There have been a few widely-known hermits throughout history that have welcomed visitors, but most simply want to be left alone to live their lives in a deliberate, solitary way, free from bosses, families, and governments. Read on to discover some of history’s most famous hermits.
Father Maxime Qavtaradze Lives Alone on Top of a Pillar
The Hermit: Maxime Qavtaradze is a 63-year-old Georgian monk currently living at the top of the Kataskhi Pillar, a 130-foot tall limestone rock used by Christian ascetics known as stylites until the 15th century when the Ottoman Empire invaded. He began his new life in 1993 and only comes down from the pillar once or twice a week.
The Lifestyle: Qavtaradze slept inside a refrigerator for the first two years to protect himself from the elements. He now lives in a small cottage on the pillar that some local Christians helped him build. It takes him about 20 minutes to climb down a ladder to the small religious community at the base of the pillar that formed after Qavtaradze made his monastic pledge. Once he gets too old to climb down, Qavtaradze plans to die in his cottage.
"Hermit Pope" Celestine V Lived in a Cave and Was Forced Into the Papacy
The Hermit: None other than Pope Celestine V (1215-1296), also known as Pietro del Morrone. Pietro was forced out of his hermitage and into the papacy in 1292 at the age of 84. He quit after five months.
The Lifestyle: Before being manipulated by the Church’s cardinals into becoming what historians call an “appalling” and “inglorious” pope, Pietro slept in a cave on bare rock and practiced mortification of the flesh, wearing horsehair shirts and an iron girdle. After his failed term as pope, Pietro wished to return to his “tranquil” life as a hermit but was instead thrown in jail by his successor over fears that he might become an antipope, or rival. He died 10 months later.
Masafumi Nagasaki Lives Naked and Alone on an Island
The Hermit: Masafumi Nagasaki is an 80-year old former photographer that chose to live on a remote Japanese island known as Sotobanari after he retired.
The Lifestyle: Nagasaki chooses to be naked on the island at all times because “it feels right.” He does get dressed, however, for his weekly trips to the nearest settlement (an hour away by boat) to get food, drinking water, and the $120 weekly stipend his family doles out. He lives primarily on boiled rice cakes, which he eats four or five times per day. Nagasaki knows his lifestyle isn’t necessarily the healthiest, but he says “finding a place to die is an important thing to do” and that’s his principle motivation for living as he does.
Valerio Ricetti Lived in a Cave After Losing All His Money in a Brothel
The Hermit: Valerio Ricetti (1898-1952) was an Italian apprentice stonemason who moved to Australia in 1914 at age 16 after an uncle loaned him money to escape an impending war. He worked in the mines and lived for a short time with an Italian family before losing all of his money in a brothel (he didn’t spend it, he literally lost it).
The Lifestyle: Ricetti eventually found what he called his “Garden of Eden” in a cave near the town of Griffith and decided to live in the wild. He used his background as a stonemason to construct a fireplace, sleeping nook, stairways, gardens, and even a little “chapel” that he painted with Christian imagery. He lived in the cave for roughly 23 years before being placed in an internment camp when Italy entered World War II in 1940. He was later released and was treated in a mental institution where he was described as “disarranged.” Declining health compelled him to visit his brother in Italy in 1952, where he died at the age of 53.
Loin-clothed Manfred Gnädinger Was "Killed by an Oil Spill"
The Hermit: Not much is known about the life of German Manfred Gnädinger (1940-2002) before he became a famous hermit who lived near the village of Camelle, Spain. He moved to Spain in 1962 and soon began creating a sculpture garden out of stones, skeletons, and driftwood that washed up onshore near his hut. He charged interested parties $1 for “admission” to the coastal garden.
The Lifestyle: Gnädinger wore a suit and tie when he first arrived in Spain, but he late abandoned that look for something more austere. Known to wear nothing but a small loin cloth, Gnädinger became a local legend for his sculpture garden and his reclusive behavior. He died just months after a massive spill from an oil tanker covered his garden with oil. Locals claim that the Gnädinger died of “sadness” after the shock of the spill severely weakened the 66-year-old. Before he died, he told the media that he wanted his oil-drenched sculptures to be left untouched as a reminder of the devastation the spill caused.
Despina Achladioti Lived on a Deserted Island (But Still Flew the Greek Flag Daily)
The Hermit: Despina Achladioti (1890-1982) was a Greek patriot known as “The Lady of Ro” who moved to a deserted island (shaped like the Greek letter Ro) with her husband and elderly mother just before World War II.
The Lifestyle: After her husband and mother died just years after they arrived, the Lady of Ro lived alone and survived with a few goats, chickens, and a vegetable garden. Most notably, Achladioti raised the Greek flag every day, even as World War II was raging, cementing her as a legendary patriot and example of Greek pride.
Noah John Rondeau Lived Alone in the Forest to Escape Crappy Jobs
The Hermit: Noah John Rondeau (1883-1967) was a hunter and trapper who began living alone in the woods near Cold River, NY, in 1929 at age 46. He famously called himself the “mayor of Cold River City, population 1.”
The Lifestyle: From 1914 until 1929, Rondeau lived alone for part of the year on a bluff above the river in a 8-foot-by-12-foot cabin. He lived there year-round after that until about 1950, keeping journals in a unusual letter-substitution cipher. He wrote to a local newspaper that he had ” dodged the American labor failure” and lived as a hermit to avoid working for low wages for long hours. Hurricane damage forced him from his home and from his hermit lifestyle in 1950.
Brendon Grimshaw Bought an Island and Turned it Into a National Park
The Hermit: Englishman Brendan Grimshaw (1925-2012) was a newspaper editor looking to turn his life around when he purchased Moyenne Island off the north coast of Seychelles in the early 1960s for one hell of a price: just over $10,000!
The Lifestyle: Grimshaw not only survived on Moyenne Island when he moved there full-time in 1973 – he thrived. With the help of a local, Grimshaw planted thousands of trees and also took care of 120 giant tortoises on the island. His home was officially declared a national park in 2008.
The Hermit: Julian of Norwich (c. 1342-1416) was an English anchoress, theologian, mystic, and spiritual advisor. Little is known about her early life (Julian may not have even been her real name), but some scholars think she initially became an anchoress as a way of isolating herself from the plague (which may also have killed off her family). After a near-death experience, she had a series of religious visions she later wrote down, creating possibly the first book written by a woman in English.
The Lifestyle: Julian of Norwich became an anchoress, a religious hermit who devotes their life to spiritual pursuits. She built a small cell and sealed herself in with a servant named Alice. The room had only a tiny window through which food trays could be passed. Unlike some anchoresses, Julian regularly received visitors seeking spiritual advice, including another famous medieval English writer, Margery Kempe.