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Anchoritic Traditions of Medieval Europe

Anchoritic Traditions of Medieval Europe

Edited by Liz Herbert McAvoy
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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    Anchoritic Traditions of Medieval Europe
    Book Description:

    The practice of anchoritism - religious enclosure which was frequently solitary and voluntarily embraced, very often in a permanent capacity - was widespread in many areas of Europe throughout the middle ages. Originating in the desert withdrawal of the earliest Christians and prefiguring even the monastic life, anchoritism developed into an elite vocation which was popular amongst both men and women. Within this reclusive vocation, the anchorite would withdraw, either alone or with others like her or him, to a small cell or building, very frequently attached to a church or other religious institution, where she or he would - theoretically at least - remain locked up until death. In the later period it was a vocation which was particularly associated with pious laywomen who appear to have opted for this extreme way of life in their thousands throughout western Europe, often as an alternative to marriage or remarriage, allowing them, instead, to undertake the role of 'living saint' within the community. This volume brings together for the first time in English much of the most important European scholarship on the subject to date. Tracing the vocation's origins from the Egyptian deserts of early Christian activity through to its multiple expressions in western Europe, it also identifies some of those regions - Wales and Scotland, for example - where the phenomenon does not appear to have been as widespread. As such, the volume provides an invaluable resource for those interested in the theories and practices of medieval anchoritism in particular, and the development of medieval religiosity more widely. Dr LIZ HERBERT MCAVOY is Senior Lecturer in Gender in English and Medieval Studies at Swansea University. CONTRIBUTORS: Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker, Gabriela Signori, M. Sensi, G. Cavero Dominguez, P. L'Hermite-Leclercq, Mari Hughes-Edwards, Colman O Clabaigh, Anna McHugh, Liz Herbert McAvoy.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-786-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. Editor’s note
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)
    Liz Herbert McAvoy

    This volume comes together as a result of a recent upsurge in scholarly interest in the medieval solitary life and its legacies, both in Continental Europe and the more anglophone regions of the world. Increasingly, those of us whose research areas lie somewhere embedded within the complex web of medieval religiosity have begun to recognize the pivotal role played by the reclusive way of life within much wider-reaching cultural contexts during the Middle Ages. This is something which was prefigured by the words of Dom Jean Leclercq in 1965 who saw the life of the medieval solitary as ‘exercis[ing] an...

  8. 1 Anchorites in the Low Countries
    (pp. 22-42)
    Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker

    This chapter focuses on eremitism in the Low Countries, the delta region between the Seine and the Elbe where the great rivers flow into the North Sea. Politically speaking, it encompasses the present Northern France (medieval Flanders), Belgium and the Netherlands, and the adjacent areas along the Lower Rhine up to the Elbe in Germany. Numerous independent principalities and city republics operated here under the formal sovereignty of the French king or the German emperor. In socio-economic terms, they comprised the prosperous commercial centres of the Low Countries with their expanding urban culture and trailblazing religious developments. The Beguine movement...

  9. 2 Anchorites in German-speaking regions
    (pp. 43-61)
    Gabriela Signori

    Over the centuries – millennia, even – the lives of the Desert Fathers, as recorded in the so-called Vitae patrum, furnished models and inspiration for believers striving after the perfect Christian life.¹ In Germany their influence would even transcend confessional boundaries.² These naked, emaciated figures with long hair and beards lived together in small ascetic communities or, like wild animals, kept themselves hidden in caves or old pagan gravesites. Their lives were recorded in the early fifth century by travellers from both the East and the West.³ Later generations of monks would expand the collection of short vitae when the need arose.⁴...

  10. 3 Anchorites in the Italian tradition
    (pp. 62-90)
    M. Sensi

    There is no proper history of the Italian eremitic movement. While there exists an appreciable literature about the ‘regular hermits’ – those who belonged to an exempt monastic order or to a specific congregation – we know virtually nothing about other religious hermits: those who were professed but who promised obedience to a bishop. In Italy we have only recently begun to study these ‘secular’ hermits, that is, those without links to any officially recognized religious institutions but who, whether laymen or laywomen, professed simple vows in private. And yet this was a form of religious life that was widespread throughout Europe...

  11. 4 Anchorites in the Spanish tradition
    (pp. 91-111)
    G. Cavero Domínguez

    It was a relatively common custom among the early Christians of the Spanish Peninsula to retire to secluded places, nearly always for short periods of time, during significant dates within the liturgic calendar. The canons which were intended to fight Priscillian’s heresy following the Council of Zaragoza (c. 380) allude to people leaving their churches for such periods of reclusion during Lent¹ and at Christmas.² These customs reveal the beginnings of a practice which would grow stronger over the course of the Middle Ages – the beginning of a flight from the world, a kind of ascesis which also incorporated the...

  12. 5 Anchoritism in medieval France
    (pp. 112-130)
    P. L’Hermite-Leclercq

    Jesus said: ‘And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it’ (Matthew 10:38–9). During his lifetime he attracted disciples who gave up everything for him. But how might this precept be followed after the Resurrection? There were various responses: martyrs embraced death with courage, goading the executioner, while the Egyptian and Syrian Fathers went into the desert, like St Antony, and soon formed the first monastic communities. Hermits and monks vowed to...

  13. 6 Anchoritism: the English tradition
    (pp. 131-152)
    Mari Hughes-Edwards

    Medieval English anchoritism is currently paradigmatic in the field of Anglophone anchoritic scholarship. Whilst this volume seeks to qualify its critical supremacy through direct comparison of the anchoritism of England with that of wider medieval Europe, it does not seek to do so at the expense of English expressions of the vocation. Knowing more about wider European anchoritism can only serve to strengthen current understandings of English anchoritic culture. Accordingly, this chapter reinforces the very real importance of English anchoritic spirituality and acknowledges its continued significance in the context of the study of medieval spirituality as a whole. It offers...

  14. 7 Anchorites in late medieval Ireland
    (pp. 153-177)
    Colmán Ó Clabaigh

    Interest in the eremitical and anchoritic life is enjoying something of a revival at present. Nor is this interest entirely academic: in Ireland at least five individuals have made profession as hermits since this category of religious life was again recognized in the 1983 Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church.¹ The life of the anchorite or recluse attracts fewer active practitioners but remains a temporary or permanent vocational option for monks and nuns belonging to the Camaldolese Benedictine tradition. At present one Camaldolese monk is living as a permanent recluse in the monastery of Monte Corona in...

  15. 8 Anchorites in medieval Scotland
    (pp. 178-194)
    Anna McHugh

    The problem of medieval Scottish anchoritism evokes the conspiracy theorist’s paradigm of the absence of evidence versus the evidence of absence. Although the medieval Scottish church as a whole has been well studied, forms of personal devotion, especially the various manifestations of the eremitical life, have not. Monsignor David McRoberts’ essay of 1965 on the hermits of medieval Scotland remains the only study of the eremitical phenomenon, and this focuses on hermits rather than anchorites.¹ Ian Cowan, arguably the twentieth century’s leading authority on the medieval Scottish church, did not discuss either hermits or anchorites in his two standard works...

  16. 9 Anchorites and medieval Wales
    (pp. 195-216)
    Liz Herbert McAvoy

    That there was an anchoritic tradition in the region known as Cymru to many of its current inhabitants, and Wales to the rest of the non Welsh-speaking world, is beyond doubt; and that it was overwhelmingly male seems also to have been the case in the face of little or no extant evidence to suggest otherwise.¹ There are more than sufficient material and textual traces to corroborate the popularity of the solitary religious life for men, although, as is the case in both Ireland and Scotland, the type of detailed records we find within the English tradition are sadly missing....

  17. Index
    (pp. 217-242)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. None)