By Cody E. Maynus
Obsculta, Vol. 9 (2016)
Abstract: In addition to monastic and eremitic vocations, medieval women embraced with great fervor the anchoritic life. This unique method of separation produced a multiplicity of metaphorical language to describe the experience of the anchoress and her enclosure. This essay examines a cross section of that metaphorical language, focusing on those which are principally generative and paradoxical.
Introduction: Medieval religious life is nothing if not metaphorical. While consecrated persons living a religious life certainly experienced the sometimes harsh realities of lived monastic life — imposed penance, regular bloodletting, strict obedience — they also experienced a sort of highly metaphorical secondary life steeped in rich and sometimes fantastical imagery.
While this language of symbolism was true for consecrated life on whole, it was particularly true for a truly unique subset of consecrated life: the anchoress. The anchoritic life was a particular manifestation of the secluded or eremitical life. While both practitioners of eremitical and anchoritic life left the conventions of society in a variety of ways in order to undertake an ascetic or contemplative life, it is only the anchoress whose seclusion brings with it an element of stability. For, indeed, the religious seclusion of the anchoress was to be lived in one — and only one — location: her anchorhold.