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VII. ANCHORITES IN CHURCH AND CLOISTER
Recluses who dwell
eaves of the church.—Ancren Riwle.
Various names were given to the enclosed person : inclusus, inclusa, reclusus, reclusa, and the indefinite anachorita are used synonomously in records. Ancre was of common gender in Middle English ; anker and ancresse occur later. Lucy “ye ankereswoman” is mentioned in the Hundred Rolls. A study of the Christian names which appear in the Appendix to this volume seems to show that more women than men undertook this austere vocation. So large is their number, indeed, that for lack of space only a few typical persons can be mentioned.
I. THE ANCHORITE
1. Adjoining Parish Churches
The author of the Ancren Riwle [this was a book of rules that governed the way an anchorite lived and worshipped] makes a play upon the word ancre ; she is “anchored under the church as an anchor under a ship, to hold the ship so that neither waves nor storms may overwhelm it”. Enclosed persons were usually attached to some church in order that they might derive spiritual advantages from it, and at the same time confer spiritual benefits upon the parish. Being a holy place, it was suitable for a dedicated person, and it was also a frequented spot for one who lived partly upon alms. The churchyard not only stood
for a wilderness, but seemed a fitting habitation for one, as it were, dead to the world.
celebrated anchorite of
Wulfric died in 1154, and was buried in his cell by the Bishop of Bath who had visited him on his death-bed. The monks of Montacute sought to obtain possession of the saint’s body, but Osbern the priest interposed, and the remains were translated to the adjoining church. Miracles subsequently took place there, and the shrine became a place of pilgrimage. The north chapel is still known as “Wulfric’s aisle”.
interesting recluse was
Lauretta, Countess of Leicester. Her
mother and brother were amongst those persons “miserably famished” at
command. Her father, William de Braose,
a man of singular piety, escaped, and died in an abbey in
A more familiar name is that of Katherine of Ledbury. She was the daughter of John Giffard, Baron of Brimsfield, and was born in 1272. Her husband, Nicholas, Baron Audley, died in 1299, leaving her with two young sons and a daughter.1
No more is heard of the Lady Audley until 1312, when she gave away into lay hands a portion of her maternal inheritance. Since the deed is witnessed at Ledbury by the bishop and the vicar, it may be presumed that she had already taken up her abode there, or was about to be enclosed by the bishop. In 1323, “Katherine de Audele, recluse of Ledbury,” was receiving £30 a year through the sheriff, and as the sum was paid out of lands which were in the custody of her husband’s executor, it seems probable that she had made some arrangement about her property in order to obtain a pension.
Around these prosaic facts the following poetic legend grew up. In obedience to a vision which bade her not to rest until she came to a town where the bells should ring untouched by man, Katherine and her maid Mabel wandered from place to place, following out of Worcestershire into Herefordshire the hoof-marks of the lady’s mare which had been stolen—prints still shown in the sandstone at Whelpley Brook. The expected miracle was manifested at Ledbury, and there, it may be under the shadow of the bell-tower, the Lady Katherine determined to remain. The story is familiar through Wordsworth’s sonnet :—
When human touch
(as monkish books attest)
“Saint” Catherine of
Ledbury is a late addition to the tale, suggested, doubtless, by the
dedication-name of the
There were also
cells attached to
many town churches. The foundation of
some of these was so remote as to be lost in obscurity.
Cambrensis was, that
King Harold, sorely wounded, fled from
“Intimation to R[obert
Grosseteste] bishop of
In the quietude
of the closet,
many a solitary strove to shut out the city’s turmoil.
Edward III gave alms to eight anchorites, as
well as to three hermits, in
wills abound in
references to persons living the solitary life.
Lord Scrope bequeaths money to anchorites in twenty
villages and market
towns, as well as to those in and about
(2) In Conventual Houses
The Austin Friary at Droitwich had a cell on the south side of the choir of the conventual church. It was founded by Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who stipulated that the candidate nominated by the founder’s heirs, should be religious and devout, of the same order as the convent, or willing to submit to the prior ; and that he should not be a burden on a house which was pledged to poverty.
Friars and the Black
Friars favoured the solitary life. The
Carmelites of Norwich had two cells.
Thomas Bradley (p. 163) dwelt in that next the entrance of
friary. Dame Emma, daughter of Sir Miles
Stapilton, was probably enclosed in the chamber under Holy Cross
apart for women. She was buried in the
church of the friary in 1442. Other
Carmelite nuns took similar vows, e.g. Alice Wakleyne of
Lynn, and Agnes
friars were enclosed at
(3) Adjoining Chapels
cells attached to
chapels which were neither parochial nor directly monastic. Henry II pensioned Geldwin, inclusus
“Block up the doors of the chapel beside our great hall there, and let a door be made in the chancel towards the reclusorium : in which reclusorium let there be made an altar in the chapel of the blessed Edward, and above that reclusorium in the turret let the chamber of the clerks be made”.
A chaplain, probably a recluse, was to perform masses for the soul of Alienora of Brittany, the king’s cousin.
During the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, a succession of solitary women dwelt in the chapel of St. Helen by the castle at Pontefract. They were in receipt of a pension from the lords of the town.5
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frequently situated in
places of thoroughfare, e.g. “in the midst of the town” at
The place of seclusion is called indifferently domus anachoritæ, reclusorium, inclusorium, reclusagium, and anchoragium. Since English sources of information are scanty on this subject, we are obliged to turn to foreign writers. Grimlaic in his Regula Solitariorum6 directs that the dwelling be very small and surrounded, if possible, by an enclosed garden. Two anchorites might share a single chamber. If the recluse had disciples, they dwelt in a separate apartment and served him through the window. The cell communicated with the church ; but if the inmate were a priest, he also had a consecrated oratory. A Bavarian Rule directs that the cell be of stone, 12 feet square. Through one window, towards the choir, the recluse partook of the Blessed Sacrament ; through another, on the opposite side, he received his food ; a third, closed with glass or horn, lighted the dwelling.7
In the Ancren Riwle, particular instructions are given concerning the windows. “Hold no conversation with any man out of a church window, but respect it for the sake of the holy sacrament which ye see therethrough. “ Communication was held through a parlour window, small, narrow, and always fast on every side.8 Even when the recluse unclosed her shutter, she was hidden by a curtain—a black cloth bearing a symbolic white cross. “The black cloth also teacheth an emblem, doth less harm to the eyes, is thicker against the wind, more difficult to see through, and keeps its colour better against the wind and other things.”
The house, which might consist of several apartments, often
included an oratory in which Mass was celebrated from time to time. There was an austere simplicity about the building. Abbot Aelred did not approve of covering the naked walls with pictures and carvings, or of decking the chapel with a variety of hangings and images : such ornaments savoured of vanity. He decreed that the altar should have upon it only a fair white cloth and a crucifix :—
“Now shal I shewe the how thou shalt arraye thyn oratory. Arraye thyn autier with white lynnen clothe, the whiche bitokeneth both chastite and symplenesse. . . . In this autere sette an ymage of cristis passion, that thou may have mynde and se hou he sette and spredde his armes abrood to resceyve thee and al mankynde to mercy, if thai wil axe it. And if it plese the, sette on that oo side an ymage of our Lady, and a nother on that other syde of seynt John.”9
The Rites of Durham contains a description (1593) of one such chamber within the cathedral. It was a loft, evidently a wooden structure, close to the high altar and behind St. Cuthbert’s shrine :—
“At the east end of
Alley of the Quire, betwixt two pillars opposite, was the goodlyest
porch, which was called the Anchoridge, havinge in it a marveillous
roode, with the most exquisite pictures of Marye and John, with an
altar for a
Monke to say dayly masse ; beinge in antient time inhabited with an
Anchorite. . .
. The entrance to this porch
anchoridge was upp a paire of faire staires adjoyninge to the north
dore of St.
Cuthbert’s Feretorie.” [a Feretory is a shrine that contains the bones
relics of a saint.]
There was also an anchorage adjoining Chichester Cathedral. William Bolle, rector of Aldrington, resigned his benefice, and obtained permission to construct a cell and retire thither. It was agreed that after his death it should pass into the bishop’s hands. The chamber, 29 feet long and 24 feet wide, communicated with the Lady chapel.
The anchorite attached to Sherborne Abbey dwelt in the chapel of St. Mary le Bow on the south of the thirteenth-century Lady chapel (now part of the School). An inmate of this place is mentioned in the codicil to the will of Lady Alice West : “Also, for hit was for-yete byfore in this testament, I
bequethe to the Reclus of Shirbourn, whos Surname is Arthour,10 xls. for to do and to preye as othere Reclus forseyd Shulleth don and preye”.
The cell at
There was no
rule as to the
situation of such dwellings. The records
are apt to be vague, as, for instance, that a religious woman abode “in
remote corner of the church”.
Information is sometimes supplied incidentally, e.g. a
Faversham desires to be buried on the north side of the churchyard,
the door of the anchoress. Occasionally,
however, some particulars are given.
Juliana, anchoress of
Writing of the
were also on the south. That at the west end of Crewkerne church was still standing in the seventeenth century.
many recluses were
dwelling “under the eaves of the church,” the church itself has in many
been rebuilt, and no traces of the cell can be found.
Thus even in ancient buildings (for example,
in St. Michael’s and St. Peter’s at St. Albans) there is no clue as to
position of the annexed chambers. In
none of the eleven fine churches described by Mr. McCall in Richmondshire
Churches have indications
of cells been found, although recluses are known to have dwelt in three
those parishes, viz. Burneston, Kirkby, Wiske, and Wath.
It must not be forgotten, however, that the
dwelling might stand apart in the churchyard, as at
In several churches architectural features confirm the records. Two cells in the south have been described by Mr. P. M. Johnston, and three in the north by Mr. J. R. Boyle.
Hartlip (Kent).—That of Hartlip (Plate XXVI), where a certain Robert was anchorite, remains at the west end of the north aisle.
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Staindrop.—Mr. Boyle describes a chamber with an ancient fire-place over the vestry of this church. At the head of the stone newel staircase is a square-headed window of three lights, the mullions of which are cut askew from east to west in order to command the high altar.
church has retained what is probably the
most complete anchorite’s house remaining in
It may be well to mention certain supposed cells, which have not at present been authenticated by documentary evidence.
Bengeo (Herts) and Chipping Ongar (Essex).—These
“ankerholds” were investigated by Mr. J. T. Micklethwaite and Mr. Dewick.16 In both cases openings were found in the north walls, and above them holes which might have held the timbers supporting a lean-to building. At Chipping Ongar traces of a shuttered lancet window were discovered.
Letherhead (Surrey).—The foundations of a chamber on the north side of the chancel were excavated by Mr. Johnston, and were described and illustrated in the Surrey Archeological Collections (XX).
Compton.—Another Surrey church has a chamber annexed to it on the south side. A narrow window communicates with the churchyard, but the outer doorway is blocked. The arch of the inner doorway, leading into the church, springs from the capital of the sanctuary arch. The hagioscope [inner window], deeply splayed, is so close to the high altar as to be over the aumbry [cupboard] adjoining the piscina ; it is cruciform, of graceful and uncommon design.
Traces of the anchorage, then, may reasonably be sought near the chancel. It might be an upper room, but a chamber in the tower or over the porch was a most unlikely abode for the recluse. Since the term “leper’s window” has become discredited, there is a tendency with some to describe any inexplicable low-side window as an “anchorite’s squint”. It is well to bear in mind that even where a habitable room exists, with fire-place, seat, or book-desk, it may have been a sacristy or a priest’s lodging. There is abundant opportunity for research on this subject, and it is much to be desired that architects should follow up the clues supplied by records.
genealogy see Staffs. Coll., N.S.,
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