History Today: History Matters – The Friendly Recluse

Medieval hermits were the agony aunts of their day

The small Austrian town of Saalfelden is recruiting, but the advert on the town’s website is not for a town clerk or street cleaner. They are looking for a hermit. The 350-year-old hermitage built into the cliffside above the town is one of the last still in use in Europe. It has no electricity or running water. That a 21st-century central European town should be seeking someone to take up such a position may be surprising, but this is a very modern hermit. The job description asks that the candidates should have ‘soft skills’: talkative and personable, they must be ready to deal with the visitors who ‘come to the hermit and tell him what moves and oppresses them’. However, this is not necessarily a jarring attempt to modernise the ancient role of the recluse. The Saalfelden hermit may have more in common with his medieval forbears than first appears. The qualifications for these figures who stood outside mainstream society were little different historically and their advisory role has been prized for centuries…

History Today, July 2017, Vol 67 Issue 7, pp. 18-20.

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