Anchoress - a True Tale of Medieval and Mystical - Women Entombed for Life

Updated on March 24, 2019
Nell Rose profile image

Nell is a trained Psychologist and lives in London England. She has been writing since she was a child.

Anchoress middle ages woman with candle church
Anchoress middle ages woman with candle church

A Time of Belief

In a time of Mystical belief, when men and women believed solely in the will of the Father, there came to be a brave and devoted group of women. They called themselves the Anchoress.


Back in time, in the period we call Medieval, there was so much hardship and disease. Many people believed everything was connected to God. The Catholic Church held the population in its grip, and many men and women turned to the religious orders to live out their lives. Some did this out of piety, some out of desperation. The world was a harsh place. Every family, and every turn of life around them was set by God's will. Nobody had any idea that disease was caused by germs, and the howling winds were just part of nature. Each and every natural event must be God's plan, or His anger. Amongst this turmoil, the towns and villages were filthy. People were dying, and pitifully poor.

The local population tried to grow their own crops, sometimes successfully, other times a disaster. War's ravished the land and out of desperation came the Anchoress.

This is the story of a young woman. Just one of many.

A young girl, brought up in a devout household, suddenly comes of age. She has been praying to God ever since she was a small child, and now, on the cusp of womanhood, decides to take the ultimate leap of faith. Poverty or hardship have worn her down. She is mentally old, her hands are calloused and she is so tired of feeling ill or frightened.

Collecting her things, she goes to see the Bishop. She ask him if she can become an Anchoress. Before she is accepted, she has to undertake a few tests to see if she is physically or mentally suitable for such a dramatic departure from her everyday life. What she is about to do is nothing short of complete bravery.

Because of the test, she will be placed in isolation for a short time to see if she can take the solitude and loneliness.

Then the Bishop, finding her suitable, will try to find out whether there was adequate money to cover her complete withdrawal from life. Somebody had to pay for her to eat.

When he has decided that the girl had passed all of these tests, the Bishop would contemplate where she would spend the rest of her life.

The Bishop, once he was satisfied, called her to him. He explained what was about to happen. After her acceptance, he then performed the ceremony or rite of enclosure. From this day forward he would be in charge of her wellbeing and support.

View from a window
View from a window

the Rule of Life

Also known as the Ancrene Wisse, the Rule of Life stated that the Anchoress was the anchor underneath the Church, similar to an anchor of a ship. Because of this, the woman would be placed within the anchorhold, a small building attached to the side of the Church. The Rule stated that the cell should have three windows including a 'squint'. A small peephole that opened into the Church so the Anchoress could take Holy Communion and follow the services.

The second window was to serve as a food hatch and it was also where she could talk to her assistant. And the third was for the people to come to seek out her wisdom, prayers and advice. If she had a vision, or Mystical experience, the people could come and Pray with her.

Anne Katherina Emmerich,an 18th Century seer and later a Saint. Taken to a convent when she suffered Stigmata. This picture captures the essense of the earlier Anchoresses.
Anne Katherina Emmerich,an 18th Century seer and later a Saint. Taken to a convent when she suffered Stigmata. This picture captures the essense of the earlier Anchoresses.

Enclosure - the Living Entombment and Burial of the Anchoress

The ceremony of Entombment was her life into death. When the Anchoress enters the cell which will be her home until her physical body dies, the ritual is one of burial. It is an act of binding her body and material possessions to the body of Christ. In affect, she is being buried alive. Officially she is dead to the world.


She will fast for one night and make confession. Then, in the morning she will attend Mass. By this time she would have been feeling either nervous or elated. Then, she would prostrate herself in front of the altar.

Carrying a lighted Taper, a procession of the congregation would then chant, and say prayers as they followed her out, and start making their way towards her cell. When the girl entered the dark room, one of the first things she would have seen would have been her grave. Known as the Memento Mori, she would have to take part in her own funeral.

Placing her on a funeral bier, she would then be given the Last Rites. Then, prayers echoeing from the walls, the Anchoress would be left alone, staring down at the open grave which would be left until she died.

Through the darkness, as the voices of the congregation began to move away, the only sound she would hear is the noise of the priests, as they hammered and plastered the last bricks into place. She had now been buried alive. The walls, entrance and any other openings were bricked up, and totally sealed.

Sometimes there would be a door that was locked from the outside. But most of the time, they would wall in the Anchoress. Left alone in the isolation of her cell, the grave open in front of her, she must have been frightened. Even the most devout would have had a feeling of dread and panic.

Kneeling down beside her bed, she would have taken comfort in the Cruxifix and Altar. The only other objects that she was allowed to have in her cell.

Medieval Anchoress

Julian of Norwich famous Anchoress
Julian of Norwich famous Anchoress

Clothing and Everyday Life

All alone, left to contemplate her life and surroundings, she would have been cold and uncomfortable. The winters would have been freezing. Being only allowed to wear a Pilch, a triangle piece of material, or a garment to keep out the chill. And in the Summer, a kirtle (dress) with mantle, (cloak) black headress wimple, cape and veil.

Within those walls, she would have eaten vegetables for food that had been passed through the small window, and at the same time, she would pass out her water pot that she had used for waste. Afterwards, for the rest of the day, she would Pray and sit in silence. After being there for a while, she would be allowed to sew embroidery, and have writing materials. Many of the famous Anchoresses wrote books of Prayers and devotions, Most of which are still around today.

Her whole life revolved around these acts, mostly giving her time to people who wanted her to pray for them. Sitting at the small window, her only contact with the outside world, the people who wanted her help.

One of the most important things of the Rule was that she musn't be allowed to get too comfortable. At all times she must 'flagellate her skin' (whip) Wear course garments that itched and scratched her body, and and sleep on a hard bed. She must have devotion, compassion, pity, mercy and charity.

The Death of an Anchoress

When her body gave up, or she grew old, the Anchoress would die in the cell that she had lived in all of her days. Most of the time she was buried in the Anchorhold, occasionally she would be taken out and buried in the Church yard. Each day, when she had been alive, she had to meditate on her own mortality by staring into the grave, and, kneeling down on the cold floor, scoop up some dirt from the hole. She was never allowed to forget about her last days on Earth.

Anchorite Cell

Anchorite Cell
Anchorite Cell

Fortitude Devotion and Strength

On occasion some Anchoresses were allowed out of the cell to attend Mass. But most of the time, they were kept in a closed, walled up cell. The Bishop would stamp his Seal against the wall to signify his authority.

If the town or Church was sacked by pirates or looters, the Anchoresses would refuse to leave, and many were burned in their cell.

The life of an Anchoress was a hard, lonely and painful existence. Not only for the physical discomfort, but for the mental anguish. Or was it? We forget how different people were then. To us, today, it seems like an unbelievable torture, not only frightening, but downright terrifying. No sun ever entered her cell, and she would never see the beauty of nature around her. To see the grass grow, or feel the wind on her face.

But maybe back then, when all the other options were just as horrible, the life of an Anchoress may well have been an alternative that kept them alive. Both physically and Spiritually.


Imagine for just one moment, that this was still happening today. And the girl being sealed inside a tiny cell, never to see the sun again, is you, or your daughter. Chilling thought.

Julian of Norwich
Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich

One of the most famous Anchoressess was Julian of Norwich. 1342-1416. Nobody knows her real name as she took the name Julian from the Church that she resided in. At the age of 30, suffering with a severe illness, she began to have visions of Jesus. After she recovered, she became an Anchoress. She also became famous as the first woman to write in English, and produced the Sixteen revelations of Divine Love. She was also known to have been the woman who first introduced us to this famous saying:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

There were many quotes associated with Julian. This, I believe is the one that you will all recognise.

Julian of Norwich Cell
Julian of Norwich Cell

Questions & Answers

  • How did the medieval Anchoress cleanse herself?

    She was allowed out in the day to wander the grounds, and I believe it was at that time she would wash. But of course back then hygiene wasn't what it is today. She probably only ever washed occasionally.

  • Were there every any male "anchoresses"?

    Yes, they were Anchorites. But there were at least double the number of women than men. One of the most famous men was called Anthony the Great, Father of Christian Monasticism.

© 2011 Nell Rose


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    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      19 months ago from England

      How fascinating Francis! that's okay, I will take a look on the internet for it, and thank you, who would have guessed they still did it?

    • profile image


      19 months ago

      My brother who lives in Malaysia just sent me 17 pictures of a certain Sister Mary of "The Will of Jesus" who underwent the Rite of Enclosure on 21 Nov 2018 at St Joseph's Church, Batu Gajah, Perak, Malaysia. She is enclosed in a cell adjacent to the Church. Yes, she is an Anchoress. I am happy to send you the pictures if you are interested.

      God bless


    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      4 years ago from England

      Thanks Duane, yes you are right! lol!

    • Duane Townsend profile image

      Duane Townsend 

      4 years ago from Detroit

      What a sobering read. Great Hub.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Hi ocean, yes we are aren't we? its so hard to imagine, we always think history is so romantic, but the reality is far from it, thanks so much for reading, nell

    • oceansnsunsets profile image


      5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Nell, this is so interesting yet sad. Thanks for sharing this part of history with us. It's hard to imagine a time when life was so hard, we are so spoiled now in comparison I think!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Hi Audrey, its an amazing and bizarre lifestyle, thank goodness it was centuries ago! lol! to be a Nun or Monk yes, but Anchoress? No, I think I will pass! thanks for reading!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      5 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I found this hub to be so very interesting. I knew nothing about the Anchoress. What brave women!

      Thanks for adding the photo of the cell. It drew me right in!

      Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting and will share.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Thanks Jo, yes I totally agree with you, back then it was fanatical, whether in a good way or bad, just remember the Spanish Inquisition! lol!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Hi MaryTill, yes I remember reading that not many people join to be nuns or monks these days, its definitely a different world isn't it?

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Hi Bobbi, thanks for coming back, yes back then things were so different weren't they? Have a great New Year.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Thanks Mary, thanks for reading, yes its pretty strange isn't it? but the good thing was they never caught diseases! lol!

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      5 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      I must have missed this incredible hub. Pure insanity, why is it that something that is suppose to be based on love such as religion, cause so much misery? Fascinating as always.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      Isn't it amazing how the human spirit adapts itself? These women chose a life of solitude and deprivation, some for their own betterment, others to pray for the world.

      You are right Nell, it is hard to imagine in this day and age. Even nuns who live normal lives are seeing a huge decline in their population. Where will this all leave us in the future?

      Great read! Voted up, useful, and very interesting!!

      Happy New Year.

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

      Barbara Purvis Hunter 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Nell Rose,

      I had to read this again---and what a world we live in where things strange happens and is accepted by others seemingly to be normal.

      Have a great New Year of 2015,

      Bobbi Purvis

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Oh, my goodness! These poor women. I guess they knew what they were getting into to become an Anchoress, right? I've never heard of these women; fascinating subject, I enjoyed reading.

      Voted UP, etc. and shared.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Thanks so much Kim, I am glad you liked it, things were so much different back then weren't they?

    • klidstone1970 profile image

      இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу 

      5 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

      Nell, as usual you paint quite a picture with your writing. Your articles are always very interesting and you do an incredible job.


    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Hi Bobbi, thanks for the comments, yes those women were amazing weren't they? mind you at least they never caught the plague! lol!

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

      Barbara Purvis Hunter 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Nell Rose,

      I would say these women were brave beyond the call of duty. I would not do it.

      You have the most interesting stories---I just love them. You have a great Thursday.

      Bobbi Purvis

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      7 years ago from England

      Thanks so much midget, yes, their beauty was the wonder of their souls, amazing women, thanks for reading, nell

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      7 years ago from England

      Hi Jools, yes it gave me claustrophobic too, she was a brave woman, thanks so much for reading, nell

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      7 years ago from England

      Hi Sharkye, thanks so much for reading, yes you are right, the local people probably found great comfort in visiting her, and helped with the prayers, and of course there was an added bonus, if there was plague or illness the Anchoress wouldn't catch it! lol!

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      I always found the stories of the Anchorites to fascinating, in an exceptionally creepy way. Even though i am familiar with the story reading about it again in your hub gave me goosebumps. I can understand why they felt that the practice was right considering the mindset of the period. and who knows? Perhaps in a way they were helping. From a religious point of view, their sacrifices may have truly empowered their prayers for others. From a psychological point of view, the people on the outside probably found strength and comfort in knowing they had these 'anchors' praying for them.

      Let us just be perpetually thankful that we don't have to face choices of this kind today! Excellent hub, and truly beautiful.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Nell, found this absolutely fascinating. The photo of the cell gives a real sense of the claustrophobic space - all in the name of religion...don't get me started!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Wow, I'm Catholic...but I never knew about this division of beautiful women! Beauty in ultimate takes a great leap of faith indeed to do this. Great share, Nell!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Hi, Mark, I love history, and can't help but write about it, it may not be well known or particularly interesting to the general population, but I can't help it! lol! thanks again, nell

    • Mark Pitts profile image

      Mark Pitts 

      8 years ago from United States

      I love your writings bcause of the intrest they show for lesser known bits of history. Amazing,

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Hi, beth, I will have to get it, Toyah was a punk singer in the seventies over here, I think its the same one, her name is Wilcox though, thanks for coming back, cheers nell

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 

      8 years ago from Tennesee

      Nell, yes it was filmed in black and white and there is an actress named Toyah Wilson in it. If she's also a singer I was ignorant about that, lol But yeah, great film..and btw, the actor playing the part of the Reeve is pretty darned hunky, too :)

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, beth, I haven't seen it yet, I think there is only one film about it? is it the one with Toyah the singer in it? black and white, I believe, my dvds broken at the moment so I can't get it yet! everything electronic seems to break at the same time in my house! lol thanks for reading, cheers nell

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 

      9 years ago from Tennesee

      Nell, this is an interesting piece, although I tend to think that anyone who would commit themselves to such a life is either mentally ill or has a very strong aversion to the society she's in. Anyway, I enjoyed the historical info you provided here!

      Have you watched the film "Anchoress"? Its about a young woman who did this very thing and came to regret it. It is a powerful story, though I'm not sure die-hard Christians would appreciate the underlying pro-feminine and pro-sexuality messages. But you might enjoy it.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, healthp, thanks for reading, I really appreciate it, cheers nell

    • healthp profile image


      9 years ago

      interesting topic, thanks for sharing

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, attemptedhumour, it certainly was different then, I wonder what was going on in their minds when they did this? but of course the people loved to see her, especially back in those dark and not very hygienic days, thanks again nell

    • attemptedhumour profile image


      9 years ago from Australia

      And i think i'm devoted because i cooked dinner tonight. It seems a bit too devoted to me. But it was back in the bad old days and hopefully the honour of applying would overcome the hardships. I'm sure the congregation would have appreciated the sacrifice and gained from the wisdom that was dispensed. Cheers

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, Mary, yes you are right, the way of living back then was so different, we always seem to forget that, devotion to God was the norm, and it was a great honour, but how differently we do things today! thanks again nell

    • Sister Mary profile image

      Sister Mary 

      9 years ago from Isle of Man

      Hi Nell Rose

      This is a very interesting read. I can understand why such a life of pure devotion would seem attractive to a poor starving girl back then. Life was so precarious and the though of food and shelter for life must have been at some level tempting. Devotion to God was much more strictly followed with hell and damnation always to the forefront. It also would have brought some honour to the family I expect just as having a son or daughter in a religious order was not so long ago in many countries.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, Jlava, I am so glad you liked it! these women fascinate me, to be able to hide yourself away like that, without going completely mad, is unbelievable! I'd last two minutes! thanks again nell

    • Jlava73 profile image

      Jennifer Vasconcelos 

      9 years ago from Cyberspace and My Own World

      Simply Awesome! I have never heard of this and I was completely drawn in. Thanks for always enlightening me with your articles!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, Erin, these have always fascinated me, and I really liked doing all the research on it, thanks for liking it, cheers nell

      Hi, Sa'ge, yes you are so right, it got me thinking too! lol I am glad you liked it, thanks again as always, nell

    • Sa`ge profile image


      9 years ago from Barefoot Island

      Great hub Nel, always a great work that comes out from you :) When I read something like this my mind extends t the far reaches and so much pours like the less people know the more they can be controlled and how much control religion has over how people think, what they learn and how they live. We all make choices as to how we live by what we have learned about the world. In those times people knew so little and the church had so much control over peoples thoughts, ideals and lives.

      Knowledge seems to be the key a better life and yet we forget to look at the future consequences that can come from how we use that knowledge, like nuclear power etc.

      see what your hub did to my brain. LOL took me from ancient church and people to modern knowledge and people do with it. ignorance comes with many faces even to those who know a lot.. and that goes for me too. voted up and away girl... :) hugs :)

    • Erin LeFey profile image

      Erin LeFey 

      9 years ago from Maryland

      Nell, you never cease to find a really interesting story that I have never heard of! You are a top notch detective and researcher. I loved this article. Its amazing what some people will do for faith or protection - or maybe some other driving force or even paranoia. Wonderful hub and thanks for broadening my horizons!!! But be sure, this is one adventure I would not volunteer for!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, DzyM, it must have been so hard in those days, no wonder someone would put themselves away like this! lol but of course they were so much more religious in those days, not knowing anything else, thanks again nell

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Thanks Enlydia, I love doing all the research! it makes me feel as though I am back at college or uni! lol it is surprising how much info is not on the internet just yet, about any topic, if you can find a hole in the niche then you will start off a world wide search! ha ha happened to me with my Sleeping Girl of Turville hub, nobody else had put it on here! and that was all around the world! thanks again nell

    • Enlydia Listener profile image

      Enlydia Listener 

      9 years ago from trailer in the country

      I love it when you can find old books that have information not usually found on the internet. That is going to be one of my hobbies when I find time. Search through the 4 floor college library and look for old stuff. Some of the books were printed a couple hundred of years ago. Thanks again for your diligent reading and writing.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      9 years ago from Oakley, CA

      I had never heard of such a thing before. As with many ancient practices, I found it quite disturbing, but in light of other, even worse practices, probably not entirely surprising.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, Enlydia, I am glad you liked it, it was your fault you know! ha ha I found some on the internet, and some more in an old book I had, took me at least three days to do this one! phew! I will start doing easier ones from now on! lol it was trying to get images that was the problem, but I got them in the end! thanks again nell

      Hi, tebo, yes you are right, but maybe it was lack of contact with people that kept the germs off! lol thanks again nell

    • tebo profile image


      9 years ago from New Zealand

      Really interesting and I too have never heard of these women. It is difficult trying to imagine what it would be like living that way. They seemed to live a reasonable length life too without all the things we consider necessary like sunlight, fresh air and exercise.

    • Enlydia Listener profile image

      Enlydia Listener 

      9 years ago from trailer in the country

      Wow, not quite how I pictured it, but thanks for doing the did you get your hands on the information? My interest is even more piqued. Saint Julian's writing sounded so peaceful and happy, it is hard to associate the two images.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, Pras, thanks for reading, it was a really strange way of living back then, glad you enjoyed it, cheers nell

      Hi, Lily, ha ha hee hee! why not, oh let me please! lol thanks for the laugh!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      They're sounding like loose women all the more, bolster yourself woman, we cannot truck with their like! Love ya! lily

    • prasetio30 profile image


      9 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Beautiful story of a great woman and the history behind this. I had never heard about this and thank you very much for let me know this for sure. I always know I will be greeted with nice hub when I visit your hubs. Good job, Nell. My VOTE only for you. Cheers....

      Love and peace,

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, lily, glad you liked it, I have never heard of the Sibyls of Cumae, I will have to go investigate! lol good luck with the poem, thanks nell

    • lilyfly profile image

      Lillian K. Staats 

      9 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

      Oh, this tells me much! This is what I am! Minus the Bishop, and the windows! I adore this, but why, oh why did Bishops have to put his stamp on things? This reminds me of the Sibyls of Cumae, of which I have an inordinate fascination... and there is a poem in this too, Sweetpea! Excellent, excellent hub.... lily

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, Hello hello, yes you are right, another one of their crazy ideas way back when! lol thanks again nell

      Hi, Rose, pitch black more like! ha ha thanks again nell

      Hi, Kathi, it just goes to show the differences between then and now, but you never know, maybe somewhere around the world they are still doing this in one form or another, thanks again nell

      Hi, Taj, yes that is so true, thanks

      Hi, Simone, history always seems to be finding out strange practises from those times, amazing stuff though, must have been very hard, thanks for reading it, cheers nell

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Whoah, this is absolutely fascinating! O____O

      Just when you think history can't get any weirder.......

    • profile image


      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      It's remarkable how strong were the devotion of Anchoressess.

    • Fossillady profile image


      9 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Hello Nell, Hard to imagine the life of an Anchoress and the devotion or desperation that led one to such a least their life had an honorable purpose to serve others.

      Well written and easy to follow!

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      Wow, I can't even imagine what it would be like to be an Anchoress! No wonder they called it the Dark Ages!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, Chatkath, I expect they will say how barbaric we all are! lol thanks so much nell

      Hi, europe, thanks for reading, cheers nell

      Hi, david, thanks, I am not sure why these women did it, probably because of poverty and hardship, but back then they were really religious, they must have been very strong, cheers nell

      Hi, jpc, yes you are right, many people even today live lives that most people can't understand, but it is their religion, as long as they are happy, cheers nell

      Hi, Qudsia, you always make me laugh! lol and you hit the nail right on the head! thanks so much nell

      Hi, Case, neither would I! lol thanks again, cheers nell

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      I never knew that but I can't see that God would want that. It another crazyness from the church.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image


      9 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      i can say, without fear of contradiction, it is not a job I would have volunteered for!

    • QudsiaP1 profile image


      9 years ago

      Oh my goodness, this scared the hell out of me.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      9 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      I can surely say I can't go through what you have described in your hub. Faith touches people differently. Likewise, people express their faith differently. In the end we are saved by the grace of God through faith.

    • davidseeger profile image


      9 years ago from Bethany, OK

      Thanks for hub. I'm glad to have read it. There is really nothing for me to say about the practice. There are more things in this world than we have ever dreamt of. In your hub I didn't see anything that suggested that this was not of her own free will. So how do we associate this with the oppression by men? I suppose this was an excape from oppression?

    • europewalker profile image


      9 years ago

      Very interesting hub. A great read.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, Just Life, thanks for reading it, cheers nell

      Hi, drk, I would have been very claustrophobic! lol but some people would have been very spiritual in those days, maybe we have lost something along the way, thanks for reading, cheers nell

      Hi, Ruby, yes it a time where men ruled everything, there wasn't a lot of choice for women, its a chilling thought that the only alternative was this! thanks again nell

      Hi, Laura, thanks for reading, we where so different then, thank goodness we have more choices now, cheers nell

      Hi, Gerber, thanks so much! cheers nell

      Hi, Pamela, yes a little known subject, perhaps we are just trying to forget how women were treated in those days! lol cheers nell

      Hi, Jama, yes you are right! maybe the other nuns did, but these seem to be much more devoted, or maybe mentally in need of comfort, thanks nell

      Hi, Spirit, yes, it was strange, I wonder who came up with the idea! thanks as always, nell

      Hi, Alastar, they must have either been very mentally strong, or completely round the twist by the time they died! lol thanks again, nell

      Hi, Martie, yes, they were a very sad and lonely lot of women I would think, I think I remember reading that one of them left the anchorage, then asked to go back! and she was told that, if it didn't work out this time, she would be excommunicated! nice lot back then! do you really believe that you may have been there back then? please, write a hub, it would be amazing, thanks nell

      Hi, Hattie, I am glad that you found it interesting, thanks nell

      Hi, Cardisa, yes your right! glad it was back then! lol cheers nell

    • Chatkath profile image


      9 years ago from California

      Most interesting Nell, I always learn something new every time I visit your hubs, so much history. Religious practices were so incredible, it really makes one wonder what will be said about our times in thousands of years. What will they say? Fascinating - voted up and awesome.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, Christopher, thanks for reading it, a very strange time indeed! not for me though! lol

      Hi, schoolgirl, I believe that some Anchoresses chose to live more openly, still living in a cell, but being allowed to walk around the church etc, but most, especially at the beginning, did it this way, thanks nell

      Hi, Audrey, wow! can you imagine if you had? yep, two days at the most! lol thanks again nell

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, CMHypno, great minds think alike! lol seriously, they really fascinate me, what on earth was going on in their minds? unbelievable! cheers nell

      Hi, Docmo, thanks so much! glad you liked it, I don't think anybody's mental state could put up with it these days, thanks nell

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 

      9 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi Nell,

      This Anchoress bit is very daunting. Imagine being locked in that cave like cell for ever. Though grateful for those in history, I am glad I was not around to undertake the task.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, agusfanani, yes you are right, it must have been a different world back in those days, a very strange existance, thanks again nell

    • HattieMattieMae profile image


      9 years ago from Europe

      Very fascinating, as much as I have studied over the years of saints, and the catholic religion, I have never come across this. Something more to look into. Thanks for sharing, love learning about things they did in history. :)

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, SilverGenes, I didn't know a lot about them, but then I remembered Toyah Wilcox mention on TV that she had been in a film called Anchoress, that started me of thinking ages ago, and so I thought I would look into it more, brave women, or maybe just desperate! thanks again nell

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, Luis thank you for reading it, and I am glad you enjoyed it, cheers nell

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, quotations, it does seem really bizarre even for the Middle Ages, the people of the day's mindset must have been so different, amazing to think it happened, thanks so much nell

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      I remember how shocked I was when I heard for the first time about those practices in the Middle Ages. I was in Utrecht where one was buried in the wall of a church. She was in fact fathered by a priest. Can’t remember the woman’s name – it begins with a B – I do have a book about her – perhaps I should write a hub about her to add to this one of yours, Nell. This kind of stories make me extremely sad, angry, perplex, all in one. And to think that was the norm. Those women acquired admiration and respect in that horrible way; they were envied by other women who had to bore and raise children in precarious circumstances; they were regarded as ‘close to God’ and therefore they had the power to make the lives of wives and mothers more tolerable through prayers. Tragic! With all the wars of that era there were not enough men for all the women. Woman and children found refuge in the church.

      I’m so grateful to live in this era. But when I read stories like this, I can swear I’ve lived that kind of life once upon a time.

      Nell, this is a heartbreaking tale, very well presented. Voted up and awesome.

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Anchor of the church. Absolutely eerie. Visions a- plenty in a situation like that no doubt. And as if this wasn't enough - get a little too comfy and out comes whatever one used back then for some flagellattion in addition to the grave staring. Did the church believe this would bring God's favor on their church or what? One can either admire or pity these women. Entombed it was and thank you Nell for this pro looking and most interesting hub.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 

      9 years ago from Isle of Man

      Wow, what a great read! This was such an interesting hub about something I had never heard about. I would love to know more about why the church came up with this form of devotion in the first place. It is hard for us to imagine why a girl would choose such a life but then again that was another time. Thank you Nell.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      If living in isolation may have been less harsh than life outside the cell, I think I'm glad I didn't live in the age when this practice was considered "normal". Also can't help but think that the population in general would've been much better served if these women had been allowed to travel the countryside, rather than requiring believers and troubled souls to visit with them through a hole in the wall.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a part of history that I didn't know and it is absolutely fascinating. You explained the whole procedure very well and I enjoyed this hub very much. Certainly their lives did seem pretty barbaric and yet they were being true to their beliefs. Thanks for sharing this information with us.

    • Gerber Ink profile image

      Charlotte Gerber 

      9 years ago from upstate New York

      A wonderful hub on an interesting subject. Thanks Nell!

    • Laura in Denver profile image

      Laura Deibel 

      9 years ago from Aurora, CO

      Interesting topic. It does seem kind of barbaric, but then those were very different times.


    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      9 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Nell, This is chilling. In our time we would definitely label the women mentally ill and depressed. I see it as Man's unjustifiable rule over women. I know that was not even considered back then, but it should have been. I really did enjoy the article, i'd never heard of this practice.


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Neil- This was fantastic. I could contemplate on having or imagining what it would be like to experience this type of devotion and silence. Do you think you had a past life as an Anchoresses If you believe in past lives then imagine what an Anchorness learned practicng this 24 hrs. for the years she lived.

    • profile image

      Just Life 

      9 years ago

      I had never before heard of this. Intetresting and thought provoking. Rated up.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      I tend to think that devoting oneself to religion of any kind is a kind of "protection" from the real world. Believe it or not, when I was in my late teens, I considered being a nun - don't think I didn't see that dial a nun number up there either~ Unfortunately, in my case, I'm afraid they would have kicked me out within a day or two for behavior unbecoming a nun. Very interesting piece, Nell and definitely hard to live that way in my humble opinion!

    • schoolgirlforreal profile image


      9 years ago

      As you say in your article, the women did this willingly...I recall St. Therese of the Child Jesus who as her 5 or 6 sisters did, became a Carmelite nun who are cloistered..which not all nuns are, she had a strong desire to be Jesus' spouse, a calling for a vocation it's called, she begged the bishop to be admitted at age 15. Yes, there must be a special calling to make one desire to be isolated and pray like this. Agreed with christopheranton this must have been a spiritually richer time than the age we now live in.........It's interesting...but reading your account of the anchoress is weird cause I never heard of it quite like that, perhaps that was the beginning-more hardcore- of cloistered nuns..but yes there are people who want to do things like is odd though

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      9 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Self sacrifice, and the tradition of praying for others has always been a feature of the catholic religion.

      I'm sure these anchoresses are in Heaven now, and a lot more have been saved because of their intercessions.

      Thanks Nell for the reminder of a time, that may have been very harsh in some particulars, but spirtually was probably a lot richer than the age we now live in.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      9 years ago from UK

      Fascinating bit of history. Illustrates the intensity of belief and self discipline that must have been involved. conventional psychology may have other opinions to say about the mental state of such self induced imprisonment, even in the name of God. Brilliant bit of writing Nell. voted up.

    • CMHypno profile image


      9 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      I think that we must be telepathic or something Nell, because I was thinking of Julian of Norwich the other day and wondering whether it would make a good hub! Interesting article on the anchoress. The ascetic, religious life does look very unattractive to us these days, but as you say, people's perceptions and expectations were very different back than.

    • agusfanani profile image


      9 years ago from Indonesia

      A very interesting story. It must have been very hard to live in such seclusion and I think only people with strong piety could make sacrifice like that.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This is new to me. I had no idea such things were practised but as you say, it may have been a much better existence than the one outside the walls depending on one's situation in life. It is truly amazing what we humans are capable of doing. Very interesting hub! Thank you, Nell - I learned a lot :)

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      9 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Excellent hub, and composed quite well, especially from a historical viewpoint.

    • quotations profile image

      Robert P 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Nell, as usual you have shed light on a very interesting episode in history. It is difficult to understand the weird perversion of belief that would have led people to volunteer for this, and for the rest of the Christian community to participate in it. I am sure that they did this from the best of motives, but this practice is clearly contrary to all Christian teachings, so it is amazing to me that it became widespread.


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