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Famous Hermits And What They Did Out There

Updated August 31, 2020 454.3k views16 items

Hermits live a life of almost complete and utter solitude, disconnected from the grid, the economy, and most of humanity - and they like it that way. Some famous hermits choose the lifestyle to flee the workforce, war, or an oppressive government. Some - like the hundreds of famous anchorites of medieval times - choose to be hermits in order to dedicate their lives to religious contemplation. 

There have been a few widely-known hermits throughout history that have welcomed visitors, but most simply want to be left alone to live their lives in a deliberate, solitary way, free from bosses, families, and governments. Read on to discover some of history's most famous hermits.


  • Father Maxime Qavtaradze Lives Alone on Top of a Pillar

    Photo: orientalizing / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The Hermit: Maxime Qavtaradze is Georgian monk currently living at the top of the Kataskhi Pillar, a 130-foot tall limestone rock used by Christian ascetics known as stylites until the 15th century when the Ottoman Empire invaded. He began his new life in 1993 and only comes down from the pillar once or twice a week.

    The Lifestyle: Qavtaradze slept inside a refrigerator for the first two years to protect himself from the elements. He now lives in a small cottage on the pillar that some local Christians helped him build. It takes him about 20 minutes to climb down a ladder to the small religious community at the base of the pillar that formed after Qavtaradze made his monastic pledge. Once he gets too old to climb down, Qavtaradze plans to die in his cottage.

  • "Hermit Pope" Celestine V Lived in a Cave and Was Forced Into the Papacy

    The Hermit: None other than Pope Celestine V (1215-1296), also known as Pietro del Morrone. Pietro was forced out of his hermitage and into the papacy in 1292 at the age of 84. He quit after five months.

    The Lifestyle: Before being manipulated by the Church's cardinals into becoming what historians call an "appalling" and "inglorious" pope, Pietro slept in a cave on bare rock and practiced mortification of the flesh, wearing horsehair shirts and an iron girdle. After his failed term as pope, Pietro wished to return to his "tranquil" life as a hermit but was instead thrown in jail by his successor over fears that he might become an antipope, or rival. He died 10 months later.

  • Masafumi Nagasaki Lives Naked and Alone on an Island

    The Hermit: Masafumi Nagasaki is an 80-year old former photographer that chose to live on a remote Japanese island known as Sotobanari after he retired.

    The Lifestyle: Nagasaki chooses to be naked on the island at all times because "it feels right." He does get dressed, however, for his weekly trips to the nearest settlement (an hour away by boat) to get food, drinking water, and the $120 weekly stipend his family doles out. He lives primarily on boiled rice cakes, which he eats four or five times per day. Nagasaki knows his lifestyle isn't necessarily the healthiest, but he says "finding a place to die is an important thing to do" and that's his principle motivation for living as he does.

  • Willard MacDonald Fled Military Service to Live Alone in the Woods

    Video: YouTube


    The Hermit: Willard Kitchener MacDonald (1916-2003) was conscripted during World War II at age 28, but jumped from a troop train as it passed through Nova Scotia and escaped. Two other men jumped with him, but they were later caught. MacDonald had a .303 military-issue rifle on him when he jumped, which must have come in handy down the road.

    The Lifestyle: MacDonald built a one-room shack near Gully Lake in the wilds of Nova Scotia and lived in it for the next 60 years. At first he had to rely on hunting and fishing to survive, but residents of a nearby town soon discovered him and began to feed him and help him obtain supplies. Late in life, MacDonald became the first Canadian to receive a pension without having to sign for it, thanks to a loophole and help from friends. MacDonald died of hypothermia in the woods in 2003 at the age of 87.