The Hermitage on Mt. Alvernia
This small, stone, medieval-style monastery sits on the peak of Como Hill on Cat Island, the highest point in The Islands of The Bahamas at 206 foot above sea level. It was built in 1939 by a Roman Catholic priest, Monsignor John Hawes, known to locals as Father Jerome. An admirer of St. Francis of Assisi, Father Jerome called the getaway Mount Alvernia, after La Verna, a mountain in Tuscany that was given to Assisi as a place where he could peacefully contemplate, and it was where Assisi received the Wounds of the Cross.
A skilled architect and sculptor and self-described contemplative, Father Jerome built this retreat so that he could get away from the world. Going up the hill to the monastery, visitors will sense his religious devotion and see his beautiful and detailed work, including hand-carved stone reliefs of the Stations of the Cross.
About Father Jerome
John Hawes was born in England in 1876 to an upper middle-class family. He practiced as a visionary, prize-winning architect before entering Theological College in 1901 preparing to become an Anglican minister. Once ordained, he vowed to emulate the life of St. Francis of Assisi and lived briefly as a tramp in 1908. Shortly thereafter, he came to The Bahamas and traveled throughout the islands preaching and rebuilding churches destroyed by a hurricane, utilizing thick stone and Roman arches.
Between his preaching stints, he was also a mule-driver in Canada, a fox-terrier breeder, a cow-puncher, and a sailor in 1211. He converted to Catholicism and studied in Rome for the priesthood before moving to Australia to serve as a gold-rush bush priest. He stayed there for 24 years and built a renowned reputation until suffering a heart attack. In 1939. He then returned to The Bahamas, washing ashore on Cat Island to live as a hermit. The following year, he began work on his hermitage and, like a good hermit, he lived in a cave amid snakes, tarantulas, and crabs and took the name "Father Jerome."
The islanders considered him to be a saintly figure, who would stroll around barefoot, and he was a humanitarian to all those who climbed up the steps of his monastery to ask for money. None were denied, and Jerome soon became the conscience of the people, preaching to locals of all denominations and settling disputes. He died in 1956 and was buried, per his request, barefoot and without a casket in the cave that had once been his home somewhere on the site of the Hermitage.
Father Jerome built four churches on Cat Island, as well as a medical clinic, convent/monastery, technical school, and other projects throughout The Bahamas, all featuring his trademark medieval architecture. His buildings were made of rock quarried onsite, with nothing that could rot or rust away.
The site is not wheelchair accessible, because the monastery can only be reached by climbing up a steep rocky hill. Persons who are physically challenged will need assistance going up the hill.
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