Cat Island: The Hermitage

We rarely sail with others close by. Felt good to pass someone without even trying

We rarely sail with others close by. Felt good to pass someone without even trying

Our Thursday Feb 6 sail to Cat Island is best described as brisk and wavy, somewhat closely hauled but averaging over 7kts. We left the harbor behind six others, four headed for Cat about 30 mins, or 3nm ahead of us. By 11am we’d passed two well-heeled monos, by noon the fishing lines went in when the wind and waves backed down to our comfort zone; I don’t want to gain a fish but lose a husband! Nothing more than a nibble though.

View from the anchorage- Hermitage, entry arch and road visible

View from the anchorage- Hermitage, entry arch and road visible

The main attraction on Cat is The Hermitage in New Bight, designed and built by John C. Hawes, known as Father Jerome. I researched a bit on Father Jerome and his Spartan retirement home he named The Hermitage. He was an accomplished, humble Englishman who served first as an Anglican priest and in 1915 converted to Catholicism. Born John C. Hawes in 1876 he gained renown as an architect, designing and helping construct churches in England, Australia and Bahamas.

In 1903 he became a priest in the Church of England and shortly after was posted to a mission in the Bahamas. The landmark St Paul’s Church in Clarence Town, Long Island is Father Jerome’s work; pre-conversion. 1911 found him bound for the U.S. and after travels into Canada and stints as a laborer; perhaps to balance his philosopher, poet, essayist side, he studied and was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church in 1915.

Around 1937 Father Jerome came to Cat for solitude and to live as his role model, St. Francis of Assisi. He purchased the highest hilltop, Como or Comer Hill, which is the highest in all the Bahamas at 206 ft above sea level and renamed it Mt Alvernia after the hill in Tuscany. This mini medieval monastery was no easy feat. I mean, up on the hilltop, with stone, not dirt to walk and build on. Awe inspiring and the view isn’t bad either.

He built several other churches and structures on Cat; his last, The Church of the Holy Redeemer, still holds services 11am on Sunday. Father Jerome died in 1956 and is buried in a cave located beneath the hermitage; unmarked and very close to the fourteenth Station of the Cross. Nowhere do you see his name; not in any church, not in the hermitage, nowhere. Humble and dedicated, he was a man to trust, respect and admire for how he lived his life.

We got going early on Friday before the day got too hot for trekking up the hill and around New Bight.

Someone planted banana trees to send bananas to Haiti. The sign admonished those who'd done damage

Someone planted banana trees to send bananas to Haiti. The sign admonished those who’d done damage

The fourth Station of the Cross along the rocky, final uphill approach to the hermitage

The fourth Station of the Cross along the rocky, final uphill approach to the hermitage

Steps cut into the rock help you climb up. They may also be Stations 5 and 6

Steps cut into the rock help you climb up. They may also be Stations 5 and 6

The Hermitage- main entry at center, sleeping quarters at the right end

The Hermitage- main entry at center, sleeping quarters at the right end

Spartan sleeping quarters are airy and light-filled

Spartan sleeping quarters are airy and light-filled

Narrow hallway is "just" wide enough

Narrow hallway is “just” wide enough

Desk in the room I call the prayer chapel

Desk in the room I call the prayer chapel

 

Guest books tell the visitors' history story

Guest books tell the visitors’ history story

A local church restoration guy and an interested cruiser

A local church restoration guy and an interested cruiser

When we reached the top, a young cruising couple were helping clear away small stones and pieces of concrete from the restoration work.  Another cruiser took a keen interest in the repair work and I guess the craftsman didn’t mind some company on the scaffolding. The cause of damage was attributed to a lightning strike a couple of months ago.

The kitchen sat about 200ft away from the main building. A baking or hold-warm oven bumps out on left

The kitchen sat about 200ft away from the main building. A baking or hold-warm oven bumps out on left

A much needed rest on seating that we guess was designed by Father Jerome

A much-needed rest on seating that we guess is a Father Jerome creation

Stay tuned for Part II of our day on Cat Island at New Bight.

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