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Distributed for University of Wales Press

Reading Medieval Anchoritism

Ideology and Spiritual Practices

Distributed for University of Wales Press

Reading Medieval Anchoritism

Ideology and Spiritual Practices

Medieval anchorites embraced the most extreme and punishing form of solitude known to the medieval world—enclosure in the same four walls for life—in order to forge a closer connection with God. As a way of understanding the lives, beliefs, and experiences of anchorites, Reading Medieval Anchoritism explores guides to the anchorite life that were published in England throughout the Middle Ages. Mari Hughes-Edwards surveys five centuries of the guides’ negotiations of four anchoritic ideals—enclosure, solitude, chastity, and orthodoxy—as well as two vital spiritual practices, asceticism and contemplative experience. The book explodes the long-standing myth of the anchorhold as solitary death-cell, revealing it instead as the site of potential intellectual change and spiritual growth.

190 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Religion and Culture in the Middle Ages

Medieval Studies


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“A comprehensive and useful overview of guidance texts for anchorites, one that pulls together the substantial amount of work on anchorites and anchoritic literature produced in the last twenty-five years. . . . Hughes-Edwards brings relevant and up-to-date scholarship to bear throughout, and her bibliography is thorough, if not exhaustive.”

Lara Farina, West Virginia University | Speculum

Reading Medieval Anchoritism is comprehensive, systematic, and thorough. The first study to trace anchoritic ideology over five centuries, it show s that the goal of the anchoritic was not extreme suffering and privation but heightened contemplative experience. It amasses important evidence that anchorites had a range of acceptable social functions and modifies scholarship’s current image of anchoritic enclosure as merely social death.”

Derek Pearsall, University of York

“In this impressive study, Hughes-Edwards writes a new history of medieval English anchoritism that rivals the work of Warren’s landmark Anchorites and their Patrons in Medieval England. She traces, patiently and sensitively, the evolution of five centuries of anchoritic ideology, placing it in the context of a wide range of rarely considered, but remarkably innovative, theological texts. The results are profound and surprising. No scholar of medieval anchoritism or indeed the history of medieval ascetism can afford to ignore this book.”

Robert J. Hasenfratz, University of Connecticut

Table of Contents

Series Editors’ Preface

Part I. Anchoritic Spirituality in Isolation: The English Anchoritic Guides
1. Introducing the Guides
2. Anchoritic Enclosure
3. Anchoritic Solitude and Sociability
Part II. Anchoritic Spirituality in Context: English Anchoritism and the Wider Medieval World
4. Anchoritism and Asceticism
5. Anchoritism and Contemplative Experience

Appendix: Guidance Text Overview
Select Bibliography

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