Culture, Science & Society Videos

Young priest turns forsaken farm into paradise homestead

Source: Kirsten Dirksen via YouTube

Five years ago Catholic priest Johannes Schwarz left his parish to “withdraw for a few years” in the Italian Alps (in the shadow of his beloved Monte Viso). He bought an old “rustico” – stone farm building – for 20,000 euros and transformed it into his mountaintop hermitage.

Inspired by the early Christian desert hermits from the “200s and 300s when some people went into the deserts of Egypt and Palestine searching for a more rigorous life”, Schwarz found something remote: he has only one full-time neighbor on the entire mountainside and in winter, he often has to snowshoe for a couple hours just to buy food and supplies.

To be as self-sufficient as possible, he makes his own bread and stores plenty of potatoes which he grows using Ruth Stout’s “No-Work” gardening method. To grow much of his own fruit and produce, he terraced the steep hillside (using stones from the area) to create micro-climates. “You try to build walls that have southern exposure because they heat up during the day and they give off the warmth and can make a difference of several degrees.” (Studies show differences of 27°F/15°C in the ultra-deep Incan terraces). He grows plenty of tomatoes inside his self-built recycled greenhouse.

For heating and cooking, he built a combination rocket stove and masonry heater by creating his own casts and loam coating. His refrigerator, which he transported up the hill on top of his bicycle, is kept in the unheated room, along with his food stores. He uses a tiny 30-year-old 3-kilogram washing machine and built his bathroom out of salvaged materials. To transport the lumber up the hill for his remodel, he got some help from a local farmer.

He divided the old barn into four small rooms on two floors; the living room/kitchen and pantry on the ground floor and a chapel and bedroom upstairs. His bedroom also serves as an editing studio where he creates videos on philosophy and religion.

He created a wooden-arched indoor chapel where he “celebrates the traditional Latin mass” alongside a wall he painted with Byzantine, romanesque and gothic styles in appreciation of “the symbolism of the ancient art.”

Johannes’ pilgrimage films:
Youtube (German):…

On *faircompanies:…

Header image: Kirsten Dirksen via YouTube (edited)

Below is a reply via Kirsten Dirksen’s YouTube page by Fr. Johannes to viewers’ requests for information about his homestead.


kathmedia (Deutsch)
kathmedia (Deutsch)
Hi. Fr. Johannes here. Wow! You all have found such kind words about my hermitage and my life in the mountains. I assure you, it all looks better when Kirsten and Nicolas are holding the camera to it – but thankfully not too close 🙂 They make me look good – much like when they call me a “young priest” in the video title. For a 43 year old bolding guy with the first streaks of grey in his beard to be called „young“ might just be polite flattery, but I take it 😀 Allow me to answer some of the questions that came up in the comments (some of them more than once). „Like“ to make this one-stop-reply more visible – or if you, Kirsten/Nicholas are reading this, maybe you want to make it a pinned comment)

– electricity?: the previous owners connected the house to the grid when the opportunity presented itself some 30 or so years ago. The pole is visible in some shots on the right above the house. I don’t know how much it costs to get connected, but if lines are nearby – in this case on the other side of the mountain – I think it is managable.

– internet?: I use an antenna to augment the cell signal coming from the valley. It can be seen in the right hand corner of the balcony and works fine (most of the time). But it of course means that I watch youtube, and also Kirstin’s inspiring videos, in 360p

– water?: I’m connected to a spring that is further up the mountain. It used to be a communal spring that serviced also the houses on the other, northern side of the mountain. It was later (90s?) incorporated into the regional water works. It now is no longer free, but on the other hand if a leak occurs (about once a year) professionals set out to find and patch it.

– diocesan hermit, how? possible?: I’m fortunate that my diocese (the Archdiocese of Vaduz, Liechtenstein) has many more priests than parishes, which makes it easier for the bishop to allow me to pursue life in a hermitage and going for „extra long walks“. Other than that, there is an actual provision in Canon law (§603) that properly regulates and recognizes diocesan hermits

– garden skills: Not that many skills yet. I’m only beginning to dabble in permaculture. If my thumbs are a little green it is probably because of my Mom, who was patient even when I excarvated and removed 100 bulbs of Peonys to errect a crooked wooden shed as an 8 year old. It was then that I realized that plants need care and don’t just pop up. But youtube and the permies forum have been great resources since.

– my career? I don’t get paid by the church as I currently don’t work in a parish or in another official capacity. I also don’t take donations (as others need them more than I do). I’m lucky that I get booked and paid for speaking tours for a few weeks in winter that revolve around my pilgrimages. Germany – and less so also Switzerland and Austria – outside Covid have a lively scene of travel festivals and events, where my usually somewhat humerous storys about Romanian sheep dogs, weird encounters in Armenia or despair in thunder storms on mountain passes find a few laughs and buyers of my books (available only in German so far). I hold retreats externally, occasionally help out in parishes and am guest professor for fundamental theolgy at a religious house of studies. All of this supplements my income and is certainly more than sufficient for a simple life.

– cost?: So the price for the hut and 1.5 acres of land was 22.000 € (compared to renting a hut in Austria for 3 years which would have been basically the sam 18-21.000 €). When you buy in Italy you have to pay a fee to the agency (if it is not a private sale) that may be a % of the price or in the case of cheap buildings such as mine it would be a standard fee anywhere from 3-5000 €. Some costs for a notary (1000 €) will also likely be applicable. If you want to change the exterior or even some parts of the exterior, you’ll need to hire a geometra/architect. These fees combined with the fees for building permissions will depend on what the changes are.

– where to find such properties in Italy? I used „immobiliare dot it“

– instagram account? Yep. “4kmhpunktcom”. I’m not very good at posting pics of my meals, but when I’m on the road I sometimes use it as a “short blog”

– rocket mass heater video? Yes there is one on vimeo (search for Hermit’s Hot Hog) – but just a timelapse. In the description there you will however find a link to the bulletin board concerning the Vortex stove that is the design that I followed.

– solar air collector? I use the solarventi sv14. Works fine for me. But it could be built much cheaper if you do it yourself – something I may do in the future.

– can one just build whatever one wants? No, not in Italy. In Austria I would not even have been allowed to build the stove myself (or I would have needed a professional to inspect it and clear it for use). So you have to work with local regulations that may vary depending on where you are (I enlisted the help of a local geometra to sift through what I would be allowed to do. A great guy with expert knowledge of applicable laws who saved me from delving into burocracy myself and asked virtually nothing for his services. I certainly was lucky)

– does the hermit have youtube channels? Yes. I have three: one with Theology and Philosophy in German ( ), one for hiking videos ( ) and an old one that has many languages ( ) I do not have one vlogging about daily life and don’t plan one. I plan a few silent (no words) episodes about life here in the mountains (12 episodes, one for each month of the year) but that will not happen for a while, as I hope to be on a pilgrimage again next year (Via Columbani from Ireland to Italy).

– earthquakes? In this particular part of the alps getting anything above a 4 is exceptionally rare. I have witnessed 4.1 a few years ago. No worries.

– english language content? Some of you have left comments on my German language channel asking if there was any English speaking content available. There is an hour long English language podcast about my alpine pilgrimage here: And then there are 2 feature length films about 2 pilgrimages I did that can be found here: . For the Via Alpina Sacra you can use “MONT-THABOR” as coupon code on checkout to watch it for free – no credit card necessary (you can use a junk email when registering to the site). It has some subtitles but the longer speaking parts are in English. For the Jerusalem film you can use the coupon code “4kmh-give-if-you-can”. If instead you decide to pay or donate for those films, the money does not go to me but to the causes listed there.

Thanks again everyone for the kind words. „Like“ the comment to make it more visible for othersif you found it useful.