What a World

05.09.14

Swiss Town: Have Cave, Want (Social and Outgoing) Hermit

What do you do when your village hermit retires? Advertise for a new one, of course. One Swiss town is looking for a people-loving person to take up residence in their now-empty cave.

If you thought qualifications for being a hermit were a tendency toward solitude and dislike of civilization, think again. A small Swiss town is on the hunt for an outgoing hermit to live in and show visitors around a popular cave. It’s a time-honored position that’s nearly 600 years old.

About a mile from the community of Solothurn, the Verena Gorge Hermitage is known to have existed since 1613. Records of a hermit living in the area date back to 1442.

Now, after the most recent hermit decided to step down due to health problems, the nearby town in seeking a replacement. An ad posted recently in a Swiss paper called Reformed Press caught the eye of observant readers:

“Are you an idealistic-minded, church-related person, who gets joy out of encounters with people?” the posting asks in German.

The nature reserve of Verena offers a winding hike along a tree-lined stream to get to the caves surrounding St. Martin and St. Verena chapels. Next to them is the hermitage, a small garden and cottage built into the cave wall.

Manning the hermitage comes with a fair share of work, from tending to the canyon’s chapels to helping with events such as weddings and christenings. There are also three meditation classes to lead weekly, and lots of snow to shovel in the wintertime.

“The area is now a popular tourist destination and the amount of social interaction can be too much for a true recluse.”

The perfect applicant also needs to be more outgoing than is expected of a traditional hermit. “Our hermit unfortunately can not be a real hermit,” Town Council President Sergio Wyniger told a German newspaper. “Our hermit needs a listening ear for people. He should tell them the legend of Saint Verena. Or listen to people when they talk about their worries.”

The cave is known for being visited by Saint Verena, a healer who tended to the poor and settled in Solothurn, where she “spent her remaining days as a hermite [sp] in a cave,” a biography of her on Catholic.org says.

But the area is now a popular tourist destination and the amount of social interaction can be too much for a true recluse. Wyniger tells the Daily Beast that Verena is a place of "spiritual power," and the job requires dispensing some spirituality of its own. "The new hermit should have a religious background, have an idealistic attitude, be willing to speak with the visitors and answer to their questions or give them advice," he says.

In 2008, 68-year-old Verena Dubacher became the first woman to ever take the job. But illness and dissatisfaction with how many visitors came to the area forced her to abandon the position after five years. Prior to Dubacher, Brother Johannes Leutenegger spent 25 years as the Verena hermit. Historically, the position has usually been held by priests of the hermitage, but now civilian hermits may apply. Wyniger explained to Sueddeutsche that it could attract a breadth of people: “from young to old, from religious to dropout who wants to do something new for a while.”

The chosen applicant will also, like any gainfully employed citizen, receive payment and vacation time. The wage is relatively small, around 1,000 francs ($1,140) a month, and ideal “for someone who is retired and no longer needs a lot of money,” Wyniger says.

The applications closed on May 5, but Wyniger says they began receiving applications even before the job was officially opened. They have more than 100 candidates from across the world—from the Czech Republic to the U.S.—and they town council is in the process of narrowing them down. "Now we have to read all the applications, then choose 4 or 5 for a job interview, and finally the council will make the election of the new hermit," Wyniger explains. Those lured by a promise of quasi-solitude and the chance to dispense wisdom to curious travelers while nestled in a Swiss cave, this could be the hermitage for you.