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 haveopted 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 doesnot 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 developmentof 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.
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