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It was founded in 2001 as the dwelling of a Roman Catholic consecrated hermit. It revived the tradition of Dutch hermits that originated in the Counter-Reformation. As is typical of Dutch hermitages, it includes a public chapel that has a distinct role in popular devotions, namely to Our Lady.
Dutch hermits often had a role in nearby parishes as catechists and altar servers. They also had pastoral care duties, such as holding a wake with the dying and caring for patients with infectious diseases.
After 1983 wrought iron enclosure-grills were built inside the hermitage church. They separate the sanctuary from the nave to ensure the seclusion of the hermit, Brother Hugo. As in contemplative communities, the divine office is sung daily in Latin. The Counter-Reformation spirituality of the Dutch tradition is expressed by several devotions honored throughout the day.
Dutch baroque decorative elements are part of the design of the sanctuary. In particular, the statue of Our Lady, the Garden Enclosed, by the Spanish sculptor Miguel Bejarano Moreno, expresses a "Mother of Sorrows".
Soon after the founding of the hermitage in 2001, the church began to function as an unofficial Marian shrine for expatriate Spaniards living in the Netherlands. The Dutch began to follow their example, since there are no other Marian shrine in the region. By 2007 the Hermitage of Our Lady, the Garden Enclosed (Hortus Conclusus) had become the second most visited shrine of the diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, after Dokkum. This all happened rather suddenly and without an apparent cause, like an apparition or a miracle. Therefore the many pilgrims themselves are sometimes (mockingly) referred to as the 'Miracle of Warfhuizen.'
A unique devotional practice is the "Swapping of the handkerchief". According to Spanish tradition, the statue of the weeping Virgin usually holds a white handkerchief. The faithful bring a new white handkerchief and give it to the hermit to swap it with the one which the Virgin has been holding. The donor accepts the old handkerchief to give to someone sick or lonely. Students may take one to their exams to calm their nerves. The Warfhuizen church is especially popular with troubled parents and the physically impaired, the latter because of the proximity of special needs accommodation in Wehe den Hoorn, which lies 2 km. to the North.
Warfhuizen is sometimes referred to as the location of the northernmost Marian shrine of Europe (i.e. Continental Europe).
- Website of the shrine and the hermitage (in Dutch)
- Virtual visit to the hermitage-church (with a photo of the hermit's choir stall)
- Diary of Brother Hugo (in Dutch)
- "Miguel Bejarano Moreno", (in Spanish)
- "Canon 603, re: Consecrated Hermits", The Code of Canon Law (1983, Latin edition)