a traditional anchorhold was a a small, cell like building that was attached to a church. Here below are a number of on line sources to provide further information about this astonishing practice that was part of ordinary life in the middle ages in Europe.
I am drawn to sources that can make scholarly knowledge available to the ordinary reader. This site leads to an interactive website about anchor holds – you can click to see what a petition to become an anchoress would have looked like, as well as a sample letter from a bishop giving consent to an applicant. It is a simple fun little site developed by the University of Saint Thomas-Saint Paul Minnesota for those interested in matters concerning the Medieval Church.
Martin Warren, ‘The Way of an Anchoress”, Virtual Medieval Church and Is Writings, University of Saint Thomas-Saint Paul, Minnesota. http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/medieval/julian/anchoress.htm (accessed March 21, 2016.
1. Here is a shortened version, with comment, of the Ancrene Wisse, a guide for anchoresses written in the 13th century. Here is a sample quote: “My dear sisters: If any man asks to see you, ask him what good may come of it, since I see many evils in it and no profit. If he is importunate, trust him the less. If any is so mad as to put his hand out towards the window curtain, quickly straight away shut the window right up and let him be. Likewise, as soon as anyone gets on to any wicked talk that has to do with foul love, fasten the window straight away, and do not answer him at all.” This comes from the home site “Hermitary, Resource and Reflections on Hermits and Solitude.” (The image section imaginative – pictures of various hermitages, ancient and modern. See note below for Calvin and Gen.)
‘Ancrene Wisse: a Medieval Guide for Anchoresses’, website: Hermitary: Resources and Reflections on Hermits and Solitude.” http://www.hermitary.com/articles/ancrene.html (accessed March 21, 2016)
2. There have been modern anchoresses in the Anglican tradition. Here are three from the 20th century who were attached to The Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. This site is from the Walsingham Anglican Church archives.
“The Anchoresses”, The Walsingham Archives, The Archives of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
http://www.walsinghamanglicanarchives.org.uk/anchoresses.htm. (accessed March 21, 2016)
3. This link leads to an excerpt from the Book ‘Solitude’, by Philip Koch. It offers a view of the anchoress as a vibrant part of village life, despite being ensconced in a cell. Pages 74 – 79 are part of a larger conversation about solitude, but give an insightful glimpse into something that seems odd in our modern culture, but was a real part of life in Julian’s time. “Through both her intercessory prayers and her struggles with the devil, the anchoress rendered constant service to the community, a service received with reverence and gratitude by the townspeople.”
Philip Koch, Solitude, Open Court Publishing Company, Google Books, 1994.
Julian of Norwich, Anchoress Extraordinaire
Perhaps the most famous anchoress is Julian of Norwich. Here are two links inside her cell in Norwich England. Notice the three 'windows', and their purposes. And another glimpse back at the mostly forgotten, but powerful spiritual leaders who offered hope and council to all those who came by to visit.
Julian of Norwich entered her anchorhold when she was thirty, and there wrote about the visions she had experienced during a deathly illness. She was a popular anchoress, offering spiritual council to all who visited with her. Julian wrote about God in the capacity of The Maker, The Keeper and The Lover. Here is my own conversation with her, in the midst of an unexpected April ice storm that cut my own anchorhold off from the world for five days.