Many forms of employment require slipping into a role of sorts, a role often firmly outside of one’s comfort zone. After all, it’s all about striking that frequently delicate balance between doing what’s expected of you in your given position and showcasing your own natural talents and abilities.
This couldn’t be truer of a rather peculiar position that’s been repeatedly filled since the 15th century in the small, German-speaking city of Solothurn, capital of the northwestern Swiss canton of the same name: Professional hermit.
In reality, the gig could be more accurately described as caretaker-cum-tourism ambassador given that the individual vetted and ultimately selected by Solothurn’s city council for the job must maintain two historic chapels, interact with a steady stream of visitors and abide by a traditional eremitic lifestyle. Furthermore, the candidate must be naturally garrulous — a real people person — while also, per the job description, reside in seclusion within a pared-down cabin located adjacent to the aforementioned chapels in an idyllic, isolated gorge just north of the city.
A good hermit is hard to find
While “sociable hermit” is ultimately oxymoronic, it is what the gig — compensation: roughly $24,000 per year, hermitage-bound lodgings and paid vacation included — calls for.
In fact, a previously hired hermit, Verena Dubaucher, failed to find that crucial balance between reclusiveness and bonhomie. In 2014, she quit after five years on the job not only because of her declining health but because the gig required more day-to-day conviviality than she could stomach, apparently.
“There's a bit of a discrepancy between the job title of hermit and the fact he or she has to deal with throngs of visitors,” city council president Sergio Wyniger explained to the Wall Street Journal in 2014. “Our hermit unfortunately cannot be a real hermit,” Wyniger elaborated to a German newspaper. “Our hermit needs a listening ear for people.”
Although the official job description was adjusted to clarify that “along with acting as caretaker and sacristan, responsibilities include interaction with the many visitors,” the tenure of Dubaucher’s replacement, Sister Benedicta, was even more short-lived. As reported by The Local, she quit earlier this year over the “nature and role of the hermitage."
Not all those who step into the role of gorge-dwelling town hermit, however, throw in the proverbial towel as quickly as Dubaucher and Sister Benedicta. According to USA Today, Dubaucher’s predecessor, Johannes Leutenegger, thrived in the position for 25 years.
Traditionally, the job was, understandably, open only to priests. However, the city council has since started recruiting laypeople to provide routine upkeep maintenance at the hermitage and chapels as well as work weddings and baptisms and, perhaps most importantly, provide counsel to distressed tourists. The Daily Beast notes that shoveling snow and leading weekly meditation classes are also required of the paid hermit-in-residence.
Dubaucher was the first woman hired for the role since 1442. In fact, the town’s original hermit was a woman. The gorge itself, now protected as a nature preserve, along with one of its highly trafficked chapels is named in honor of Saint Verena, a local healer who took up residence in a cave just outside of town. The current day hermitage is built in the wall of the cave where Saint Verena dwelled in solitude nearly 600 years ago.
The patron saint of Switzerland, Nicholas of Flüe, was also a bona fide hermit.
Michael Daum, an ex-policeman and meditation enthusiast from Germany, thinks he has what it takes to serve as Switzerland's most famous (paid) quasi-hermit. (Video screenshot: SRF)
Watch out, there’s a new hermit in town
Solothurn officials hope that its latest hire, 55-year-old aspiring German hermit named Michael Daum, has the chops and is able to transition seamlessly into the role required of him.
As a former policeman, Daum certainly has the interacting-with-the-public part down. He’s also divorced, so living alone shouldn’t be an issue — at least in the short-term. And Daum, with his impressively bushy beard, has the hermit-chic look down pat.
“In Michael, we have found a charismatic personality, which is the right quality for our hermit,” Wyniger recently told a local newspaper, Solothurner Zeitung.
Daum, who has four children with his ex-wife and studied theology and meditation after taking leave from his career in law enforcement, applied for the position via a newspaper want ad seeking a “recluse with a Christian background.” He beat out 22 other hopefuls for the gig.
"I have lots of respect for the new job, and am looking forward to starting it," newly minted Hermit of Verena tells the Solothurner Zeitung.
Daum's stint begins on Oct. 1.