Hermitage (religious retreat)

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West face of the Visigothic church called the Hermitage of Santa Maria de Lara. Santamariadelarafront.jpg
West face of the Visigothic church called the Hermitage of Santa María de Lara.

A hermitage can either be a place where a hermit lives in seclusion from the world, or a building or settlement where a person or a group of people lived religiously, in seclusion. When included in the name of continental European properties or churches, any meaning is often imprecise, and may refer to some distant period of the history of what is today a property that is either a normal parish church, or ceased to have any religious function some time ago. Secondary churches or establishments run from a monastery were often called "hermitages".


A hermitage at Painshill Park. Painshill Park hermits hut.jpg
A hermitage at Painshill Park.
Trinity hermitage at San Miguel de Aralar, Uharte-Arakil, Navarre. Trinitatearen baseliza 2.jpg
Trinity hermitage at San Miguel de Aralar, Uharte-Arakil, Navarre.

In the 18th century, some owners of English country houses equipped their gardens with a "hermitage", sometimes a Gothic ruin, but sometimes, as at Painshill Park, a romantic hut which a "hermit" was recruited to occupy. The so-called Ermita de San Pelayo y San Isidoro is the ruins of a Romanesque church from Ávila, Spain, that eventually ended several hundred miles away, as a garden feature in the Buen Retiro Park in Madrid.

Western Christian tradition

Hermitage "Our Lady of the Enclosed Garden" in Warfhuizen, the Netherlands Kerkzomerpiep.jpg
Hermitage "Our Lady of the Enclosed Garden" in Warfhuizen, the Netherlands

A hermitage is any type of domestic dwelling in which a hermit lives. While the level of isolation can vary widely, more often than not it is associated with a nearby monastery. Typically, hermitages consist of at least one detached room, or sometimes a dedicated space within an open floor plan building, for religious devotion, basic sleeping accommodations, and a domestic cooking range, suitable for the ascetic lifestyle of the inhabitant. Depending on the work of the hermit, premises such as a studio, workshop or chapel may be attached or sited in proximity.

Originally, the first hermitages were located in natural caves, temple ruins, and even simple huts in forests and deserts. Around the time of early fourth century (around 300 AD), the spiritual retreats of the Desert Fathers, who had chosen to live apart from society in the relative isolation of the Nitrian Desert of Egypt, began to attract the attention of the wider Christian community. The piety of such hermits often attracted both laity and other would-be ascetics, forming the first cenobitic communities called "sketes", such as Nitria and Kellia. Within a short time, more and more people arrived to adopt the teachings and lifestyle of these hermits, and there began by necessity a mutual exchange of labour and shared goods between them, forming the first monastic communities.

In the later feudal period of the Middle Ages, both monasteries and hermitages alike were endowed by royalty and nobility in return for prayers being said for their family, believing it to beneficial to the state of their soul.

Carthusian monks typically live in a one-room cell or building, with areas for study, sleep, prayer, and preparation of meals. Most Carthusians live a mostly solitary life, meeting with their brethren for communion, for shared meals on holy days, and again irregularly for nature walks, where they are encouraged to have simple discussions about their spiritual life.

In the modern era, hermitages are often abutted to monasteries, or located on their grounds, being occupied by monks who receive dispensation from their abbot or prior to live a semi-solitary life. However, hermitages can be found in a variety of settings, from isolated rural locations, houses in large cities, and even high-rise blocks of flats, depending on the hermit's means.

Examples of hermitages in Western Christian tradition:

  1. The Grande Chartreuse in Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse, France, motherhouse of the Carthusian Order.
  2. New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, United States
  3. Camaldolese Hermitage in Bielany, Kraków, Poland
  4. Hermitage of Santa María de Lara, a Visigothic building in northern Spain, probably built as a normal church, it later passed to a monastery before being abandoned.

Eastern Christian tradition

A poustinia (Russian : пустынь) is a small sparsely furnished cabin or room where a person goes to pray and fast alone in the presence of God. The word poustinia has its origin in the Russian word for desert (пустыня). A person called to live permanently in a poustinia is called a poustinik (plural: poustiniki).

A poustinik is one who has been called by God to live life in the desert (poustinia), alone with God in the service of humanity through prayer, fasting, and availability to those who might call upon him or her. Those called to life in the poustinia were not uncommon in Russia prior to the suppression of Christianity in the early 20th century.

In this Eastern Christian expression of the eremitic vocation poustiniks are not solitary but are part of the local community to which they are called. The poustinik is a servant of God and God's people, in communion with the Church. Historically, one who experienced the call

"...to the poustinia had first, after securing the blessing of their spiritual director, to find a village. He generally did this through pilgrimage and prayer. Once having discovered the village to which he felt God drawing him, the poustinik went to the elders and asked permission to live there as a poustinik. Permission was happily given, as Russians were glad to have a poustinik praying for them. [1]

The poustinik lives alone praying for his own salvation, the salvation of the world, and particularly for the community that God has blessed for him to be a member. Traditionally,

The poustinik was also available to the people. When there were special needs, such as a fire to fight or hay to bring in, the poustinik would help. And whenever anyone had something they wanted to talk abouta question about prayer, a problem, a special joy or sorrowthey could go to the poustinik. [1]

The poustinik is one who listens, and shares the love of Christ with all whom he encounters, as well as a cup of tea or some food; whatever he has he shares, as God has shared all with him. [1]

Catherine Doherty

The poustinia was introduced to Roman Catholic spirituality by the Catholic social activist Catherine Doherty in her best-selling book Poustinia: Christian Spirituality of the East for Western Man [2] first published in 1975.

Although originating with ancient startsy (wise Russian elders, sg. starets), Doherty's popular book made the concept of poustinia accessible to modern Western people. In it, she describes the poustinia as "an entry into the desert, a lonely place, a silent place, where one can lift the two arms of prayer and penance to God in atonement, intercession, reparation for one's sins and those of one's brothers.... To go into the poustinia means to listen to God. It means entering into kenosis the emptying of oneself." She promotes the poustinia as a place where anyone in any walk of life can go for 24 hours of silence, solitude and prayer. Ultimately, however, the poustinik's call is to the desert of one's own heart wherein he dwells with God alone, whether in the workplace or in a solitary locale.

A poustinia cabin or room generally consists of a bed, a table and chair, a cross, and a Bible.

Other traditions


In Hinduism, a hermitage is called an ashram. Traditionally, an ashram in ancient India was a place where sages lived in peace and tranquility amidst nature. [3]

Related Research Articles

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Grande Chartreuse monastery

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Bruno of Cologne Founder of the Carthusian Order

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Christian monasticism Christian devotional practice

Christian monasticism is the devotional practice of individuals who live ascetic and typically cloistered lives that are dedicated to Christian worship. It began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church, modeled upon scriptural examples and ideals, including those in the Old Testament, but not mandated as an institution in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules and, in modern times, the Canon law of the respective Christian denominations that have forms of monastic living. Those living the monastic life are known by the generic terms monks (men) and nuns (women). The word monk originated from the Greek μοναχός, itself from μόνος meaning 'alone'.

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Catherine Doherty Religious order founder; Servant of God

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The Madonna House Apostolate is a Catholic Christian community of lay men, women, and priests dedicated to loving and serving Jesus Christ in all aspects of everyday life. It was founded in 1947 by Catherine Doherty in Combermere, Ontario and has established missionary field houses worldwide.

Starets elder in an Orthodox Christian monastery

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Skete Type of monastic settlement

A skete is a monastic community in Eastern Christianity that allows relative isolation for monks, but also allows for communal services and the safety of shared resources and protection. It is one of four types of early monastic orders, along with the eremitic, lavritic and coenobitic, that became popular during the early formation of the Christian Church.

Discalced Carmelites religious order

The Discalced Carmelites, known officially as the Order of the Discalced Carmelites of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel or the Order of Discalced Carmelites, is a Catholic mendicant order with roots in the eremitic tradition of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The order was established in the 16th century, pursuant to the reform of the Carmelite Order by two Spanish saints, Saint Teresa of Ávila and Saint John of the Cross. Discalced is derived from Latin, meaning "without shoes".

Our Lady of the Enclosed Garden monastery

The Roman Catholic hermitage of Our Lady of the Enclosed Garden is situated in the former reformed church of Warfhuizen, a village in the extreme north of the Netherlands. It is the only Dutch hermitage currently inhabited by a hermit. The name draws upon the traditional epithet for the Virgin Mary of hortus conclusus or enclosed garden, a reference to the Song of Songs that indicates the Virgin's "perpetual virginity and at the same time her fruitful maternity".

Vocational discernment is the process in which men or women in the Catholic Church discern, or recognize, their vocation in the church. The vocations are the life as layman in the world, either married or single, the ordained life and the consecrated life.

Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel

The Carmelite Monks or Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel is a cloistered contemplative religious community of diocesan right dedicated to a humble life of prayer. They are known for their loyalty to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and to the ancient traditions of Carmel. Their life includes strict separation from the world and the living of the cloistered Carmelite spirituality and way of life established by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Jesus. In accord with the Carmelite Rule, they engage in manual labor and the study of Carmelite spirituality in the solitude of the mountains, with the firm hope of attaining to Union with God.

A religious institute is a type of institute of consecrated life in the Catholic Church where its members take religious vows and lead a life in community with fellow members. Religious institutes are one of the two types of institutes of consecrated life; the other is that of the secular institute, where its members are "living in the world".

Monastère de Chalais abbey located in Isère, in France

The Monastère de Chalais, also called Châlais-sur-Voreppe or Notre-Dame de Châlais, is a Dominican convent near the town of Voreppe, Isère, France. The convent dates from 1101. The monastery at Chalais began as a house of male hermits, under the guidance of S Hugh of Chateauneuf, like the Carthusian monks. At first the Order of Chalais was independent, but in 1303 it was absorbed by the Carthusians. The monastery was partly destroyed in 1562 during French Wars of Religion, but was rebuilt. The state seized it during the French Revolution (1789–99) and sold it to a private owner. From 1844 to 1887 it was again a monastery, this time of the Dominican friars, before again being sold. The present community of Dominican nuns bought the property in 1963 and restored it. Today the nuns of Chalais manufacture Monastic biscuits to cover their expenses.

Monastic cell

A cell is a small room used by a hermit, monk, anchorite or nun to live and as a devotional space. They are often part of larger communities such as Catholic and Orthodox monasteries and Buddhist vihara, but may also form stand-alone structures in remote locations.

Carthusian Martyrs Members of the Carthusian monastic order who were persecuted and killed for adherence to Catholiscm during the Protestant Reformation

The Carthusian martyrs are those members of the Carthusian monastic order who have been persecuted and killed because of their Christian faith and their adherence to the Catholic religion. As an enclosed order the Carthusians do not, on principle, put forward causes for their members, though causes have been promoted by others on their behalf.

Chartreuse du Liget Carthusian monastery located in Indre-et-Loire, in France

Chartreuse of Liget was a monastery of hermit-monks of the Carthusians order in France, founded in 1178 in Touraine by Henry II, Count of Anjou and King of England, in atonement for the murder of Thomas Becket committed on his command.


  1. 1 2 3 Madonna House, Ottawa, Ontario
  2. Catherine Doherty (1975), Poustinia. ISBN   0-87793-084-8
  3. Glossary of Garoi Ashram