he seeks some trace of the life of the earliest Christian anchorites.
More than a history or travel journal, however, this beautiful short book is a meditation on the meaning of silence and solitude for modern life. Leigh Fermor writes, “In the seclusion of a cell—an existence whose quietness is only varied by the silent meals, the solemnity of ritual, and long solitary walks in the woods—the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear, and much that is hidden away and all that clouds it floats to the surface and can be skimmed away; and after a time one reaches a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world.””
“Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was an intrepid traveler, a heroic soldier, and a writer with a unique prose style. After his stormy schooldays, followed by the walk across Europe to Constantinople that begins in “A Time of Gifts” (1977) and continues through “Between the Woods and the Water” (1986), he lived and traveled in the Balkans and the Greek Archipelago. His books “Mani” (1958) and “Roumeli” (1966) attest to his deep interest in languages and remote places. In the Second World War he joined the Irish Guards, became a liaison officer in Albania, and fought in Greece and Crete. He was awarded the DSO and OBE. He lived partly in Greece—in the house he designed with his wife, Joan, in an olive grove in the Mani—and partly in Worcestershire. He was knighted in 2004 for his services to literature and to British–Greek relations.”
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What price peace and quiet?

Posted in Uncategorized on May 10, 2015 by citydesert

“What price peace and quiet, Sister Ruth? It is hard to imagine a better prospective tenant than Sister Ruth Furneaux. As a Carmelite nun, pledged to a life of solitude, she doesn’t smoke, drink, watch television or listen to loud music. She has no troublesome relatives or noisy pets. And the Archbishop of Canterbury himself will vouch for her good character.
Yet Sister Ruth, one of a shrinking number of monks and nuns who have vowed to live as hermits – there are just 600 or so scattered across Europe – has spent the past six years trying in vain to find a suitable place to pursue her calling.
Ruth Furneaux
Currently residing at a “sympathetic but crowded” retreat centre near Llandeilo, she lived until recently on a conifer plantation in North Wales, where for two years she dwelt in a log cabin and subsisted on homegrown vegetables. She had no electricity or running water, and no flushing loo. She had only mice and a noxious gas heater for company in winter. But a battle with cancer and advancing middle age have convinced her that she needs a more permanent, more hospitable home.
“I’m searching for somewhere as remote as possible that is not within sight or sound of any other buildings,” she says. “But truly remote places are very rare now. They’re difficult to get hold of unless you have money with which to buy or rent your solitude and, while I may be able to get help from kind sponsors, I have no income.”
A further complication is that in order to devote herself to solitary meditation and prayer, Sister Ruth needs someone else living nearby to act as a gatekeeper to filter out worldly distractions. “It sounds silly – but in order to be entirely alone, you need to know that news of a gravely ill relative will reach you, but not to have to answer the doorbell every time it rings.
“I did apply for permission to build a couple of huts on an isolated former rubbish tip in Monmouthshire, but hermits don’t fare well with planning authorities, who don’t want anything built on open spaces.”
Planners have also thwarted her attempts to buy derelict cottages in deserted rural corners. “I suspect the authorities would rather these places went to ruin than let them be renovated and run the risk of the new occupants littering the countryside with white-plastic patio furniture,” she says with a grin. “It’s a shame, because I just need somewhere quiet that some volunteers could help me make habitable. I gave up on ever having central heating years ago.”
Despite Sister Ruth’s self-effacing way of describing it – “not some great, penitential thing, but an exercise in ‘listening to the still, small voice in the everyday’ – the rigours of the hermit’s life already sound gruelling enough without having to endure an uncomfortable environment as well.
Daunting enough is the seven hours of prayer she performs each day, starting at 5.30am. “Christians say you can meditate lying down,” she says, “but in my experience you need to be upright or you fall asleep.” Even more disconcerting, however, is the philosophy behind living a solitary life. “It is all about stopping the craving for interaction with other people – the addiction to all the things we think we need in order to reassure ourselves that we are loved and valued as beings,” she explains. “Identity literally translates as ‘to make a thing of yourself’. So much of our contact with others is hollow and about creating feedback about ourselves.”
Sister Ruth acknowledges the challenges of the life she has chosen. She has not spoken to most of her close relatives for years and admits that some friends felt “bereaved” when she became a hermit six years ago, gradually withdrawing over the course of eight years before that. “Old habits die hard. My sister is moving to Barbados, and I did ask myself why I couldn’t go, too. When I first took my vows, I saw two people holding hands and realised that would never happen to me again in that way. There is a price to pay. But my life is contented and true and fulfilling.”
Surprisingly, the churches, whether Anglican or non-conformist, have been scarcely more sympathetic to Sister Ruth’s needs than the secular market. “The Church is keen on encouraging the eremitic life, but there isn’t any machinery to support it,” she says. “It operates like a corporation that puts disused chapels on the market for vast amounts of money every few weeks. It claims it has to sell its assets for as much as possible, but this is a nonsense when it could put them to alternative religious use. Even chapels with religious covenants end up being turned into wine bars or knocked down to make way for modern houses.”
Rowan Williams hermitage
Sr. Ruth Furneaux is the first hermit in residence and spiritual director of the Archbishop Rowan Williams Hermitage Trust: and

Archbishop Rowan Williams Hermitage Trust

Posted in Uncategorized on May 10, 2015 by citydesert

rowan williams hermitage 3
Archbishop Rowan Williams Hermitage Trust:
Rowan Williams hermitage
Disserth y Mynydd (Hermitage on the Mountain), Ithon Duon, Rhandirmwyn, Wales, is cell currently for one person in recognized vows committed to solitude. Administered by the Archbishop Rowan Williams Hermitage Trust, it provides the simple but adequate necessary conditions for eremitic and contemplative life. In due course it is hoped to be able to support more vowed hermits or those testing the vocation; a skete form (a community of hermits) has always been a possibility.
Rowan Williams hermitage 2
Set in the north-east Uplands Sensitive Landscape Area above Rhandirmwyn, the building itself is being developed: to be disablement friendly; with the lowest carbon footprint we are able; with (when sufficient donations arrive) power will be from PV panels – at present there is only a couple of hours generated electric light per week; and the land is cared for sustainability in harmony with its existing wild and mountainous environment, to provide biodiversity of bird, insect, mammal and amphibian species. It is being planted largely with flora which normally occur in this area.
Ruth Furneaux
Sr. Ruth Furneaux is the first hermit in residence and spiritual director of the Archbishop Rowan Williams Hermitage Trust:

BBC Wales: Hermits

Posted in Uncategorized on May 10, 2015 by citydesert

On Sun, 26 April 2015 BBC Welsh Radio broadcast a program on Hermits
“What is it like to spend your time in contemplative stillness? Roy Jenkins explores the life of the hermit, through the experience of two hermits living in Wales today, the Anglican nun Sister Ruth Furneaux and the Catholic priest Father Bruno Healy and through insights provided by Professor Eddie Jones, who is writing a social history of hermits. He asks what the role of the hermit is, and how far the real eremitic life differs from the common preconceptions, as well as finding out how a hermit lives practically day to day.”
It is available for download for a limited time at: and
Bernard Healy
Fr. Bruno Healy, a priest of Westminster Diocese, lives as a hermit in North Wales.
Ruth Furneaux
For Sister Ruth Furneaux, see:
Sr. Ruth Furneaux is the first hermit in residence and spiritual director of the Archbishop Rowan Williams Hermitage Trust:
Eddie Jones
Professor Jones manages the Hermits and Anchorites project at the University of Exeter: For his publications, see: