Belgian fulfils dream with job as hermit at Austrian retreat

Former artillery officer beat 49 candidates to position at 350-year-old hermitage

A Belgian man has won a competition to live as a hermit in a cliffside cell above an Austrian town.

Stan Vanuytrecht (58) a former artillery officer who drives an East German Trabant, beat 49 other candidates to secure the position as one of Europe's last hermits.

Mr Vanuytrecht is due to move into the 350-year-old hermitage, built into a cliff above the town of Saalfelden near Salzburg in western Austria, this month.

"I had thought I had no chance," Mr Vanuytrecht, who comes from near Brussels, told the Austria Press Agency. "When I read about the Saalfelden hermitage, I thought to myself: that's the place for me." He said he had long dreamt of becoming a hermit but the opportunity had not arisen.


The position is not for everyone: it is unpaid, there is no heating, running water or internet and, of course, there is a considerable degree of isolation. But the views are spectacular and the air very clean.

The Saalfelden hermitage has been occupied every year since its foundation. But when the previous hermit – Thomas Flieglmüller, a former priest and psychotherapist – announced he was leaving to concentrate on a writing career in Vienna, the local priest Alois Moser started advertising for successors, who had to submit their applications by post.

The job description was for someone with a “connection to Christian belief” and the ability to “be at peace with themselves” at 1,400m (4,600ft) above sea level.

Mr Vanuytrecht said he thought his previous experience working with homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners and psychiatric patients would stand him in good stead. His divorce and the poverty he experienced as a result was also good preparation, he added.


The trained surveying technician, who is also a Catholic deacon, will not be completely alone. He has been told to expect a number of visitors who come by to pray, chat and enjoy the view. He said he liked the idea of combining the peace in the mornings and evenings with the intensive dialogue and pastoral care of his visitors during the day.

Mr Flieglmüller, who occupied the post for a single season from April to November, said he had enjoyed the experience, but was often asked why he did not sport a cowl or a beard.

Mr Vanuytrecht has both a white beard and a pipe.

Saalfelden's mayor, Erich Rohrmoser, said Mr Vanuytrecht had stood out from the other candidates. "We decided on Stan Vanuytrecht because we liked his personality. He exudes calm and gives the impression of being centred. And he told us he could imagine spending a considerable length of time living in Saalfelden."

Mr Flieglmüller’s predecessor was a Benedictine monk who stayed for 12 years.

The townsfolk of Saalfelden will have their first encounter with their new resident hermit, who speaks fluent German, at their annual St George celebrations on April 30th.

Guardian service