The Austrian town of Saalfelden, near Salzburg, has a new official hermit, with a background that seems unlikely, but he's all for it: "I thought I didn't have a chance...When I read about the Saalfelden hermitage I thought to myself: that's the place for me."
Stan Vanuytrecht, 58, is a Catholic deacon, a former artillery officer and surveyor with experience working with psychiatric patients, alcoholics and addicts. With his white beard and pipe he could almost be Santa Claus.
Saalfelden has maintained a hermit for over 350 years. The official hermitage is built into a cliff overhanging the town, and comes without running water or electricity, and is open from April to November. The hermit isn't really solitary; the hermitage sees many hikers in season.
Vanuytrecht's predecessor, a psychotherapist and former priest quit after one season and returned to Vienna. Thomas Fieglmueller told the Salzburg newspaper that "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."