Sunday, October 2, 2011

Interesting Hermits in the 21st Century

#1  Julia Bolton Holloway Most Interesting Hermit of the 21st Century. 

       The Desert Fathers left a legacy of spiritual life that echos down through history into the lives of monastic and contemplatives today. The words Hermit, Anchorite and Solitaire, Convent , Monastery tend to be often used now in a historical tone, past tense. Medieval studies leave us fascinated with knights, castles, lords and ladies, rich tales of brave deeds and evil sorcerers. These tales usually have a group of Gregorian chanting hooded monks to keep the mystical mood flowing. There is nothing like a bit of Gregorian chant to start a good Medieval mystery,the popularity of the Cadaefil Mysteries books, movies and TV shows. The recent Merlin shows are and example of that kind of fascination. But one could well ask“where did all the Hermit Desert Father types go. Where is that legacy of Desert spirituality?. We may see the occasional street person who looks like our image of a hermit . The kind of long bearded wild’ eyed end times prophet look. Maybe they even carry a sign. “Prepare! the Wrath of God is about to Fall”.  Well they are a kind of Hermit perhaps. But do we have any sane ones.  When going out to look for a Hermit you might want to differentiate between people who are simply reclusive and people who are religious hermits or solitaires. 

 As a child we used to have two “hermits” come into my father’s shop to get their shoes fixed. They were rather large men with a distinct body odor, fuzzy scraggy beards, well worn farm attire, and bad dental work. They lived high up in the mountains in a badly patched house with a few cows, pigs and sheep and bit of farm land.  I think they traded in vegetables for work done in town. We had another one that lived up in the Blue Mountain caves. A mountain man rarely seen that kept his food cold in the snow that lasted all year in the crevices of these unique caves. Most rural societies have a few of these recluses that keep the town folk talking. These people are interesting but if you are going on a Hermit pilgrimage you need to prepare like a pilgrim. You need to pray. Prepare your heart. Know that you are searching for religious hermits and be willing to spend some time looking and asking where they might be hiding out. Big Hint . Don't even think about looking for Hermits during Lent. No welcome will be extended. Best time to look for Hermits...Ordinary Time if you have a Liturgical Calendar handy. That's if you actually want to talk to one.  

 Modern day hermits living in both rural areas and the busy cities of the world. Some that live in busy cities also do some kind of work with the poor and many who live in rural or sensitive ecological areas are involved in some kind of environmental awareness work. Some live in their own cottage or hut on the far end of a monastery and come in weekly or at set times for Mass and supplies.Thomas Merton the famous Trappist monk had such an arrangement.  Some just keep to prayer and their gardens. Before the time of internet and email one had to go out to their place of solitude or write to a hermit. Now with the wonders of the internet some solitaires have made themselves, in ways of their choosing accessible on their terms. 

One such modern Hermit who is a kind of model to me of what a modern hermit or soilitaire should be and perhaps even more than one could expect to be is a woman by the name of Julian Bolton Holloway. Julian first came to my attention through a search for Julian Of Norwich an early medieval anchorite who was walled up in a few rooms on the side of a church and had wrote about her ecstatic visions of Christ . Julian of Norwich is one of the better known of the medieval mystics and Julian Bolton Holloway is a specialist of her manuscripts among others.

Her website is a thing of beauty to behold and equals about twelve of the usual websites one would link to full of ancient writing, literature of English poets, stories of famous writers long passed that rest in the Swedish ( English ) Cemetery which is a she helped make a World Historical UNESCO site in Florence . Her lectures at Oxford, Medieval Studies Conferences, tours of Dante in on site Cathedrals in Florence are only a small part of her work. Her heart is with the Roma’s she helps raise out of poverty by teaching them employable skills, the books in the library she had put together by friendly book donors all over the globe and her grandchildren. Yes, because Julia at one time was a married woman with children and now grandchildren in the US.  Some solitaires are people who have lived whole other lives before the solitaire call beckoned. Julia although she keeps her prayer times and liturgical seasons like any other  religious solitaire has enough activity around her to keep a small monastery busy let alone one woman. Her Vita , with advanced degrees, published writings and books would be enough for anyone to gladly rest their laurels on . Julia in her seventies is a still very active  woman with a strong belief in the energy saving benefits of bicycles which she rides through the streets and countryside of Florence . Visit Florence, meet Julia who I correspond with periodically over at least ten years is on my Top Ten things to do before I die Bucket List. I am hoping she lives to be a Hundred . She is different then the afore mentioned ( prior post) Coptic Desert Father dubbed" the Last Anchorite" but epitomizes what a solitaire can be in the 21st century and still keep the flavour of the Desert Fathers alive in her desire for quiet, prayers, hospitality, keeping herself by the works of her hands, genuine care for the poor and a deep wisdom that attracts a listening heart.

You can find more about her work on saving the Swedish Cemetery in Florence where such greats as Elizabeth Barret Browning are buried

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