Belgian lands prize role of hermit in Austrian Alps

Image source, Privat
Image caption, Stan Vanuytrecht: "I thought to myself: that's the place for me"

A divorced, Trabant-driving Belgian has beaten 50 competitors to land the coveted post of - hermit.

Stan Vanuytrecht will have no heating, running water or pay at the Saalfelden hermitage in the Austrian Alps.

It has had a hermit for all of its 350 years and the local mayor said Mr Vanuytrecht "radiated calm".

His beard will help. His predecessor lacked both beard and cowl and lasted only one season, hinting at "arch-conservative Catholic" criticism.

'Well anchored'

Mr Vanuytrecht admitted he was surprised to be chosen.

"I thought I didn't have a chance," he said. "But when I read about the Saalfelden hermitage, I thought to myself: that's the place for me."

The views are great, the facilities not so.

He can't even expect to be left alone.

The hermitage season only runs from April to November - in winter it is not habitable - but many people hike up to enjoy the views and it has been known for some of them to seek counselling.

The white-bearded, pipe-wielding Mr Vanuytrecht feels he is well grounded in that, having had experience with the homeless, alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners and psychiatric patients.

And poverty. After divorce from a partner who suffered mental illness, he "had to make do with very little. I was glad when I had money for food," the Saalfelden visitors' website reported him as saying.

It said the deacon and practising Catholic was now financially secure but cares not for luxury items.

The BBC's Bethany Bell visited the hermitage when the job was advertised and Saalfelden parish priest Alois Moser told her: "For us it is important that [the winning candidate] has a Christian background so that this monastic tradition is preserved."

Media caption, Wanted, hermit: The BBC's Bethany Bell reports as the call went out

Erich Rohrmoser, mayor of Saalfelden, said: "We opted for Stan Vanuytrecht because his personality appealed to us. He radiates calm and comes across as well-anchored."

Mr Vanuytrecht's predecessor, former priest and psychotherapist Thomas Fieglmueller, told the Salzburger Nachrichten daily: "Life in the hermit's cell is spartan but the nature is very beautiful.

"I met lots of nice people and had good conversations. But there was also criticism from apparently arch-conservative Catholics because I didn't have a cowl or a beard."

The occupant before him, a Benedictine monk, lasted 12 years.

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