Anchoritic Traditions of Medieval Europe

Anchoritic Traditions of Medieval Europe

Edited by Liz Herbert McAvoy

Boydell Press, 2010
ISBN: 9781843835202

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.


Introduction, by Liz Herbert McAvoy

Anchorites in the Low Countries, by Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker

Anchorites in German-speaking regions, by Gabriela Signori

Anchorites in the Italian tradition, by M. Sensi

Anchorites in the Spanish tradition, by G. Cavero Domínguez

Anchoritism in medieval France, by P. L’Hermite-Leclercq

Anchoritism: the English Tradition, by Mari Hughes-Edwards

Anchorites in late medieval Ireland, by Colmán Clabaigh

Anchorites in medieval Scotland, by Anna McHugh

Anchorites and medieval Wales, by Liz Herbert McAvoy

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