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The Anchorhold

A Solitary Religious Life

Perhaps the model of religious life that best describes how I live solitary religious life, is that of the anchorite or anchoress. 


One of the most familiar examples of an anchoress is Julian of Norwich. Julian lived in the fourteenth century, in Norwich, walled within a small cell, or anchorhold, attached to a church. 


The usual understanding of the anchorite’s cell would be that it had three windows: a window onto the Church, through which the person could receive the Sacrament, a window onto the world where people came for counsel, and a window or door for use of the servant who took care of the needs of the individual. 


Looking beyond that picture of the medieval cell, there are some helpful ideas as to how the life might be translated into modern day life:


  •  A life lived with a degree of withdrawal from people around, but not an absolute solitude.

  • A life literally ‘anchored’ within the local community

  • A life of prayer governed by a rule of life

  • A life with very definite points of contact with the world for service

  • A life that is part of the genre of religious life

These help to define my lifestyle as distinct from both traditional religious life and hermit life.

In the first chapter of his rule when speaking of different types of religious, St Benedict writes:


‘Second there are the Anchorites or Hermits, who have come through the test of living in a monastery for a long time, and have passed beyond the first fervor of monastic life.  Thanks to the help and guidance of many, they are now trained to fight against the devil.  They have built up their strength and go from the battle line in the ranks of their brethren to the single combat of the desert.  Self-reliant now, without the support of another, they are ready with God’s help to grapple single-handed with the vices of body and mind…’

Although there are aspects of the medieval picture of an anchoress may not be helpful, the image of the three windows within the cell reflects the idea of there being three faces to the journey into God:

  • Prayer

  • Travelling with all humanity as a part of the Creation

  • Becoming more aware of myself and who I am.


These three strands reflect the threefold nature of the Trinity, the threefold nature of Baptismal vows and the threefold nature of my vows as a religious.


Thus my life is based upon the traditions of Monastic Life, Benedictine Life and Anchorite Life.

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