Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Tuesday 19 January |
Saint of the Day: St. Branwalator of Jersey
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

Why did so many saints choose to live in caves?

SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI

Giovanni Bellini | Public Domain

Philip Kosloski - published on 01/15/20

Caves were a popular choice for many saints for both practical and spiritual reasons.

Some of the greatest saints of the Catholic Church fled the comforts of the world and sought refuge in a cave. The list of saints is a long one and includes St. Benedict, St. Anthony of Egypt, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom and even St. Francis of Assisi for certain periods in his life.

Why did these saints choose caves? Couldn’t they have lived in a monastery or a small house attached to a church?

For many saints caves were initially a practical choice. Throughout Europe, the Holy Land and Northern Africa, caves are a naturally occurring feature of the landscape. It doesn’t take long for someone to travel outside of a city and find a cave embedded in a nearby mountain. Furthermore, most caves require absolutely zero building materials. A monk or nun could sell everything they had, wander into the mountains, and find a cave with no tools or money.

Caves also provide sufficient protection, both from natural elements and any criminals. Most caves maintain a constant temperature throughout the year, keeping heat in the winter and remaining cool in the summer. Storms also have a minimized effect on caves, allowing an individual to keep safe no matter the weather.

A well placed cave can also be “invisible” to the eye and a passerby may never notice it, protecting the person from criminals or enemy soldiers passing through.

Additionally, caves were a spiritual choice as well, recalling the most famous “hermit” in the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah. It was while dwelling in a cave that Elijah encounters the presence of God.

And there he came to a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him. (1 Kings 19:9)

Caves provided a perfect spiritual sanctuary that was entirely secluded from the rest of the world. Caves are most often found in areas that are difficult to reach and not on any main road. If you want to be alone, caves are where you want to be!

The caves also reminded the saint of Jesus’ death and burial, representing the “death” to their old selves that they sought in order to experience a newness in their spiritual lives.

In many cases caves were not the permanent home of a saint, but served as a place of retreat. For example, St. Francis of Assisi and his religious brothers would find spiritual refuge in the caves of Monte Subasio. It was an isolated place where they could contemplate God in silence and allow his presence to fill their soul before going back into the world.

Caves have a rich history in Christianity and many continue to be used throughout the world by individuals and groups who feel called by God to encounter his presence in a place away from the distractions of the modern world.




Read more:
Meet the cave in Turkey where Saint Peter celebrated Mass


MATERA

Read more:
Matera: The southern Italian city where residents live in prehistoric caves

Tags:
SaintsSpiritual Life
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
DAD, HOW DO I?
Cerith Gardiner
Meet the dad who's teaching basic skills on YouTube for kids with...
2
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful 1-minute film about...
3
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
Reasons Catholics should read the Bible
4
SAINT RITA CASCIA
Bret Thoman, OFS
Traces of miracles remain at the birthplace of St. Rita of Cascia
5
POPE JOHN PAUL II
Philip Kosloski
St. John Paul II's formula for defeating evil in the world
6
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
'An American Blessed': A documentary to thank God in 2021
7
FORGIVING COUPLE
Bret Thoman, OFS
An exorcist teaches 4 steps to forgive
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.