The Strange and Mysterious Lives of Medieval Hermits

Hermits were an integral part of medieval society, with many people seeking solitude and spiritual enlightenment in remote locations.

St. Jerome In His Study
Medieval Hermit

They were often seen as mysterious figures who had renounced the world and its material pleasures in order to focus on their spiritual journey. In this article, we will explore the lives of these medieval hermits, from their ascetic practices to their sometimes bizarre habits and beliefs.

“The hermit was a key figure in medieval Christianity, embodying the ideals of asceticism and spiritual discipline.” – David Knowles, British historian

Who Were the Hermits?

Medieval hermits were individuals who had chosen to live a solitary life, often in remote locations such as forests, caves, or mountains. They were typically religious individuals who sought to deepen their relationship with God through prayer, meditation, and other ascetic practices.

Hermits were found across Europe, with some of the most famous hermitages located in Italy, France, and England.

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The Ascetic Practices of Hermits

Hermits were known for their extreme ascetic practices, which included fasting, self-flagellation, and sleep deprivation. Many hermits also practiced physical mortification, such as wearing hair shirts, sleeping on a bed of nails, or standing in freezing water.

These practices were seen as a way of purifying the body and soul and achieving spiritual enlightenment.

“Medieval hermits were not necessarily recluses, but often sought out the company of other like-minded individuals in secluded communities, where they could devote themselves fully to their spiritual pursuits.” – E. Rozanne Elder, American historian

Bizarre Habits and Beliefs

Some hermits were known for their bizarre habits and beliefs. For example, Saint Simeon Stylites, who lived in the 5th century, spent more than 30 years living on top of a pillar.

Saint Francis of Assisi, who lived in the 13th century, was known for preaching to birds and other animals. Other hermits believed in the power of magic and alchemy, and some even claimed to have the ability to communicate with angels and other supernatural beings.

Medieval Hermit

The Role of Hermits in Medieval Society

Despite their solitary lifestyle, hermits played an important role in medieval society. Many people sought out hermits for spiritual guidance and advice, and some hermitages became pilgrimage sites. Hermits were also known for their charitable acts, such as caring for the sick and providing food and shelter for travelers.

The Decline of Hermits

The popularity of hermitages declined in the late medieval period, as the Church began to focus more on communal religious life rather than individual spiritual practices. The Protestant Reformation also played a role in the decline of hermitages, as many Protestant reformers rejected the idea of individual asceticism.


Medieval hermits were mysterious and fascinating figures who sought spiritual enlightenment through extreme ascetic practices and solitary living.

Despite their bizarre habits and beliefs, hermits played an important role in medieval society, providing spiritual guidance and charitable acts. While hermitages are no longer as common as they once were, their legacy lives on in the many stories and legends that surround these enigmatic figures.