The hermitage of Saalfelden - a recreational place with a long history

The hermitage of Saalfelden is easy to remember, as it was buit into a rock above of the city and it seems to have always belonged there. It is a really popular hiking destination for the young and the elderly ones, because it is known as a place where you can recharge your batteries and where a special energy prevails. Even today in the summer months a hermit lives at the hermitage. However, what's the hermitage all about and who are the people that live there all alone and spend their summer at this place? And why do they even do that? 

Looking for lonliness. Finding ..?

To be in harmony with God and nature are motives for people to isolate themselves and to look for lonliness and solitude. The hermitage in Saalfelden is the last one of its kind. Even today, a hermit lives up there in the summer all alone. The word hermit means "inhabitant of a desert". In the first centuries of Christianity, hundrets of men and women left the civilization and moved out in the egypt desert. In the desert they started the search for God. A heremit sees themselves as a successor of Jesu Christi and they look for solitude an lonliness, because they want to escape secularization. In 1664, it was the first time that the hermitage in Saalfelden was inhabited by a hermit.  

The first hermit in the hermitage of Saalfelden

Since the 16th century, people make pilgrimages to the hermitage in Saalfelden, where they can look at a picture of holy Georg. Later a chapel has been built and a little bit further down the hermitage has been built into the rocks. The first one to live in the hermitage in Saalfelden was a farmer's son, called Thomas Pichler. He was a member of the holy order Franziskus. Back at the time the hermits were responsible to overlook the city at night and search for fires. From the place above the city they had a good view and as soon as they notice a fire, they ring the bell. Thomas lived in the hermitage for 35 years. 


Until 1900 thirteen hermits lived at the hermitage

Until the end of the 19th century, 13 more hermits lived at the hermitage, some of them even for 40 years. A hermit lives an ascetic lifestyle and tries to be as economical as possible. An hermit is on a spiritual way and tries to keep away all distractions and appeals. The most crucial thing is the dialogue with God. They pray, meditate and suffer at the hermitage and try to find peace and inner harmony with themselves. Eventough not all hermits cared about devoutness, the hermits never broke with the old traditions and they are still present, even today.  


The decades in the 20th century were unforgettable

Josef Heitzmann and Friedl Schobersteiner were those hermits, who had a huge impact on the hermitage above the city of Saalfelden in the 20th century. However, after this period, it seemed that the time of the hermitage was over. Some of the hermits were really keen on preserving the hermitage. In the 1990s Franz Wienerroither started to incorperate the history of the hermitage and restore the hermitage. 

The last years and an international appeal to the public

When Karl Schantl became the hermit in Saalfelden, he came to stay and to revive the hermitage as a spiritual experience. After him, there was brother Raimund von der Thannen, who lived for 11 years at the hermitage in the summer months. In 2016 Thomas Fieglmüller became hermit, he was priest in the archdiocese Vienna and psychotherapist, but he was only at the hermitage for one summer. And so ther was an international appeal in 2016 because the city of Saalfelden again searched for a hermit. There were applications form everywhere: from Argentinia, Canada, Australia and Thailand. Finally in April 2017, a Belgian, called Stan Vanuytrecht moved into the hermitage Saalfelden. He speaks fluently German, because he has been stationed in Germany as an Officer for a long time. He practised a lot of jobs in the past. For example, he worked at the surveyor's office, as a deacon, paramedic and he helped prisoners, homeless, drug addicts and patients in the psychiatry. In 2019 he spent his thrid summer at the hermitage. 

If you want to meet our hermit, do not try to visit him on Tuesdays, Fridays or Sundays. Because at this days, he is not on the hermitage, but he is in the city and goes to church. 


The history of the hermitage and the hermits: 

  • 16th century: First people make a pilgrimage to the hermitage of Saalfelden
  • 1664: The first hermit moves into the hermitage (Thomas Pichler)
  • 1699-1900: 13 hermits look for harmonie and peace at the hermitage
  • 20th century: Josef Haitzmann and Friedl Schobersteiner
  • 1968: Hermitage opens for visitors
  • 1990: Franz Wienerroither restores the hermitage
  • 2001-2003: Karl Schantl
  • 2004-2016: Bruder Raimund von Thannen from the monastery St. Lambrecht
  • 2016: Thomas Fieglmüller; international search for a new hermit
  • Since 2017: Stan Vanuytrecht 



Pictures: Foto Bauer, Foto Lebesmühlbacher, Saalfelden Leogang Touristik