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Catholic deacon given job of hermit at 350-year-old cliffside retreat

A Saalfelden hermit, Gottfried Scholenateuer, pictured in 1955. The hermitage has not been vacant since it was started 350 years ago (Photo: Hans Enzwieser/BIPs/Getty Images)

A Catholic deacon has won a competition to live in one of central Europe’s last hermitages, beating 50 other applicants to occupy a 350-year-old cliffside cell above a small Austrian town.

Stan Vanuytrecht, 58, responded to an advertisement placed by Fr Alois Moser, which asked for someone with a “connection to Christian belief” and “at peace with themselves”.

The role, which is unpaid, became vacant after the previous incumbent left to pursue a writing career in Vienna. The hermitage, in Saalfeden, 40 miles south of Salzburg, has been occupied every year since it was built 350 years ago.

Vanuytrecht, a former artillery officer originating from Belgium, told the Austria Press Agency: “When I read about it, I thought to myself: that’s the place for me.”

His previous experience working with homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners and psychiatric patients would be beneficial, Vanuytrecht said.

Saalfelden’s mayor, Erich Rohrmoser, said 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.”

The hermit-in-residence is expected to receive visitors during the season, April to November, ready to chat, pray, and enjoy the view.

Vanuytrecht’s predecessor, Thomas Fiegmueller, stayed for just one season. He told the Salzburger Nachrichten daily: “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 … Maybe I was the wrong person.”