Charles de Foucauld’s Haven in Assekrem
Forming part of the Ahaggar Mountains (also known as the Hoggar Mountains) in southern Algeria, Assekrem is a spectacular collection of narrow mountain peaks in shades of brown and ochre, which have been artistically carved by the elements. This geological wonder attracts visitors from far and wide who are awe-struck by its natural beauty.
Assekrem is also renowned for being the site of the hermitage of Charles de Foucauld, which is now the retreat of the Little Brothers of Jesus who continue the humanitarian work he started back in 1910. Charles Eugène de Foucauld was born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, on 15 September 1858. After spending some time as a French army officer in Algeria, de Foucald left the army in 1882 and went to explore Morocco. He became a Trappist monk in 1890, but left in 1897 and traveled to Algeria to live a life of ascetic solitude. He founded a hermitage in Beni Abbes, Algeria, and welcomed visitors regardless of their religion, social status or ethnic origin.
Later Charles de Foucauld moved to Tamanghasset in southern Algeria to be with the Touareg people. He used the highest point of the Ahaggar Mountains, the Assekrem, as a place to establish his hermitage. He associated closely with the Touareg for a period of more than ten years, during which time he studied their cultural traditions and worked on a dictionary and the grammar of the Touareg language. Charles de Foucauld was shot dead by Senussi insurgents on 1 December 1916 just outside Tamanghasset. The dictionary was published in four volumes after his death and is appreciated among Berberologues for its rich and accurate descriptions. Charles de Foucauld had formulated the idea of establishing a new religious order during his time with the Touareg, and the Little Brothers of Jesus was established after his death by five seminarians assisted by Catholic Islamic scholar Louis Massignon. Charles de Foucauld was considered to be a martyr of the Catholic Church and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on 13 November 2005. The Little Brothers of Jesus and the Little Sisters of Jesus are communities that, although being relatively humble in size, have expanded to include many languages and cultures on all continents.
Visitors to Assekrem will not fail to agree with Charles de Foucauld, whose words are inscribed in a book of his writings at the hermitage: “The beauty of the view defies description or even imagination…it is marvelous.”