In cities and towns across northern Europe in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, a new type of religious woman took up
authoritative positions in society, all the while living as public
recluses in cells attached to the sides of churches. In Lives of
the Anchoresses, Anneke Mulder-Bakker offers a new history of these
women who chose to forsake the world but did not avoid it.
Unlike nuns, anchoresses maintained their ties to society and
belonged to no formal religious order. From their solitary
anchorholds in very public places, they acted as teachers and
counselors and, in some cases, theological innovators for
parishioners who would speak to them from the street, through small
openings in the walls of their cells. Available at all hours, the
anchoresses were ready to care for the community's faithful
Through careful biographical studies of five emblematic
anchoresses, Mulder-Bakker reveals the details of these influential
religious women. The life of the unnamed anchoress who was mother
to Guibert of Nogent shows the anchoress's role as a spiritual
guide in an oral culture. A study of Yvette of Huy shows the myriad
possibilities open to one woman who eventually chose the life of an
anchoress. The accounts of Juliana of Cornillon and Eve of St.
Martin raise questions about the participation of religious women
in theological discussions and their contributions to church
liturgy. And the biographical study of Margaret the Lame of
Magdeburg explores the anchoress's role as day-to-day religious
instructor to the ordinary faithful.
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