March 27, 2010.
Okay, lets talk about Cat Island and its biggest point of interest; The Hermitage. Back around the year 1940 this priest named Father Jerome was retiring and decided to build himself a church. Father Jerome had a hand in designing and building several churches in this part of the Bahamas. There are 2 major points that set this one apart; the fact that it stands alone on top of the tallest hill in the Bahamas and the fact that he built the entire thing by himself.
When we pulled in to the anchorage the Hermitage can be seen from miles away. It looks pretty spectacular from sea level so we were excited to start the hike up the hill.
Once you reach the base of the hill the real fun begins. You start up a wooded pathway until you get to the real climbing.
The hill is very steep and Father Jerome has studded the trail with the Stations of the Cross to entice you to keep climbing. There’s a miniature Jesus
interred in his crypt with the stone rolled aside awaiting his resurrection. There’s religious slogans and symbolism everywhere cast in the rocks.
When you finally reach the summit you’re hit in the face with the most astonishing fact of all.
The place is freaking tiny. What looked so big and majestic from below is actually a miniature version of a European Franciscan monastery. The interior of the main chapel was approximately 6 by 8 feet. There was a small altar and room for only one pew which was too small to accommodate me by myself.
Don’t get me started on the doorways. Off to the side of the main building were his personal quarters. The kitchen made the galley in our boat seem roomy. He had an outdoor shower next to what I like to call the Rectory. It was a single room with an ultra tiny desk and a single wooden bed no more than 5 ½ feet long.
So now since we’ve seen the size of the accommodations I have this mental image of the good padre being about 5 feet tall and built like a bull from lugging all these stones. That image lasted until we met a local who filled us in with a physical description of Father “The Madman” Jerome. It was his recollection that the father was about 6 foot 1 and gaunt as hell. He said the tiny ass bed was just another way of Father Jerome dedicating himself to a life of hardship. I mean, poverty is fine but at the end of the day wouldn’t have been nice to stretch out a bit?
About 150 yards down a trail behind the church is the cave where Father Jerome lived until he completed the church. It was bigger than his completed Rectory but pretty damn austere, plus he had to commute.
So his church stands as he left it, cared for by the local community. The whole size thing is a little bizarre but it stands as a mute testament to one mans determination and vision.