ANNORA, RECLUSE DE IFTEL AND THE WORLD OF MEDIAEVAL ANCHORITES
A Celebration in Honour of Annora was held at St Mary’s Church, Iffley, on 7 July 2018.
Papers were presented by:
Dr Henrietta Leyser, emeritus Fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford. Her publications include Hermits and the New Monasticism (1984); A social history of women in England, 450-1500 (1995); Christina of Markyate: a Twelfth-Century Holy Woman ed. with Samuel Fanous (2005); introduction to Cher Alme: texts of Anglo-Norman Piety, ed. Tony Hunt, trans. Jane Bliss (2010).
Dr Cate Gunn, author of Ancrene Wisse: From Pastoral Literature to Vernacular Spirituality (2008) and the co-editor (with Catherine Innes-Parker) of Texts and Traditions of Medieval Pastoral Care (2009) and (with Liz Herbert McAvoy) of Medieval Anchorites in their Communities (2017). She has published papers on pastoral and anchoritic literature of the thirteenth century – and on the otherwise unknown anchoress of Colne Priory. She taught for many years in continuing education.
Professor Catherine Innes-Parker is Professor of English at the University of Prince Edward Island. Her recent publications include The Wooing of Our Lord and The Wooing Group Prayers, 2015; Anchoritism in the Middle Ages: Texts and Traditions ed with Naoe Kukita Yokishawa and ‘Þe Wohunge of Ure Lauerd and the Tradition of Affective Devotion: Rethinking Text and Audience.’
Dr Hilary Pearson, convenor. After a degree in physics and a career as an intellectual property lawyer she returned to Oxford to do a DPhil in medieval history. Her thesis was on the writings of a 15C Spanish nun, Teresa de Cartagena. She has a general interest in medieval religious women and has contributed a chapter to a book on Teresa of Avila, to be published by Legenda
INTRODUCTION, Hilary Pearson
PART ONE: The world of Mediaeval Anchorites
1. The medieval English hermit: an introduction, Henrietta Leyser
2. The Life and Times of Annora, Hilary Pearson
3. Timeline for the life of Annora de Briouze
4. Record of Gifts to Annora
5. Annora and Ancrene Wisse, Cate Gunn
6. Annora’s Reading, Catherine Innes-Parker
PART TWO: The Rite of Enclosure
7. Enclosing Annora in her Cell, Hilary Pearson
Thousands of people visit St Mary the Virgin, Iffley, Oxford every year to marvel at an almost unchanged survivor of Romanesque architecture with its extraordinary carvings.
Yet what makes St Mary’s particularly special is its association with Annora, a recluse (c. 1190-1241), whose eventful life and enclosed ministry merited enough of a written record to give us an insight into the little known world of 12th century worship and commitment to the service of God in Christ Jesus.
2018 marks what is possibly the 777th anniversary of her death. In commemoration, the Church wishes to make known to a wider audience Annora’s fascinating life and the world of early mediaeval anchoresses. To this end, Living Stones, St Mary’s educational and heritage arm, asked me to put together a colloquium of anchorine scholars for a lively and enjoyable afternoon of learning followed by a festal evensong. This document is in support of this commemoration and is designed to bring Annora’s world to life for the edification of the communities and visitors St Mary’s serves as well as a wider audience fascinated by the lives of anchoresses.
I am particularly grateful to a number of people, near and afar, who have assisted me in bringing this project to fruition. First and foremost, the Co-ordinator of Living Stones, Penny Tyack, and the Vicar of St Mary’s, Andrew McKearney, also the Parochial Church Council and all our contributors, not least the Girl Choristers of Frideswide Voices. We are also grateful to Professor Eddie Jones of Exeter University for allowing us to draw from the pre-publication version of the Sarum Enclosure Rite.
To all of these committed contributors, we from St Mary’s Living Stones, our communities and visitors owe a debt of gratitude.
INTRODUCTION, Hilary Pearson
The evidence that there was an anchoress here in Iffley in the first half of the thirteenth century comes from the royal records from the reign of Henry III. These record gifts to a recluse in Iffley, mainly of firewood. When the recluse is named, three times the name given is ‘Annore’ and twice ‘Alienor’, but the latter is ‘Eleanor’ which was an alternative form of Annora, so it is likely that they are the same person.
The connection with Annora de Briouze, a daughter of the baron William de Briouze and wife of Hugh de Mortimer, was made by Powicke in his essay on her sister Loretta, Countess of Leicester. His reason for making the identification was a deed permitting Annora to retain an annual sum from her dowry estates given to her by her father as income while she lived as a recluse. This deed was dated about a year before the first of the recorded royal gifts. Although we have very little documentation about Annora herself, this connection to a prominent family allows us to learn more about her life.
Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant, (London, 2015)
Crouch, David, ‘The Complaint of King John against William de Briouze (c. September 1210): The Black Book of the Exchequer Text’ in Magna Carta and the England of King John, Loengard Janet S., (Woodbridge, 2010), pp. 168-179
Huscroft, Richard, Tales from the Long Twelfth Century: The Rise and Fall of the Angevin Empire,(New Haven and London, 2016), chapter 8
Powicke, Frederick M., “Loretta, Countess of Leicester” in Historical Essays in Honour of James Tait, Edwards J.G. et al, eds., (Manchester, 1933), pp. 247-271
Warren, Ann K., Anchorites and their Patrons in Medieval England, (Berkeley, 1985)
PART ONE: THE WORLD OF MEDIAEVAL ANCHORITES
1. THE MEDIAEVAL ENGLISH HERMIT: AN INTRODUCTION, Henrietta Leyser
The anchorites, recluses and hermits of medieval England are a heterogeneous bunch and I will not, at least not for now, attempt to differentiate between them; so for the present they are all just ‘hermits.’’ Recognised as holy, such men and women had separated themselves from ‘normal’ society but they had no one way of life: they didn’t necessarily live alone and they were not all locked up. Some of the men had first been priests; others not; some of the women had once been nuns, others not. But everyone knew that behind their asceticism and their chosen way of life lay the weight of ancient precedent.
Both Old and New Testament stories validated the hermit’s vocation. Elijah, Elisha and John the Baptist: these were the exemplary figures of the Old and New Testaments and it was to follow in the footsteps of such prophets that men and woman in the first centuries of Christianity had fled to the deserts of Egypt and Syria. Easier though it was for men than it was for women to settle in such desert sites women certainly went too, some (allegedly) dressing up as men, their true identity discovered only upon their deaths. The hey day of such hermits, belongs undoubtedly to the first centuries of Christianity; already by the fourth century the value of such heroic lives was being questioned…thus St Basil of Caesarea having spent a year of exploration in Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia and Palestine, returned home to found a monastic community. The life of the hermit was, he had come to conclude, too dangerous: one who lives in isolation, he wrote, will not easily discover his own failings, since he has no one to reprove him or correct him gently and kindly. His is the fate spoken of in Ecclesiastes IV.10: “Woe to him that is alone for if he falleth there is none to raise him up.” Further, said Basil, communal life offered scope for the practice of virtues which no solitary could exercise….’Whose feet will you wash, to whom will you minister, compared to whom will you be the lowest if you live alone?’ Despite such reservations the eremitical life continued to be held in the highest possible regard, but in time it came to be recommended as suitable only for experts. This, notably for the history of Western monasticism was the verdict of St Benedict. In his rule, composed in the sixth century, he describes hermits as those ‘who not in the first fervour of conversion but after a long probation in a monastery go out well armed to the combat of the desert.’ But Scholastica, Benedict’s sister, was, we might note, never made subject to her brother’s rule (indeed the rule originally made no place for women); seemingly Scholastica lived out her days as a nearby hermit well able to get the better of her brother when he took time off to visit her.
St Benedict’s Rule did not become normative in England until the tenth century Until then monastic communities, spreading fast, made up their own rules. Hermits certainly there were, exemplary figures, including part time hermits, such as St Cuthbert, a busy bishop who yearned for sabbaticals so he could live as a hermit on the Farne Islands, and a number of women, some of whom were facing arranged and unwelcome marriages. In the present company we should not, of course, neglect St Frideswide, patron saint of Oxford whom you will remember allegedly fled from an importunate suitor ‘into a certain wood called Binsey…there with her two companions the saint found a path leading to a little hut, built in former times by herdsmen, now completely covered with ivy.’
Tenth century monastic reform changed the religious landscape of England. Uniformity rather than diversity now became the goal; monasteries became clericalised and subject to much tighter organisation. In consequence, many aristocratic women were sent to be educated to one or other of newly established exclusive communities…. but what about the others? Was there an access problem? Undoubtedly yes: a girl with the right connections might well be despatched to Wilton or Shaftesbury but the options for others were indeed limited. Now, on the one hand, this can interpreted as just another chapter in an unending story about medieval misogyny but, as ever, it turns out there are other ways of looking at the evidence. The work of Sarah Foot, now Oxford’s Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History is notable here. Thus the women who were not cloistered nuns did not necessarily lose out. They could and did set up their own informal communities, often on family lands, and some at least of these we can reasonably count as hermits. It is also worth mentioning that the grandiose life of the new convents was not necessarily suitable for the most ardent souls. Eve, sent as a child to Wilton at the age of seven, after 15 years had had enough…and off she went to Angers to live in an eight-foot cell. Eve’s mentor at Wilton, Goscelin of St Bertin, was heart-broken at her departure. He consoled himself by sending his former protégé, a formidable reading list – Virgil, Horace, Cicero, St Augustine, Boethius – these are only some of the recommended authors, sent along with an anguished cry of envy for Eve’s way of life:
How often have I sighed for a little lodging like yours but with a little door into the church…. where I might pray, read and write and where I might escape the crowd that ravages my heart, where I might lay down the law for my stomach at my own little table, where, as in a place of pasture, I might devote myself to books instead of to a banquet, and revive the dying spark of my slender intellect…
Now there may not have been many hermits as well read as Eve but just as interesting as her reading list is the fact that this was a way of life Eve chose for herself. Choice in the twelfth century will become something of a pre-occupation, so much so that some credence should be given to the idea that the twelfth century saw ‘the birth of the individual.’ This is to be sure an oversimplification but it remains telling that it is in the twelfth century that the practice of oblation, the offering of a child to a monastery, is phased out and a new emphasis is placed on the choices an adult might make. Thus the Cistercian abbot Ailred of Rievaulx writing a rule for his sister who had become a recluse is anxious to consider his sister’s ‘particular circumstances of time and place’ and opens his treatise with the observation that ‘living in a crowd means ruin for some people; for others it will mean if not ruin, at least injury; others again unmoved by any apprehension, simply consider living in solitude to be more fruitful. The monks of old then chose to live as solitaries for several reasons: to avoid ruin, to escape injury, to enjoy greater freedom in expressing their ardent longing for Christ’s embrace. Some lived alone in the desert, supporting themselves by the work of their own hands, but there were others whose confidence was undermined by the very freedom inherent in the solitary life and the opportunity it affords for aimless wandering. They judged it more prudent to be completely enclosed in a cell with the entrance all walled up. So it seemed to you when you vowed yourself to this form of life.’ Strikingly a treatise written (probably in the Low Countries) at about the same time also allows the hermit a degree of experimentation: ‘Let no one …be disturbed if a certain diversity should appear in the order of hermits and if each arranges his life differently with some living alone, some with two or three or more, living a life that is easier for some and harder for others, with a diversity such as we find among the hermits of old…. this diversity of life in his service is pleasing to God.’ With these words in mind, let us consider the career of Christina of Markyate, wife, recluse, hermit, consecrated virgin, and finally prioress together with the array of hermits who helped her along the way.
Christina was born in Huntingdon around the turn of the eleventh century. As a young girl she was taken by her parents to see the newly built abbey of St Albans. So captivated was she by its ambience that on her way home she took a secret vow to preserve her virginity. But once of marriageable age her plans started to go badly wrong. She was pursued by a lecherous bishop and thwarted time and again by her worldly and ambitious parents. In a moment of weakness she agreed to a marriage but remained determined it should not be consummated. She planned an escape. Her allies here included a certain Edwin who is described simply as a holy man who led a solitary life. Now Edwin clearly was a man with useful connections. His relatives included Roger, a monk of St Albans, who now lived in a hermitage at Markyate to which, we are told, angels had directed him; Roger initially was in no mind to help Christina, given her married status, but off went Edwin, on Christina’s behalf to Canterbury stopping on the way with ‘anchorites in various places’ and from the Archbishop Edwin got an assurance that Christina’s forced marriage should not be an impediment to her religious vocation. Roger remained hesitant but he had disciples who frequently visited a nearby anchorite named Alfwen, at Flamstead, and it was with Alfwen that it was decided Christina should seek refuge. Her escape to Alfwen was planned for a day when she knew her parents would not be at home. And why not? Where were they? These parents, ‘as was their custom’, had gone to see a certain Guy who lived some six miles away. And who was Guy? Apparently a man who lived in ‘a place of solitude.’, in other words a hermit. Why Christina’s parents went to visit him is never explained but it is clear from the Life that despite their opposition to their daughter’s vocation they were in fact conventionally pious and it seems highly probable that keeping in with a nearby holy man was considered socially acceptable, even desirable. In any case, while they were away Christina seized the chance and made her escape. She arrived, as planned, at Alfwen’s in Flamstead after a not inconsiderable journey of some thirty miles. Her parents meanwhile returning from their visit to Guy and finding their daughter neither at home, nor nearby ‘among the anchorites of Huntingdon’ came to the conclusion that she had fled. They sent out a search party. Having no luck near home they looked further afield, questioning both Roger and Alfwen both of whom had no hesitation in brushing them off.
Christina subsequently lived with Alfwen for two years. She then moved some two miles to Markyate to be with Roger. At first she had to spend her days shut up in a make-do very tiny cell, with a heavy plank for a door in order to avoid detection. The Life makes it clear that these conditions are necessary only until her marriage is dissolved rather than as an exercise in asceticism. It also becomes clear that a plan is soon hatched whereby Christina will take over Roger’s cell at Markyate when Roger dies. After one or two adventures along the way this is indeed what happens. Christina becomes a consecrated virgin; she gathers disciples and by the time of her death she has become the prioress of a small community. But although Christina is thus not a life-time hermit it remains striking how many hermits had helped her on her way and how many different eremitical ‘styles’ they represent: there is Roger, the Benedictine monk – when he died his body was taken back to St Albans for burial; Edwin, the relative of Roger’s who while ‘leading the solitary life’ feels free to undertake journeys and has the ear of the archbishop of Canterbury; Guy, the hermit counsellor visited by Christina’s parents; Alfwen, the anchorite who is clearly enclosed.
We know as much as we do about Christina because of the survival of an unfinished biography of her and because of a spectacularly illustrated Psalter made for her use. The Life and the Psalter together give us an extraordinary insight into the power a holy woman might exercise. When Christina, now settled in Markyate after Roger’s death, first has any dealings with the abbot of St Albans, Geoffrey, it is with a troubled man. The abbey was in debt, possibly because Geoffrey had overspent on a new shrine for St Albans and it is clear that it is thanks to Christina that Geoffrey decides to abandon further, equally controversial, plans. We are never told what these are – that is irrelevant – the point the author of Christina’s Life wants us to know is that henceforth Geoffrey resolves to always follow Christina’s advice: in future he will ‘draw back from bad decisions..[and] bear her reproaches.’ In return Geoffrey promises that he will support Christina financially. In this way she will be ‘ relieved of anxiety from material concerns.’ Now while it is true that in the long run the monks of St Albans feel Geoffrey has become dangerously captivated by Christina and is spending too much on her needs- Markyate at one point caught fire and needed rebuilding- what is interesting is that this sort of patronage of a hermit by an abbot is not at all unusual – one twelfth-century abbot is alleged to have had as many as 24 on his books, though this may have been something of a record (or just possibly an exaggeration.)
So what in exchange for this support did hermits do for abbots or indeed for any other of their patrons? Above all, they prayed. Christina’s Life makes the exchange explicit. ‘Geoffrey supported Christina in worldly matters; she commended him to God more earnestly in her holy prayers. [Indeed] if anything she took more care of him than she did for herself and watched over his salvation with such attention that wonderful to relate, the abbot, whether near or far away, could not offend God either in word or deed without her immediately knowing it in the spirit.’
Christina’s prayers for Geoffrey make evident the paradox of the hermit’s life: his or her solitude gave force and value to the prayers offered for others. Outstanding for the range of people a hermit might help in this way was Christina’s contemporary Wulfric, the hermit of Haselbury Plucknett, in Somerset.
Wulfric, subject of a celebrated article by Henry Mayr-Harting, a former Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History, was, as Henry describes him, ‘a hinge-man’ as at home giving counsel to a king as he was to a local serving maid who had become pregnant having seduced her under-age charge. He lived in a cell attached to the church at Haselbury, where he had seemingly installed himself, without any formal ceremony, becoming thereafter a key figure in the community. In his company we meet the woman who regularly bakes him bread; the former concubine of a priest whom he had led to see the error of her ways; the seamstress who is stitching one of the seams on an alb she is making for him; a woman who sends him silk with which to cover a Psalter. And we meet other hermits, notably a number of women: Matilda of Wareham and Gertrude, her servant, who succeeds her; Christina, another recluse of Wareham; Aldida, ‘the venerable recluse of Newton; Odolina, the anchoress of Crewkerne. They are indeed thick on the ground, these twelfth century hermits. They were also resourceful. Matilda of Wareham, for example, was told – by Wulfric- she could only be a hermit once she had raised the money for her cell – this took two and a half years of work as a mattress maker. Thereafter she became Wulfric’s closest friend. They were versatile and enterprising these twelfth century women hermits; well did their successors of the thirteenth deserve their Riwle*.
St Peter’s College, Oxford.
* The Ancrene Riwle (Rule for Anchoresses) is another name for the Ancrene Wisse, which is the subject of Cate Gunn’s paper.
Sarah Foot, Veiled Women 2 vols (Aldershot, 2000)
Tom Licence, Hermits and Recluses in English Society 950-1200 (Oxford University Press, 2011)
Henry Mayr-Harting, ‘Functions of a Twelfth-Century Recluse’, History 60 (1975), pp.337-52.
A.K.Warren, Anchorites and their Patrons in Medieval England (University of California, 1985)
2. THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ANNORA, Hilary Pearson
Annora, the recluse of Iffley, has become part of the life and history of this village; the Tree Hotel has even called its restaurant after her. The evidence that Iffley had an anchoress called Annora in the first half of the thirteenth century comes primarily from royal records, which show regular gifts from Henry III to her, mainly of firewood from the royal forest of Shotover.
We do not have her date of birth, but it seems likely that Annora was born in the late 1170s, in the reign of Henry II whose son Richard I came to the throne in 1189. Annora probably died in 1242, during the reign of Henry III. All these Angevin monarchs feature in Annora’s story. Her life was lived against the backdrop of the well-known troubles of the times. Annora was particularly affected by the events of King John’s reign, as we shall see. And she became an anchoress during the reign of John’s son, Henry III.
The Briouze family
The Briouze family (also spelled Braose) originated from an area in the south of Normandy. Cate [Gunn] has recently visited the town of Briouze, but found no trace of anything from the time of Annora’s family. William I de Briouze, the great-great grandfather of Annora, came over with William the Conqueror, and was rewarded with land in Sussex. The Briouze holdings were considerably expanded by succeeding generations, Philip and William II, particularly in the Welsh Marches.
Sometime before 1170 William III, the son of William II, married Matilda (or Maud) de St Valéry from Hinton Waldrist near Oxford; although she was from a less powerful family, contemporary accounts depict her as a formidable woman. She defended the Briouze castle of Painscastle against a Welsh attack in the 1190s. Colourful testimony to Matilda’s character was the local legend that she built Hay castle on her own in a single night, carrying the stones in her apron! She was certainly a good wife in that she bore William sixteen children, seven of whom survived infancy including several sons.
In the late 1190s William gained more Welsh territory, either by seizure or through gifts of Richard I. He fought alongside King Richard, including at the battle of Chalus where Richard was fatally wounded. William was one of the main supporters of King John in the disputed succession, and was responsible for the capture in 1202 of the other contender, Prince Arthur of Brittany. Arthur later disappeared, and it has generally been assumed that he was murdered, either by John himself or on John’s orders. It also seems likely that William de Briouze knew what had happened to Arthur, given his role in handing Arthur over to John and his closeness to the king.
Certainly, in the early part of his reign King John richly bestowed William III with properties. As well as acquiring more land in the areas where he already had extensive holdings, particularly in the Welsh Marches, William was given territory in other parts of England and land in the Limerick region in Ireland. For many of these grants he owed payments to the king; for example, for Limerick he owed 5000 marks, with 500 marks to be paid annually.
The fall of the Briouze family
From the peak of favour and power in 1207, the downfall of William de Briouze and his family was swift and devastating. The main sources for the story of the downfall of William are chronicles of St Alban’s abbey, and a work entitled ‘The History of the Dukes of Normandy’, by an anonymous author, usually referred to as ‘Anonymous of Béthune’. We also have King John’s own version of why he hounded the man who had been so close to him in the Black
Book of Exchequer text of 1210.
The downfall had started by late 1207 or early in 1208, and continued to 1213; during that period documents show that all his lands, those that he had inherited as well as those he had been given by King John, were either disposed of by the king to his favourites or kept by the king himself. We know from the Black Book document that William had fled the realm by the time it was written, first to Ireland and then to France, also that Matilda had been captured along with her eldest son William, his wife and two of their sons, and Annora..
Information about events after 1210, or not recorded in the Black Book document, is mainly obtained from the two chronicles I mentioned before.
Although to medieval minds the rise and fall of William de Briouze might seem a perfect example of the operation of the widespread concept of the ‘wheel of fortune’, modern historians look for more human and mundane explanations of the fall from grace of a nobleman.
In King John’s “official” version, the dispute is portrayed as solely about non-payment of money due to the king. This document seems to have been drawn up immediately after William fled to France, and before the deaths of his wife and eldest son. There are reasons to think money was not the real reason, or at least only part of the reason, for John’s attack on his former friend. First, there is no evidence that King John attempted to recoup from the properties he seized from William more than a small proportion of the enormous amount he claimed to be owed. The second reason is that it was the normal practice for nobles to promise payment to the king in return for grants of land or other favours but, apart from perhaps relatively small annual payments, for those promises to simply remain on the books, or even be cancelled by the king as a sign of favour. When William was in high favour, some of his royal debts had been cancelled and it seems likely that his expectation would be that at some time these other debts would also be forgiven.
There are also good reasons to think that politics, particularly Irish politics, were involved. In 1176 Henry II decided to make his youngest son, John, king of Ireland. John was only 9 at the time. When John reached 18 he decided to make an expedition to Ireland to establish his authority, but this was a fiasco. As a result, even when John had become king of England he remained suspicious (or, given his paranoid tendencies, one might say even more suspicious) of the main Irish lords. These were William de Briouze and his son-in-law, Walter de Lacy, as well as William Marshall and Hugh de Lacy (Walter’s younger brother). When William de Briouze fled to Ireland with his family in late 1208, he was first sheltered by William Marshall who, when he was ordered to hand him over to the king’s justiciar, instead escorted them to Willam de Lacy’s domain and saw them safely handed over. This must have been seen by King John as a plot by these powerful lords against his authority in Ireland, which would be a good reason to come himself with an army to punish the disobedience of the Briouze family and their helpers.
Finally, we come to the reason given by the chroniclers, which relates King John’s persecution of William and Matilda to the fate of Prince Arthur. As we have seen, William de Briouze almost certainly knew what had happened to Arthur. According to the chronicler Roger of Wendover, in 1208, after Pope Innocent III had declared an interdict on the kingdom, King John feared plots against himself and ordered the leading nobles to hand over hostages. In the case of William de Briouze, King John demanded that his eldest son be handed over. Matilda refused to do so, citing John’s murder of his nephew Arthur, which seems in character with what we know of her. While some historians doubt whether she actually said this, King John seems to have had a particular dislike for Matilda. She certainly died in captivity, and the harrowing account of the chronicler Anonymous of Béthune, that she and her eldest son were locked up together in a dungeon in one of King John’s castles and left to starve to death, has never been contradicted.
Annora, wife of Hugh de Mortimer
Following the preference of William to marry his children to powerful neighbours in the Welsh border region, Annora was married to Hugh de Mortimer, whose family seat was at Wigmore castle, in Herefordshire close to the Welsh border, and whose family had acquired extensive holdings in Wales. We do not have the date of the marriage, but it must have been before 1210. Hugh died in November 1227, killed as the result of wounds received in a tournament, leaving no children.
We know that Annora had fled to Ireland with her mother and eldest brother and his family in 1210 because the Black Book document reported the capture of “Mathilda and her daughter, the wife of Roger de Mortemer”. This must be Annora, although her husband is wrongly named: Roger was her father-in-law. There were two de Mortimers named Roger in the late 12th and the 13th century, but their dates make it impossible that Annora was married to either of them. The Black Book document then stated that Matilda and her family were under arrest in Bristol.
The next we hear of Annora is her release on 27 October 1214, obtained by the papal legate. Her husband’s father died in the summer of 1214, so Annora’s position would have been strengthened by her husband’s inheritance of the Mortimer estates. In May 1215 Hugh recovered possession of Annora’s maritagium, her marriage portion given to her by her father. He would seem to have been a supporter of King John.
The next information we have about Annora is that on 28 September 1232 she was given permission to reserve an annual income of 100 shillings from parts of her maritagium. The permission specifically states that this is to support her as long as she is living as a recluse. This presumably means that she was just about to become an anchoress. There are then records in the Close Rolls, beginning in 1233, of regular gifts to Annora by Henry III of firewood, wheat and, in November 1239, he requested the sheriff of Oxford to provide ‘the female recluse of Iftesl with a robe suitable for her’. The last record of such gifts is in January 1241, so it can be presumed that she died sometime that year or in 1242, as the longest gap between each of these gifts was about two years.
Annora’s sister Loretta
When considering why Annora decided to become an anchoress it is relevant to note that Annora’s younger sister, Loretta, probably close in age, also became an anchoress. It seems likely that they spent a lot of their childhood together. Although there is no record of where they were brought up, it is probable that they stayed close to their mother and we know that she spent most of her time in the family holdings in the Welsh Marches.
Loretta was married to the fourth Earl of Leicester, sometime after 1196. He died in 1204, leaving no children. After her husband’s death Loretta was awarded land to the value of about a quarter of her late husband’s estates, making her a wealthy woman.
She did not enjoy this wealth for very long, because she was closely connected with the fate of her family. We do not know for certain that she fled to join her father in exile in France, but she is unlikely to have stayed in England after the capture of her mother, eldest brother and Annora in 1210. Her lands were certainly in the king’s control by 1212.
In December 1214 she was put back into possession of at least some of her lands. The next record of her property is from June 1219, when she granted a lease of her dower lands, probably in preparation for her becoming a recluse. Another document from early 1221 seems to confirm that by then she had given up possession of her lands, so she must have already entered her anchorhold.
There is no remaining visible trace of Loretta’s cell at St Stephen’s Hackington, but the church was extensively rebuilt and extended in late thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries. However, we do have documentary evidence that she was there. This is a letter from Henry III dated 29 April 1265, addressed to ‘the recluse of Hackington’ and asking her for information about the earldom and honour of Leicester.
The other evidence that Loretta remained in contact with the outside world comes from the 13 C account of the arrival of the first friars in England by Thomas of Eccleston. After arriving from France in September 1224, they first made their way to Canterbury. Thomas records that one of the people who supported the friars on their arrival was ‘the lady recluse of Hackington’.
Becoming an anchorite
The first step in the process for becoming an anchorite was to obtain permission. The bishop was responsible for ensuring that anyone proposing to become an anchorite in his diocese was a suitable person, sure of their vocation, and able to support themselves either from their own resources or by the support of a patron and/or the local community. He would also be responsible for ensuring that the local church to which the anchorite intended to be attached was in agreement. Because attendance at services was important for salvation, anchorites who could not leave their cell (called an anchorhold) needed to be very close to the church, and normally the cell was built adjacent to the wall of the church in a position where the anchorite could see the altar through a small window.
People today might ask why a patron or the community would support an anchorite. We have to go back to the medieval idea of a tripartite division of roles in society: those who fought to keep the peace from robbers and foreign invaders – the knights; those who worked to grow the food and build things – the peasants and workmen; and those who prayed – priests, monks and nuns and anchorites. All three were seen as equally important. Prayer by a holy person helped to get you through purgatory and to heaven, as well as getting God to protect your community, so it was worth paying for. Your local anchorite would have a particular responsibility to pray for your community.
Once accepted, there was a formal service at the church with which the cell was associated. This was led by the bishop or someone he designated. We will be talking about this service later this afternoon.
The life of an anchoress
Our best information as to how Annora probably lived once she had entered her Iffley anchorhold comes from the 13th century work called Ancrene Wisse. Our next speakers will talk about that, and other books Annora may have read.
Why did Annora choose to become an anchoress?
One popular option for a noble widow, particularly one who was childless, was to enter a convent. Through their mother’s family, Annora and Loretta were closely connected to the leading Benedictine convent at Godstow, so entering Godstow would have been possible for either of them once they had decided on a religious life. Another sister became abbess of Godstow.
Instead of a fairly comfortable life in a wealthy convent, both sisters instead chose the more austere life of permanent enclosure in an anchorhold. Neither of them has left any documentary record of why they made this choice, so we have to look for clues in their pre-enclosed lives.
One reason why the life of an anchoress might seem preferable to that of a nun is that the anchoress had more independence. The nun’s life was ruled in all aspects by the rule followed by her religious order. Particularly for an aristocratic woman who had managed a major noble household, as both sisters had done, having fixed tasks for each hour of the day might have seemed very irksome. She might also have found the necessity of strict obedience to the abbess to be difficult, when she had been used to obedience from her children and servants. If the sisters had in any degree inherited their mother’s independence and strong-mindedness, such obedience would have been particularly difficult to contemplate.
Another reason could be that the anchoress retained some ability to communicate with people in the outside world. This is clear from the many warnings in writings for anchorites, particularly the Ancrene Wisse, against too much communication with locals and visitors. We have seen, at least in the case of Loretta, that she had dealings with the world outside her cell.
These are all reasons that could apply to any woman called to the religious life. However, in the case of Loretta and Annora, their life experiences point to other reasons why they may have chosen the anchoritic life over an aristocratic convent.
The area of their upbringing may have had an effect on their religious life choice. Herefordshire, where they may have spent part of their childhood and where Annora’s husband was based, is an area where there was a concentration of anchorites at the time. The general view is that the Ancrene Wisse was written in this area in the early part of the 13th century. Annora may well have known of this work and the anchorites the work is addressed to; Catherine is going to speak about this.
Another influence could have been the precipitous fall from power of their father. This was certainly true for Annora, imprisoned for four years from 1210 to 1214, perhaps in the same castle where her mother and eldest brother were starved to death. Loretta over the same period was probably an exile in France, stripped of all her property and seeing her father die a broken man.
The terrible fate of their parents provides another potential reason for the sisters to choose to become anchoresses. One of the reasons for the considerable increase in the numbers of hermits and anchorites in the long 12th century may have been the increased emphasis by the church in that period on the dangers of sin and the need for penance. Both sisters could well have thought that the downfall of the family could have been a punishment from God, given the prevailing idea of the wheel of fate, and also could have suffered from the guilt often felt by survivors of a catastrophe, both things necessitating penance.
Further, a major role expected of anchorites was to be intercessors for their sponsors and other people who asked for their prayers, but their primary prayer concerns were for their family and close friends. The sisters would have felt it very necessary to pray for the souls of their parents and their eldest brother, in particular because the circumstances of the death of their mother and brother makes it certain that they died without having received the last rites, so did not receive final absolution for their sins. Their elder sister, Margaret, was granted land by the dying King John for a religious foundation at Aconbury in Herefordshire. The grant states that Margaret was at liberty to found a convent to pray for the souls of her parents and her eldest brother.
Choice of location
We believe that Annora’s cell was attached to the south side of the chancel of St Mary’s church in Iffley, because there is a small, blocked up arch which would be in the obvious position for a anchorite’s window with a view of the altar.
Annora, in choosing Iffley, was returning to the general area of her mother’s family home near Faringdon. The church was then in the diocese of Lincoln, but there is no evidence that Annora had any particular connection to the Bishop of Lincoln at that time, Hugh of Wells, although he had been in the service of King John at a time when her father was one of the king’s leading barons. Iffley, on the north bank of the Thames, was on one of the main routes from London to Oxford, so the possibility of relatively easy communications with her family may have been an influence.
At the time she came to Iffley, the church was only about 60 years old. It could have been built by Robert de St Remy; there is evidence that he held the manor of Iffley about that time. There is also a possible connection to the powerful Clinton family. I have not been able to find links by marriage to these families which might explain Annora’s choice, but there could have been other connections. Her mother may well have known the St Remy family as she was brought up in the same area, and, as the Clintons were a prominent baronial family, there could have been a relationship with Annora’s father. There were a number of anchorages in the city of Oxford at the time; Annora may have chosen Iffley as close enough to benefit from the city and university but more peaceful than being attached to a church in the bustling town.
An analysis of the available data on location of anchorites suggests that in the twelfth century English anchorites were mainly located in villages, and that the growth of anchoritism in the thirteenth century resulted in more anchorites located in cities and the larger towns. It could therefore be that Annora was following the established practice at the time of settling in a village rather than the nearby city.
Bothwell, J.S., Falling from Grace: The Reversal of Fortune and the English Nobility (Manchester, 2008)
Boulter, Matthew, The Career of William III de Briouze in the Reign of King John: Land, Power and Social Ties http://douglyn.co.uk/BraoseWeb/family/boulter.html
Church, Stephen, King John: Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant (London, 2015)
Clay, Rotha M, The Hermits and Anchorites of England (London, 1914)
Crouch, David, ‘The Complaint of King John against William de Briouze (c. September 1210): The Black Book of Exchequer Text’ in Loengard, Janet S. ed., Magna Carta and the England of King John (Woodbridge, 2010), pp. 168-179
Huscroft, Richard, Tales from the Long Twelfth Century: The Rise and Fall of the Angevin Empire (New Haven and London, 2016)
Licence, Tom, Hermits and Recluses in English Society, 950-1200 (Oxford, 2011)
Powicke, Frederick M., “Loretta, Countess of Leicester” in Historical Essays in Honour of James Tait, Edwards J.G. et al, eds. (Manchester, 1933), pp. 247-271
Warren, Ann K., Anchorites and their Patrons in Medieval England (Berkeley, 1985)
3. Timeline for the life of Annora de Briouze.
Dec 1154 Henry II crowned King of England
Before 1170 Parents William III de Briouze and Maud(Matilda) de St Valery marry
July 1189 Henry II dies, Richard I succeeds him.
Early 1190s Annora born
1199 Richard I dies, succession disputed between King John and his nephew Arthur. William de Briouze supports John
1199-1207 John gives William extensive estates, including Limerick in Ireland
1202 William captures Arthur, hands him over to John, Arthur disappears
Before 1210 Annora married to Hugh de Mortimer
1208 John demands William’s eldest son as hostage, Maud refuses
1208-13 John strips William III of all his lands
1210 William III flees to France, Maud to Ireland with eldest son and Annora. Maud and family captured and imprisoned, Maud and eldest son never seen again
Sep 1210 ‘Black Book’ document giving John’s reasons for persecution of de Briouze family
Summer 1214 Hugh de Mortimer succeeds to his estates
Oct 1214 Annora released from prison
June 2015 John signs the Magna Carta
Oct 1217 King John dies, succeeded by his son Henry III
Nov 1227 Hugh de Mortimer dies without heir
Sep 1232 Annora reserves 100s p.a. from her lands ‘to support her as long as she is living as a recluse’
1232-41 Gifts to Annora from Henry III, mostly of firewood
4. Record of Gifts to Annora.
From the Close Rolls of Henry III (1216-1272) preserved in the National Archives, Kew, London
17 Henry III 1233
De roribus datis – Mandatum est P. de Rivall’ quod habere faciat recluse de Iftel’ juxta Oxoniam duo robora in foresta de Shotovr’ ad focum suum, de dono regis. Teste ut supra. (Vol.2 (1231-4), p. 230).
18 Henry III 1234
De fustis datis – Mandatum est Hugoni de Nevill’ quod habere faciat Annore, recluse de Glyftele, duo fusta in foresta de Shotour’ ad focum suum, de dono regis. Teste ut supra. Per W. De Kirkeh’. (Vol.2 (1231-4), p. 421)
Pro fratribus monirbus Oxonis era aliss – Mandatum est Johanni de Nevill quod habere faciat fratribus minoribus Oxonis quindecim rebora in foresta de Sothovr; et fratribus predicatoribus Oxonie quindecim robora in eadem foresta ad focum suum; et Annore, recluse de Ghiftel, duo fusta in predicta foresta ad forum suum, de donor egis, nisi predicti fratres prius illa habuering per alius breve regis. Teste ut supra. (Vol.2 (1231-4), p. 500)
20 Henry III 1235
De quercubus datis – Mandatum est Johanni de Nevill’ quod in foresta de Bernewod’ faciat habere recluse de Jestesl’ tres quercus ad buscam ad focum suum, de donor regis. Teste ut supra. (Vol.3 (1234-7), p. 128)
20 Henry III 1236
De fustus datis – Mandatum est Johanni de Nevill’, justicario foreste, quod faciat habere recluse de Jeftel’ in bosco Sotovr iij fusta ad focum suum de dono regis. Teste ut supra. (Vol.3 (1234-7), p. 299)
22 Henry III 1238
De roboris datis – Mandatum est Johanni de Nevil’l quod in bosco de Sotovr’ faciat habere incluse de Iftel’ iiij robora ad focum suum, de dono regis. (Vol.4 (1237-42), p. 44)
De roboris datis – Mandatum est Johanni de Nevill quod in bosco de Sottor faciat habere Annore recluse de Iftel duo robora ad focum suum, de dona regis. Teste ut supra. (Vol.4 (1237-42), p. 66)
24 Henry III 1239
De roribus datis – Mandatum est Johanni Byset quod in bosco de Shothovr’ faciat habere recluse de Iftel’ duo robora ad focum suum, de donor egis. Teste rege apud Wudestok; vij die Novembris. (Vol.4 (1237-42), p. 154)
25 Henry III 1241
Mandatum est Johanni Byset, justicario foreste, quod faciat habere Alienore, recluse de Ivetel’, iij quercus ad maeremium inde faciendum, de dono regis. Teste ut supra.
De frumento dato – Mandatum est custodibus episcopatus Wintoniensis quod faciant habere Alienore, recluse de Ivetel, vj quarteria fromenti, de dono, et rex id eis allocari faciet. Teste ut supra. (Vol.4 (1237-42), p. 269)
(Calendar of the liberate rolls preserved in the National Archives, Kew, London)
24 Henry III 1239
November 7 Woodstock. To the Sheriff of Oxford. Contrabreve to cause the female recluse of Iffley (Iftesl’) to have a robe suitable for her. (Henry III Vol.1 (1226-1240), p. 429).
5. Annora and Ancrene Wisse, Cate Gunn
Henrietta has mentioned that the successors of the twelfth century women hermits deserved their rule; the most famous rule or guide for anchoresses (female anchorites or recluses) in the modern age and the one which had widest circulation in the Middle Ages was written in the first part of the thirteenth century, about the time Annora and her sister Loretta were enclosed. Written in early middle English, it is known as Ancrene Wisse, the title of the manuscript version considered the most authoritative. This manuscript, and another manuscript containing an early text of Ancrene Wisse, can both be shown to have some connexion with the de Braose family, (as Catherine will show) so although we can’t say that Annora read it, we can use it to give us an idea of the kind of life she led in the anchorhold, and the spirituality that she aspired to.
We can be fairly certain that Ancrene Wisse was written by a man so, like other guides, such as Aelred’s De Institutione Inclusarum and Goscelin’s letters to Eve of Wilton, it is a book of advice by a man for women. When I started studying Ancrene Wisse over twenty years ago the first obvious question to ask seemed to be whether or not it was misogynist, but it occurred to me that, at a time when almost all writing would be considered as misogynist if one were to project backwards the standards of the present day, this was a ‘so what’ question. Is Ancrene Wisse more misogynist than any other text of the period? Probably not. In so far as it values the women for whom it was written, it is arguably less misogynist, if not feminist.
Some of the faults and temptations warned against are those particularly associated with women in medieval thinking – sexual incontinence and gossiping – but women also had access to a range of language to describe a relationship with the divine – that of the marriage bed – that was specifically feminine. Male as well as female religious were encouraged to think of Christ as lover of the soul, and there is an intriguing element of gender fluidity in spiritual language; but thinking of Christ as lover allowed the anchoresses for whom Ancrene Wisse was written a solace in the present and a hope for future bliss. The language and imagery in Ancrene Wisse doesn’t reach the extreme emotional heights (or depths) of some continental bridal mysticism of the period but it is evocative in its subtlety and intriguing in the association between bridal imagery and eucharistic spirituality.
Such imagery may well have appealed to young virgins, but of course both Annora and her sister Loretta, enclosed as an anchoress at Hackington near Canterbury, had been married before they entered the anchorhold. Annora was not alone among thirteenth-century widows in her choice. The religious landscape of England was shifting in the early thirteenth century when she became a recluse at Iffley: many women, especially widows, felt the need to separate themselves from the world (some became vowesses). This was a period when alternatives were being sought as different kinds of women sought to pursue a religious life: on the continent, especially in the low countries, beguine houses – communities of devout women who were not under the control of a religious order – were flourishing. It is possible that there was a beguine house in Norwich (which had close links with the low countries) but otherwise such a system never took hold in England. The life of a community, however, did not always appeal to a widow as an alternative to marriage (as Hilary has shown).
The work Ann Warren has done on Anchorites and their Patrons, showing that the numbers of anchorites—and, in particular, female anchorites—increased between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, still stands. The author of Ancrene Wisse corroborates the pattern of increasing numbers, commenting that the virtual community of ‘anchoresses of England’ (presumably women who were reading his guide?) now numbered twenty or more.
Earlier guides for anchoresses were in Latin and usually directed at women who had been nuns but were now seeking stricter reclusion. Ancrene Wisse, in contrast, was written in English for lay women who entered the anchorhold directly from the world; it offers an ehþurl, a window, into the lives of anchoresses and into the spirituality of the period. Lay anchorites sought a solitude which allowed total immersion in the religious life while using the kind of direct spirituality that allowed them to approach Jesus as a lover and spouse, or identify with Mary in motherhood and suffering. The sisters for whom it was originally written would not have taken the vows of a nun and the author advises them not to promise anything as a vow except obedience, chastity and stability of abode [AW Preface, pp. 2-3]. This provides what may be considered a let-out clause since to promise God to carry out something as a vow and then voluntarily break that vow is to commit a mortal sin. Nevertheless, they followed strict rules on how to live their daily lives, lives which were supported and given form by a regular structure of daily prayer the point of which was to allow the anchoresses to pursue vocations of asceticism, penitence and devotion.
We know little about the women for whom Ancrene Wisse was written, though they were English-speaking (and reading) gentlewomen from the West Midlands who, for reasons we will never know, chose to follow a religious vocation not into a nunnery but into the solitude of an anchorite’s cell. The author of Ancrene Wisse was clearly known to the sisters who asked him to write it. The text in one manuscript [Cotton Nero] has retained an address to the sisters in which, writing about the temptations they may face, the author says
You, my dear sisters, are the anchoresses that I know who have the least need of support against these temptations . . . ; because I do not know any anchoress who has all she needs with more ease or more respect than you three have . . . . For you have no worries about food or clothing, either for yourselves or for your maids. Each of you has from one friend all that she needs; the maid does not have to look further for bread or other provisions than at his hall. [AW, Pt 4, p. 73]
The author describes them as ‘well-bred women’ [‘gentile wummen’] who are ‘sisters from one father and one mother’ [AW, Pt 4, p. 73].
The author of Ancrene Wisse was probably a Dominican friar – he certainly knew the Dominican constitutions [Millett, ‘The Origins of Ancrene Wisse: New Answers, New Questions] and wrote favourably about ‘the Friars Preacher and Friars Minor’ [2:13, p. 28; in revised edition]. The Dominicans were the Friars Preacher who, with the Friars Minor (Franciscans), had first arrived in England in the early thirteenth century, not long before the composition of Ancrene Wisse (Hilary has reminded us that Annora’s sister, Loretta, supported the Franciscans when they first arrived in England). Orders of friars were begun in the late twelfth century, in part as a reaction to the perceived corruption of the established religious orders, and to evangelise more effectively with a population which was increasingly urban and educated. They themselves, inevitably, became corrupted and were satirised in later centuries by Chaucer and Langland, but when Ancrene Wisse was written its author could confidently recommend that the anchoresses turn to any of them for confession, if he is also a priest [2:13, p. 28]. Confession was one part of the three-part sacrament of penance (the others being the act of penitence and the reception of absolution); it formed a pillar in the structure of anchoritic living.
The author knew the sisters well and was clearly fond of them, and believed them above sexual temptation; but he still found it necessary, to warn them about such temptations. Sin had not been left outside the anchorhold, it could pursue the anchoress into her most intimate moments. In the chapter on senses, Ancrene Wisse warns its readers against leaning out of their window and allowing themselves to be touched:
Fondling or any kind of touching between a man and an anchoress is such an indecent thing, and such a shameless act, and such naked sin, so hideous to all the world, and such a great scandal, that there is no need to speak or write against it, because its obscenity is only too obvious without writing. [2:46, p. 46]
Although the author claims that this advice is addressed at other readers rather than his dear sisters ‘because there is no need’, he nevertheless says to them that
God knows how much I would prefer to see all three of you, my dear sisters, the women dearest to me, hanging on a gallows in order to avoid sin, rather than see one of you give a single kiss to any man on earth in the way that I mean. [AW Pt 2, p. 46]
The stakes for the anchoress are high: heaven is promised as a reward, but hell always yawns at her feet.
Mature women entering the anchorhold should have been used to saying their confession, but now a more brutal honesty was expected of them:
Confession must be naked: that is, things should be laid bare, not glossed over or politely veiled, but the words should be appropriate to the actions. . . . If you hate your sin, why do you talk so politely about it? . . . Insult it shamefully and abuse it, if you are really willing to shame the devil. ‘Father,’ a woman will say, ‘I have had a lover’, or ‘I have made a fool of myself.’ This is not naked confession. Don’t wrap it up. Get rid of the trimmings! Lay yourself bare and say, ‘Father, God have mercy! I am a filthy stud-mare, a stinking whore!’ Give your enemy a bad name, and describe your sin crudely. Strip it stark naked in confession. [AW Pt 5, p. 120]
Their whole life was one of penance:
Everything that you have to bear, my dear sisters, is penance, and hard penance. Everything good that you do, everything that you suffer, is martyrdom for you in such a harsh way of life, because you are on God’s cross day and night. [AW Pt 6, p. 132]
Suffering in this life for past sins, they may hope to avoid the pains of purgatory to come.
Although this harsh self-accusatory religion may seem radical to us, in Ancrene Wisse there is none of the extreme emotionalism, as found in the writings of Mechthild of Magdeburg or Gertrude of Helfta, or in the vita of Mary of Oignies. Mary of Oignies (born in the region of Lieges in 1174 – so a continental near-contemporary of Annora) was considered a ‘jewel among other stones’ who imitated Christ, in her thoroughgoing abstinence; her cross was unmitigated humility and bodily asceticism. She was sustained, it would seem, for many days by the consecrated host alone. There is even a story that, disgusted by her own body, she cut off a lump of flesh but was so horrified by what she had done, she buried it. The wound was not discovered until after her death. The author of her Vita, James of Vitry, greatly admired the complete and unconditional piety of Mary.
There is, of course, a world of difference between a work of hagiography and one of advice or guidance. The advice given by the author of Ancrene Wisse is always moderate, and he never advocates extreme practices of fasting or flagellations. Although the anchoresses should not wear linen next to the skin ‘unless it is made of stiff and coarse fibres’ [AW Pt 8, p. 158] – and that may have been experienced as a hardship for wealthy noble women such as Annora – neither are they to ‘wear anything made of iron or haircloth or hedgehog skins’ [‘ne beore nan irn ne here ne ilespiles felles’, AW Pt 8, p. 158]. Nevertheless, there are moments in Ancrene Wisse when the anchoress identifies with Christ. He was confined in the womb of his mother and after death ‘closely confined in a tomb of stone’ [AW Pt 6, p. 142] as she is now enclosed in an anchorhouse which is spacious in comparison. An anchorite is dead to the world, but these sisters must also ‘hang voluntarily on Jesus’ cross’ [AW Pt 6, p. 132] suffering ‘shame and pain’ [‘scheome . . . ant pine’, AW Pt 6, p. 135] with him. The author explains: ‘I call it shame to be always held in contempt in this world, and to beg for her subsistence like a tramp if necessary, and be dependent on the charity of others – as you are, dear sisters, and often have to put up with arrogance, sometimes from the kind of person who could be your servant’ [AW Pt 6, p. 135]. How would the daughter of a great magnate and the wife of another have responded to such shame?
But Christ is also her lover whom she invites into her breast at the moment of communion in the Eucharist. There are stories from the continent of women having intense, religious experiences, often related to bridal mysticism. In the writings of such women as Gertrude of Helfta (in the later thirteenth century) there is an association between eucharistic devotion and bridal imagery, sometimes becoming erotic: ‘there is a clear connection between receiving communion and receiving Christ as bridegroom’. In Ancrene Wisse we get only a light touch of such intense emotion, and the potential eroticism is kept in check. It occurs during Mass, after the kiss of peace, when the anchoress should ‘in burning love embrace [her] lover, who has descended from heaven into the chamber of [her] breast’ [AW Pt 1, p. 13]. The anchoress is not being advised how to ascend to heaven in this life, but seeks to engage with a God who descends to earth. Her lover Christ is later described as a chivalric knight wooing the soul. He is the ideal suitor, ‘the handsomest of men . . . the richest of kings . . . the noblest of ancestry . . . the wisest of the wise . . . the most courteous of men . . . the most generous of men . . . the sweetest and most fragrant of all things’ [AW Pt 7, p. 149].
If Christ is the anchoress’ suitor on earth, he will become her spouse in heaven. The rewards she will receive after death for the privations she has experienced on earth are described as ‘morning-gifts’ [‘marheȝeouen’ AW Pt 2, p. 37], the gifts a bride receives the morning after her bridal night, when the marriage has been consummated. The gifts the anchoress will receive are ‘swiftness and the light of clear sight’ [AW Pt 2, p. 37]: ‘swiftness in return for their being so closely confined now, the light of clear sight in return for their making themselves obscure now in this world’ [2:33, p. 37].
The emphasis on the bodily presence of God on the altar at the consecration and the bridal imagery, seeing Jesus as suitor and spouse, are both aspects of an incarnational spirituality that also encompasses prayers to Mary including many repetitions of the Ave Maria. As part of their daily routine of prayers, the anchoresses are to contemplate the Five Joys of Mary. These are the Joys of the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Assumption: associated with the incarnation and life of Jesus on earth until his ascension and the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven [AW Pt 1, pp. 14-15]. The repetition of prayers, especially the Pater Noster and Ave Maria, and the provision made in Ancrene Wisse for those who could not read and did not know the longer, Latin prayers the anchoresses say daily, bear comparison with the increased popularity of the rosary among lay people at this time, as well as the use of the Little Hours of the Virgin in the new ‘Books of Hours’.
The anchoresses for whom Ancrene Wisse was written—and, no doubt, Annora—knew many of the Latin prayers they were to recite daily; Psalms would also have been in Latin. Like many women of high status they were probably bilingual and the books they owned to read, lives of virgin martyrs, were often written in French. These bear some comparison with the Romances popular at the time, but the lover for whom the virgin is prepared to endure unspeakable suffering is a heavenly one. Here, also, there is an understanding of the bodily being of the anchoresses. They are not sublimated, spiritual beings, but flesh and blood women who had to deal with daily matters. As well as praying and reading, each day they would eat, drink and sleep—and have to dispose of their waste matter. They couldn’t forget their fleshliness, and they were constantly reminded of the potential sinfulness of that fleshliness.
How difficult was it for women who had lived lives of wealth and privilege in the world to dwell for years in a narrow cell, eating simple food and lying on a hard bed? What temptations did they battle? Part Four of Ancrene Wisse deals with temptations. These are written of in typical vigorous style—the sins that tempt are characterised as animals, with their offspring. This is a developing topos, alongside the popularity of Bestiaries, that appears in English for the first time in Ancrene Wisse, where it has been described as ‘one of the best pieces of description in our early literature’. The sisters are travelling through the desert to the heavenly Jerusalem, but ‘there are many dangerous animals in this wilderness’ [‘i þis wildernesse beoð uuele beastes monie’, AW Pt 4, p. 74]. These animals are the capital sins that could tempt them: ‘the lion of pride, the serpent of poisonous envy, the unciorn of wrath, the bear of mortal sloth, the fox of avarice, the sow of gluttony, the scorpion with its tail of stinging lechery, that is, lust’ [AW Pt 4, pp. 74-5].
Even locked in a solitary cell and unable to act on these temptations, the anchoress can still feel tempted by feelings of lust or anger, can still be lazy in her prayers and reading, can feel undue pride in her spiritual achievements. As she is warned:
The virtuous who have climbed high are tempted more than the weak; and that is reasonable, because the higher the hill, the stronger the wind is against it. The higher the hill of holy and exalted life, the stronger and fiercer are the devil’s blasts against it, the winds of temptation. [AW Pt 4, p. 68]
Here as elsewhere, the author uses arguments from analogy to good effect.
While animals characterise sins, birds, not being earthbound have a more equivocal status and can be compared to the spiritual aspirations of the anchoress. The anchoress may be an ‘untamed bird in a cage’ and shouldn’t poke her nose out of her cell lest she be snatched by ‘the cat of hell’ [AW Pt 2, p. 40], but she is also like the pelican in the wilderness who lives in solitude [‘Similis factus sum pellicano solitudinis’, AW Pt 3, p. 51, quoting Ps 101:7-8]. True anchoresses should be birds of heaven who have nests high up, rather than foxes who have holes in the earth [AW Pt 3, p. 51].
True anchoress are called birds because they leave the earth, that is, the love of all wordly things, and through their heart’s desire for heavenly things fly upwards towards heaven. . . . The wings that carry them upwards are virtues. [AW Pt 3, p. 52]
The practice of the virtues, and a life of constant prayer and meditation on the life of Christ, are the remedies for and the defences against sin and temptation. The life the anchoress must lead is one of constant awareness—a kind of battle-readiness: the assault of the devil will come when she least expects it. She can never let down her guard. The life is one of ‘constriction and bitterness’ [‘nearowðe ant bitternesse’ AW Pt 6, p. 142] but as such is comparable to the life of Christ, who was enclosed in Mary’s womb and nailed on the cross. Such a life may, they believed, lead to bliss in heaven; but could it be a life one would choose for its own sake? Was the peace and security the life itself could offer compensation for the restrictions? It was, after all, a life in which women could, to some extent, find liberty and even empowerment that was not dependent on husbands or fathers.
There was a growing appetite in the later twelfth century into the thirteenth century for a more direct involvement in religion, and lay piety was increasing – instead of leaving prayer and devotion to monks and priests, lay people were investing time in their own devotional practices. The increase in lay piety went hand-in-hand with increased literacy among the higher middle classes (and, indeed, a rise in a middle class). Prayer books and psalters were becoming available (although very expensive) and, in particular, Books of Hours appear from the early thirteenth century – books which allowed lay people, often women, to observe the monastic Hours (at least those in daytime) according to the ‘Little Hours of the Virgin’. Prayers, readings and psalms were prescribed for periods throughout the day and readers were encouraged to meditate on passages from the life of Christ; people who were not leading a full-time life of religion could nevertheless participate in a deep devotional life. The devotions prescribed for the anchoresses in Ancrene Wisse, which include the Little Hours of the Virgin, are almost a precursor of Books of Hours.
One of Annora’s sisters, Flandrina, became abbess at Godstow, a venerable and aristocratic abbey but the relative scarcity of places in nunneries and the expense of finding the necessary dowry were factors in the rise of alternatives to becoming a nun.
Dobson, E.J. The Origins of Ancrene Wisse (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976)
Millett, Bella, ‘The Origins of Ancrene Wisse: new answers, new questions’, Medium Ævum 61 (1992): 206-228
McAvoy, Liz Herbert, Medieval Anchoritisms: Gender, Space and the Solitary Life, (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer, 2011),
Hughes-Edwards, Mari, Reading Medieval Anchoritism: Ideology and Spiritual Practices, (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012); and ‘Anchoritism: the English Tradition’, in Anchoritic Traditions of Medieval Europe, Liz Herbert McAvoy (ed). (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2010)
Gunn, Cate, Ancrene Wisse: From Pastoral Literature to Vernacular Spirituality, (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2008).
6. Annora’s Reading, Catherine Innes-Parker
Hilary has given us a detailed account of the lives of the de Braose sisters; I want to look at what we can discern about the reading material available to widowed anchoresses such as these. The lives of Loretta and Annora are particularly relevant for the study of Ancrene Wisse and the texts associated with it, coinciding as they did with the period and place in which the texts of the Ancrene Wisse Group were written. These texts give us a sense of the kind of reading material that was created to support the anchoritic life.
Although it is often assumed that the de Braose sisters would have read texts in Anglo-Norman, I would suggest that they are likely to have been bilingual, like the three sisters for whom Ancrene Wisse was written. While there is no direct evidence for any connection between the de Braose women and the Ancrene Wisse Group authors, there are several interconnections between thirteenth-century manuscripts and the de Braose kin. For example, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 402 (hereafter, Corpus) was given to Wigmore Abbey near the end of the 13th century “at the request of its precentor, Walter of Ludlow.” (Millett I xi) Ludlow was the former home of another de Braose sister, Margaret, and her husband, Walter de Lacy, Lord of Ludlow and Meath. Margaret and Walter were earlier benefactors of the Ludlow recluse, among other forms of patronage. Another copy of Ancrene Wisse, London, British Library MS Cotton Cleopatra C.vi (hereafter, Cleopatra), belonged to another powerful Marcher lady, Matilda de Clare (1223-1287) later in the thirteenth century. Matilda de Clare was the granddaughter of Maude de Clare by her second husband, Roger de Lacy. Maude’s first husband was William II de Braose, the son of William and Maude de Braose and brother of Loretta, Annora, Margaret, and Flandrina. Although William died at least fifteen years before Ancrene Wisse was written, it is not inconceivable that the Cleopatra manuscript descended to Matilda through her grandmother.
The fact that these two particular manuscripts can be connected (even loosely) to the de Braose kin is telling. Cleopatra contains numerous annotations by the original author, suggesting that he was working on revising his text. Many of these annotations (and others) appear in Corpus, which gives us the author’s final, revised version. If Cleopatra descended to Matilda de Clare from her de Braose grandmother, the emendations to Ancrene Wisse found in the Cleopatra manuscript could be connected to the de Braose sisters, who were all alive in the 1240s, the date suggested by Millett for these manuscripts. This association might also add credence to Dobson’s contention that Annora was the patron of the French translation, although the connection is so slim that it must remain simply conjecture.
In any case, the revisions to the Corpus text of Ancrene Wisse tell us a great deal about the growing number of anchoresses who entered the anchorhold as widows.
The Corpus revision was made for an expanded community (twenty or more), solitaries who nonetheless wish to live as if they were a metaphorical convent. As the community expanded, word of their quasi-convent spread to other areas of England, for which the original community became “like the mother-house from which they are generated”. The original community lived in individual cells which seem to have been within a day’s walk of each other — they were able to share books and letters through the mediation of their servants, suggesting that the servants could easily travel between their cells bearing books and news — although noble anchoresses could most likely send messengers across longer distances (one recalls that Loretta kept a male servant who could have been such a messenger). Annora’s cell at Iffley, moreover, was within walking distance of Godstow. This would give her access to any books owned by Godstow, as well as to easy communication with her sister, Flandrina.
A number of the changes in the Corpus revision are concessions made to the Outer Rule, facilitating such communication between anchoresses. The rules concerning hospitality are relaxed, especially for other anchoresses’ maids — the reviser insists that the anchoress should invite them to stay, since they have taken such trouble on her account. This suggests that although the anchorholds are close enough to be within walking distance, some were far enough apart that the distance there and back might not be covered in a single day. In fact, hospitality towards her sisters’ maids is important enough that the anchoress is advised even to borrow or beg to provide these visitors with meals. Indeed, it seems that such maids’ visits are frequent and important enough for the reviser to add a substantial passage outlining the activities that the anchoress should, and should not, engage in with her visitors and suggesting that a visit of two nights is long enough, and that rarely.
Some of the admonitions in the revised version, such as that warning against behaving like a lady in a castle, seem to refer to the anchoress’s former lives. For example, the anchoress is advised against behaviour that suggests training in courtly etiquette. Also included are
[too much embellishment of veils, head-coverings, or any other garment, either by dyeing or by pleating; belts, and wearing them in the style of a teenage girl; plastering on creams; vulgar artifices, dyeing the hair, tinting the complexion, plucking the eyebrows or arching them upwards with moistened fingers.]
This passage suggests an audience well-versed in the various sartorial and cosmetic embellishments of women wealthy enough to afford them; of course, the very creams, tints, and dyes to achieve these effects should be banned from the anchorhold.
The diatribe against dyed and pleated clothing and head coverings is expanded in the oft-cited addition concerning wimples in Part Eight. The opening text reads, “If you can manage without wimples — and you are quite willing to — make do with warm caps, and white or black veils over them”. The additions here seem intended to soften the prohibition against wimples and to give the anchoress more choice concerning her veil. However, the addition that follows shows the reviser’s ambivalence:
Some anchoresses sin no less than ladies in wearing wimples. But nevertheless, someone may say that it is natural for every woman to wear a wimple. No, Holy Scripture makes no mention of either wimple or head-cloth, only of covering.
It is important, the reviser insists, that “not turn the covering into adornment and finery”. The reviser’s ambivalence seems to arise from the fact that he sees wimples as a sign of fashion or of rank. He insists that even the anchoress’s maidservant is to dress without finery. He seems especially concerned with anchoresses whose cells are attached to churches and insists that a curtain over the window is enough to cover the anchoress’s face and that a wimple is therefore not necessary. Nevertheless, he is willing to concede that some anchoresses were used to wearing wimples and would experience discomfort, whether physical (from the cold) or simply because wimples were habitual to them — especially, perhaps, for those who had donned customary widow’s weeds, which included heavy wimples.
This concession is part of a number of additions to Part Eight (the Outer Rule, the most heavily edited section), which seem intended to relax the harshness of the anchoress’s ascetic life. So, for example, the anchoress’s winter shoes are not only to be roomy and warm, but “supple”; they are to be comfortable, as well as practical. In the summer, the anchoress may go barefoot, though the reviser adds the permission to “wear light shoes”. Similarly, the anchoress is given permission “When it is hot in summer [. . . to] wear a light overgarment of white linen”. Similarly, the prescriptions on food and bloodletting are also relaxed, focusing on health and strength; fasting, for example, is not required for those who are ill or who have been bled (8.4).
Other modifications to the Outer Rule concern the anchoress’s activities within her cell. The suggestion that the anchoress and her maid “ “should not play worldly games at the window”, for instance, indicates that at least some of the anchoresses addressed here were accustomed to playing such games in their worldly lives before entering the anchorhold. Similarly, while she is still not permitted to “carry on any business”, such activity is now defined as buying in order to sell at a profit, and the anchoress is told, “she may, on her director’s advice, sell things she makes to supply her needs. Holy men once supported themselves by the work of their hands”. Accordingly, the prohibition against making purses or silk ribbons is eased, subject to her director’s permission, although the list of things that might lead to vainglory is expanded. For example, elaborate trim is prohibited, except for church vestments. But the addition includes the warning: “Amices and decorative panels for vestments can very well be made by ladies in the world; and if you do make them, you should avoid any ostentation”. This suggests that at least some anchoresses were “ladies in the world” before their enclosure, used to making elaborate garments.
The role of the anchoress in the community is also modified. While she is still advised not to teach, she is told that, with her director’s consent, she may offer guidance or help with learning. This, perhaps, is an acknowledgement of the anchoress’s advanced years or experience. Widowed anchoresses, who bring with them the experience of the world, would be well-positioned to offer advice, especially to the young girls who are to be her only ‘students’ (8.25).
The Corpus revision of Ancrene Wisse thus contains many alterations which seem intended to lessen the hardship of the anchoritic life, and this may have been at least in part a response to the needs (or realities of life) of aristocratic widows entering the anchorhold. Such widows would have been accustomed to greater comfort than was allowed for under the original ascetic guidelines for anchoresses. Many of these therefore suggest that the audience to whom the revised version was addressed included women who had lived rich and varied lives in the world before entering the anchorhold. In particular, many revisions address activities or habits of women who were probably members of the nobility and had been in charge of large households.
One final, interesting revision is to be found in Part One, concerning the anchoress’s devotions. This long addition is concerned with prayers to the Virgin Mary (1.25), reinforcing the anchoress’s devotion to the Virgin Mary, and perhaps to the cult of the Virgin Mary. A reference to Loretta, Countess of Leicester in a collection of the miracles of the Virgin, described by Powicke, suggests that such devotion was central, at least to Loretta’s devotional life. In one of several additions to the collection “made some time after 1235 in the Cistercian abbey of Vaux de Cernay,” the abbot recounts that “A recluse at Canterbury, who was formerly countess of Leicester” had told him a story “which she said that she had heard from trustworthy persons who vouched for its truth.” The story concerns two women who were great friends. When “one of them, longe religiosior than the other, came to die,” her friend saw her smile five times on her deathbed. Powicke continues, “After her death she appeared to her friend and explained why she had smiled. [. . .] On her death-bed the Virgin appeared to her five times in succession, exactly as she had been wont to imagine her in her daily meditations.” The meditations referred to were meditations on the five joys of the Virgin, carried out five times daily around the canonical hours. Powicke suggests that “The story obviously refers to two women familiar with the devotional tendencies of the time, and living the religious life as nuns or recluses.” Could the younger of the two, who experienced this miracle, have been Loretta herself?
The Wooing Group
However they acquired them, the Ancrene Wisse author assumes that his audience will have access to various books that will supplement the prayers outlined in Part 1: verseilunge of Sawter, redunge of Englisc oðer of Frensch, halie meditatiuns … ( “versicles from the Psalter, reading in English or in French, pious meditations…”). These prayers were part of the gathering together of textual support for the anchoritic life of their female readers, possibly at the request of the anchoresses themselves, who needed prayers to supplement the Hours which they had written out by hand. It is important to remember that the Ancrene Wisse author encourages the reading of devotional literature as well as specific prayers and hours, for “reading is good prayer.”
The Wooing Group, 5 prayers associated with Ancrene Wisse, are a microcosm of this process. In one, “A Prayer to God Almighty,” the speaker is a woman who has renounced the world (ll. 42-52), and in The Wooing of Our Lord, the longest of the five prayers, the speaker is specifically an anchoress. However, these prayers also show signs of a readership that included widowed anchoresses. It is likely that short prayers such as the Wooing Group circulated on scrolls or in pamphlets that would be easy for the anchoresses to share and copy. Such prayers and devotional material would thus be easily accessible even to enclosed solitaries.
What is distinctively new about the Wooing Group is that it makes the practice of meditation accessible to those outside of the monastic context in which it originated. Like Ancrene Wisse, the prayers of the Wooing Group use their readers’ world to structure their self-examination and to imagine the transformation that is the goal of the solitary life. Imagery drawn from the secular world makes these texts all the more accessible to the enclosed reader. Rather than denying the reader’s life experience, the text applies it to the anchoress’s meditation upon the crucified beloved with whom she is united in her cell. Wohunge, in particular, draws upon the anchoress’s real situation of enclosure to construct her imaginative vision of Christ’s suffering and death.
Wooing is clearly divided into two main parts: a meditation on Christ as the perfect spouse (ll. 1-188), and a Passion meditation (ll. 189-431). The meditation on Christ as the perfect spouse begins with a list of the attributes of an ideal spouse. It derives, at least in part, from the very practical experience of choosing an earthly spouse, an experience that a widowed anchoress would be particularly familiar with, but for which any medieval woman would “know the rules.” The literalization of the metaphor thus draws upon the anchoress’s own experience in the world. McNamer argues that literalizing the metaphor of the divine spouse allows the reader of Wohunge to establish a legal marriage to Christ, a “real matrimonial bond.” She argues that legal marriage would have mattered to noblewomen, and that, as a marker of social identity, the legalized bond of marriage with Christ would have eased the liminal position of, for example, a widowed anchoress, who came to the divine matrimony without the preservation of virginity. The performative nature of the meditation on the divine spouse, McNamer argues, would “enact a valid marriage to him.” The affectivity of both the meditation on the divine spouse and the Passion meditation proves her worthiness for such a bond.
The practicality of such an approach to devotion provides a “hinge” that allows the Wooing Group texts to move individual prayer and meditation from the communal monastic world to the solitary world of the anchorhold and even into the world of lay piety. The liminal status of the anchoress means that she occupies a space between the monastic and lay worlds, neither one nor the other, but incorporating elements of both. Furthermore, by integrating images from the secular life and the literary conventions of secular romance with vernacular prayer and meditation, the Wooing Group prayers also open up the possibility of the movement of vernacular spirituality into the lay world.
Wohunge’s readers thus likely included women like Annora and Loretta, widows of powerful and influential men. They would likely have been aristocratic, literate and intelligent women, who may have led active, and perhaps powerful, lives in the lay world before retiring to the anchorhold. They would have brought with them the influences, experiences, and some of the accouterments of the world which they had left behind, such as books and devotional images. At the very least, they likely owned a psalter. But they would also have influenced material, such as the revisions to Ancrene Wisse and the Wooing Group prayers, that were assembled to support them in their new, solitary lives.
We can’t know exactly what books or prayers Annora would have owned. But we can make an educated guess: she likely brought some books with her from her worldly life, such as psalters or devotional material. She would have had access to books owned by Godstow, of which no records of the 13th century survive. She would also likely have been the recipient of the kinds of prayers found in the Wooing Group, as well as the hours and other prayers referred to by the Ancrene Wisse author which circulated in scrolls or pamphlets and have therefore not survived. All in all, it is likely that she had a rich and active reading life; the “good prayer” that the Ancrene Wisse author encouraged in his readers.
University of Prince Edward Island, Canada
Innes-Parker, Catherine (ed and trans), The Wooing of Our Lord and The Wooing Group Prayers (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2015.)
Anchoritic Spirituality, trans. Savage, Ann and Watson, Nicholas (trans), (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1991).
Chewning, Susannah Mary (ed), The Milieu and Context of the Wooing Group (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009).
PART TWO: THE RITE OF ENCLOSURE
7. Enclosing Annora in her Cell, Hilary Pearson
Living in solitude in a small cell is a form of Christian life which dates back to the Desert Fathers very early in the Christian era – the very first Desert Father we know of, St Anthony, lived in Egypt in the third century AD. This form of solitary religious life continued in parallel with the development of monasticism, which is groups of monks (and later nuns) living, worshipping and working together.
The evidence we have for Britain suggests that this solitary life seems to have been largely unregulated until the 12th century. After that, the bishops become involved in deciding who should be allowed to become an anchorite – possibly because they were responsible for all anchorites in their dioceses and would be financially responsible for the upkeep of anchorites who couldn’t support themselves by their own income or by support from a patron or the local community. At the same time, the formal service marking the start of the enclosed life of the anchorite became one of those reserved to the bishop, although he could designate another senior cleric such as an assistant bishop or the abbot of a local monastery to perform the rite of enclosure.
The books containing services reserved to the bishop are known as pontificals. These can contain a wide variety of services, some relating to people, such as ordinations of priests, vows of profession of monks and nuns, others relating to consecration and blessings of things such as new church buildings. Most of the known surviving pontificals do not contain a rite of enclosure of an anchorite. Professor Jones of Exeter University has tracked down and examined the fourteen English manuscripts known to contain a rite of enclosure, and I want to acknowledge my debt to his work in preparing this talk.
General structure of enclosure rites
At the time Annora came to Iffley, we were part of the diocese of Lincoln. Unfortunately, we do not have a manuscript of a Lincoln pontifical containing an enclosure rite for the 13th century – the only one we know of identified as belonging to a bishop of Lincoln dates from the late 15th century. The text of the rite which you have in your booklets, with my modern English translation, is the earliest English rite we know of, dating from the mid-12th century. It was certainly used in Exeter and also probably in Canterbury. It seems to have remained in use until the late Middle Ages, and it appears to have been the starting point for more elaborate rites which are dated to the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
Entry into other forms of religious life, such as the profession of a monk or nun, are also marked by a liturgical rite. However, comparing these profession rites from medieval pontificals to enclosure rites of a similar period, there are some similarities but also significant differences. They all involve the candidate taking a vow to follow the particular religious rule or form of life, usually while lying prostrate in a cross shape in front of the altar. They all have specified psalms, antiphons and readings and usually involve singing the hymn Veni creator spiritus, but there are generally fewer of these than are specified for the rite of enclosure. The main difference is that the last part of the enclosure mainly follows the liturgy for the service of burial of the dead, starting as the anchorite is led out of the church to the cell and concluding after the door of the cell is closed permanently on the recluse. This is not found in any other kind of initiation rite, whether clerical ordination or monastic profession. It was a stark reminder to the anchorite that the cell they were about to enter stood for, and often literally would become, their grave.
The text of the 12 C rite of enclosure in Latin is attached [add a link here], followed by a translation into modern English.
We are now going to use our imagination. We are back in 1232. King Henry III is on the throne. Iffley is still a small and rather poor village, separated from the city of Oxford by fields. Although there has been an informal network of masters and students at Oxford for about 150 years, student numbers started to grow greatly after 1167 when Henry II banned Englishmen from going to study in Paris. This resulted in an organisation of these teachers, headed by a leading scholar on whom the title of Chancellor was bestowed in 1214. Oxford had just been awarded the status of a university in 1231, although there were still no colleges as we know them today, teaching was done in the houses occupied by the masters.
Some time ago we learned that a noble lady had obtained permission from the bishop to become an anchorite, and our patrons and parish priest agreed that she could be enclosed here in Iffley. Her small, two roomed, house has been built against the south wall of the sanctuary which was recently added to the east end of our church, with a little window in the church wall so that she can see the Mass being said.
We the congregation are mainly the occupants of the village. We are mostly agricultural labourers with our own small vegetable plots, and the associated tradesmen such as the blacksmith and the miller. There has been a great buzz of excitement in the village for some time with the news that a great lady was coming to be the village anchoress. Everyone wanted to be in the church to see the service – and her. The rumours were that the bishop, who was rarely in Oxford because he was based in Lincoln, would be there to conduct the service because she was a great lady and he had known her father. Other important people might also be there.
The main structure of the church would be much as you see it today. The new sanctuary has recently replaced the old semi-circular apse and has made the area around the altar much lighter. The rest of the church still has the original windows, like we see in the west end today, which did not let in much light, so the building would have been darker, the only artificial illumination being candles which were too expensive to be used extensively. There would not have been stained glass in the windows. However, the walls would have been covered with colourful paintings of Bible scenes and saints, with St Christopher over the south door to protect us on our travels and a ‘doom’, the Last Judgment, over the arch at the east end of the nave. This would remind us of an important role of our anchoress, to pray for our souls to be saved from Hell. There was no organ, and no pews, although there might have been a few benches against the walls for the elderly. The font is the same one you see today.
We would have been standing in the nave for the whole service, the men in front and the women in the rear. In the area under the tower there would have been benches for Annora’s relatives and local dignitaries such as the King’s Sheriff. Annora’s sister Flandrina was abbess of Godstow, so was likely present, as well as members of her mother’s St Valery family from nearby Hilton Waldrist. Perhaps there were also Franciscans from the newly founded friary in Oxford, because Annora’s sister Loretta, who for the last 10 years has been an anchoress outside Canterbury, had befriended the first friars to come to England.
At the appointed hour the great West door is flung open and the bishop’s procession enters the church, headed by a man carrying a processional cross and accompanied by acolytes with candles and another acolyte who is called a thurifer. He swings a thurible, a metal container suspended on the end of a chain, with a lid pierced with a pattern of holes, which contains red hot charcoals which have incense sprinkled on them. The swinging motion provides air to burn the incense, and the sweet smoke comes out from the holes. Given Annora’s high social status, most of the senior clergy in the area are in the procession. There are also a number of clerks, liturgical singers who are minor clergy, as they have an important role in the service.
Once the procession has reached the east end of the church and the bishop taken his seat, Annora steps out of the group of women into a space left free in front of the font. No longer wearing jewels, or the elaborate gown, fur-lined cloak and headdress of a noble woman, she is wearing a simple woollen robe with a white scarf covering her head and concealing her hair which has just been cut short, and her feet are bare. Helped by her maid who will look after her once she enters the anchorhold, she lies down prostrate on the stone floor, arms open in the shape of a cross. She lies there while two of the clerks sing the whole litany, a series of petitions to God, the choir responding to each petition with “pray for her”.
Once the litany is finished the bishop walks up the aisle towards where Annora is lying, preceded by the cross bearer and accompanied by the deacon and subdeacon and acolytes with a bowl of holy water and the thurible with burning incense. The bishop walks round her three times sprinkling her with holy water, then another three times swinging the thurible over her. When this is finished she is raised to her feet by two of the senior priests and given two burning candles. She stands holding these, one in each hand, listening to the subdeacon read the two appointed readings from Isaiah and Luke’s Gospel. Then the choir sings “Come Holy Spirit” (still sung at ordinations today) and the appropriate hymn for feast days. While the hymn is being sung, Annora walks the length of the church to the altar, accompanied by the two senior priests, one on each side. She genuflects three times while saying the prescribed verse “Receive me Lord” three times. She then puts her candles in the candle stand and sits on a bench placed at the side of the chancel to listen to the sermon which is followed by the Mass of the Holy Spirit.
When the mass is over, Annora walks back up the aisle, with a senior priest on either side, out by the west door and round the outside of the church to the door of her cell, built against the south wall of the new sanctuary. While she does so, the choir sings the antiphon beginning “May angels lead you to paradise” which is always sung towards the end of a funeral service, and psalm 117. After the bishop and his procession have left the church following Annora, most of us, the congregation, also go out into the churchyard to watch the rest of the proceedings.
When they get to the open door of the cell, Annora begins to recite an antiphon beginning “I shall go” which is completed by the choir who then sing psalm 42. Annora enters the cell with her two supporters and the bishop, accompanied by the acolytes carrying the cross, the thurible and the holy water. After sprinkling the whole cell with holy water and swinging the thurible over the whole cell, the service of anointing the sick is said, with the choir outside the cell singing the required psalms and antiphons. This is followed by the burial service. At the appropriate point of the service, where the corpse would be put into the grave, Annora gets into the grave which has already been dug in her cell and begins the antiphon “Here I will repose for ever” which is completed by the choir outside. The choir then sings psalm 132 and the same antiphon. The bishop sprinkles some dust on her while the choir sings another psalm.
After this everyone in the cell leaves. Once the bishop has left, after a last exhortation to Annora to remain enclosed until the end, the door is closed and locked, and sealed with the bishop’s seal. The choir then sings the final psalms from the end of the burial service. Following the bishop, everyone quietly leaves the churchyard and Annora is left alone to her thoughts. From her small window onto the outside world, when she lifts the curtain she can see the old yew tree, already huge, which is the symbol of everlasting life.
Clay, Mary Rotha, Hermits and Anchorites of England, Campbell P. (ed.) (Cruahan Hill Press, Howell MI, 2014) pp. 131-142, Appendix A.
Darwin, Francis D.S., The English Medieval Recluse (SPCK, London, 1944), pp. 42-52.
Jones, E.A., ‘Ceremonies of Enclosure: Rites, Rhetoric and Reality’ in Rhetoric of the Anchorhold, McAvoy, Liz Herbert (ed.) (University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2008).
Jones, E.A. ‘Rites of Enclosure’, Traditio 67 (2012), pp. 145-234.
8. Twelfth century Rite of Enclosure of an Anchorite, Seruicium Recludendi
Si est femina: primum iaceat in occidentali parte ecclesiȩ ubi mos est feminis habitare. Si masculus et laicus: ad hostium chori iaceat. Si clericus uel sacerdos: prostrates in medio choro nudis pedibus in oratione iaceat. Tunc duo clerici stantes ante gradus decantent totam lȩtaniam alta uoce, choro per singula respondente, et dicente semper: ora pro illo. Cum autem uenerint ad sanctum loci: nominent eum ter inclinatis capitibus. Finita uero lȩtania: uenit episcopus si affuerit indutus sacerdotalibus uestimentis preter casulam, cum diacono et subdiacano ad prostratum illum, cum cruce ante/ illum posita et cum aqua benedicta, et thuribulo, et prius aspergat eum iii in circuitu, et postia incenset similiter. Quod si episcopus defuerit: sacerdos idem faciat. Tunc sulleuent eum duo seniores, sacerdo uidlicet, et quem ipse adhibuerit, dantes ei in manibus duos cereos ardentes, ut feruens sit in dilectione dei et proximi. Quod singulis manibus tenendo: sollicite audiat subdiaconum hanc lectionem legentem,
Vade populus meus intra in cubicula tua, claude hostia tua super te: abscond/dere modicum ad momentum, donec pertranseat indignatio. Ecce enim dominus egredietur de loco suo, ut uisitet iniquitatem habitatoris terrȩ contra eum: et reuelabit terra sanguinem suum, et non operiet ultra interfectos suos. In die illa uisitabit dominus in gladio suo duro et grandi et forti super leuiathan serpentum uectuem, et super leuiathan sepentum tortuosum: et occident cetum qui in mari est. In die illa uinea meri cantabit ei. Ego deus qui seruo eam. Repente propinabo ei. Ne forte uisitetur contra eam: nocte/et die seuabo eam. Indignatio non est mihi. Dicit dominus omnipotentens.
Post hec legatur euangelium secundum lucam. Intrauit iesus in quoddam castellum.
Quo finito: incipit cantor alta uoce. Veni creator spiritus. Quod pie decantet omnis chorus. Tunc supradicti seniores accipientes recludendum ex utraque parte: deducant ad altare choro festiue ymnum concinente. Quo finito: flectat recludendus ter genua sua dicenter, hunc uersum. Suscipe me domine secundum eloquium tuum et uiuam, et non confundas me ab expectione mea.
Quo ter dicto offerat super candelabra cereos suos, et iterum cum silentio sedeat uel iaceat prostratus. Sacerdos uero uel alia persona exponat populo lectionem et euangelium, et commendet populo recludendum ut orent pro illo. Deinde dicat missam de sancto spiritu sacerdo, uel recludendus si fuerit sacerdos. Qua finita: supradicti seniores accipiant recludendum ex utraque parte, et deducant eum in reclusorium suum, incipientes hanc antiphonam, In paradisum deducant te angeli, choro cantan/te psalmum, Confitemini domino cum eadem antiphona. Cum autem peruenerint ad hostium: incipiat ipse recludendus antiphonam, Ingrediar, et chorus cantet psalmum, Quemadmodum, et sic intrent habiticulum, cum cruce et thuribulo et aqua episcopi benedicta. Tunc sacerdos aspergat totum domum, et postea incenset, et tunc peragat omne officium unctionis, incipiens antiphonam, Ingressus raphael archangelus. Et ita sacerdos incipiat onmes antiphonas choro de foris psalmos cum eisdem antiphonis decantante. Similiter et commendationem anime faciat, usque ad impositionem/ defuncti super feretrum, ne forte preuentus morte: careat hoc sancto seruicio. Quibus magna ueneratione peractis: aperiatur sepulchrum. Quod ingrediens ipse recludendus: incipiat antiphonam, Hec requies mea. Choro de foris cantante psalmum, Memento domine dauid, cum eadem antiphona. Tunc aspergente sacerdote parum pulueris super eum: incipiat psalmum, De terra plasmasti me. Choro cantante psalmum, Domine probasti me et repetente antiphonam.
Post hac exeant omnes, sacerdote parum remanente, et precipiente recluso ut per oboedientiam/ surgat et in oboedientia reliquum uite finiat, et sic obstruatur hostium domus eius, finitoque psalmo cum antiphona et orationibus scilicet, Temeritatis quidem et Deus uite dator; omnes in pace discedant.
9. The Rite of Enclosure, Instructions thereof c. 1200, translated by Hilary Pearson
The version below is translated by Dr Hilary Pearson from the Latin printed as an appendix to H. A. Wilson, The Pontifical of Magdalen College, with an appendix of extracts from other English mss. of the twelfth century, Henry Bradshaw Society 39 (1910), pp. 243-4. Rubrics (written in red in the manuscript) are here printed as italics. Whilst the rite is for either sex, the manuscript was written in the masculine.
If [the prospective recluse is] a woman, she should first lie in the western part of the church where the women customarily stay. If a layman, he should lie at the entrance to the choir. If a clerk or a priest, he should lie prostrate and barefoot in the middle of the choir, praying.
Then two clerks, standing in front of the altar steps, sing the whole litany in a loud voice, the choir responding to each [petition] and saying: pray for him. When they come to the patron saint of the place they should name him three times with bowed heads.
Once the litany is finished, the bishop, if he be present, dressed in priestly vestments without the chasuble, accompanied by the deacon and subdeacon, with a cross [carried] before him and with holy water and a thurible, comes to the prostrate person. The bishop then walks round the person three times asperging [sprinkling with holy water] him then another three times censing [swinging the thurible over] him. If the bishop is not there this should be done by a priest.
Then [the candidate] is raised to his feet by two older men, who should be priests, together with anyone they ask to help them, and two burning wax tapers put into his hands which signify that he should burn with worship to God and his neighbour. Holding one of these in each hand, he should listen carefully while the subdeacon reads this lesson:
Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the wrath is past. For the Lord comes out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no longer cover its slain. On that day the Lord with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish leviathan the fleeing serpent, leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the whale that is in the sea. On that day the desirable vineyard will sing to him. I the Lord am its keeper. I will suddenly water it. I guard it night and day protecting it. There is no indignation in me says the omnipotent Lord. [Isaiah 26:2 –27:4]
After this the Gospel is read from Luke:
He entered into a certain town: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary who, sitting also at the Lord’s feet, heard his word. But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? Speak to her therefore, that she help me. And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her. [Luke 10:38-42]
When this is finished, the cantor begins in a loud voice Come Holy Spirit [Veni creator spiritus] and the choir sings the rest. Then the aforementioned older men accompany the prospective recluse, one on either side, to the altar while the choir sing the hymn for feast days.
When this is finished the prospective recluse genuflects three times while saying this verse three times: Receive me Lord according to your word and I shall live and do not let my hopes be confounded.
After this he should offer his tapers at the candle stand and then again sit in silence or lie prostrate.
The priest or another person should expound the lesson and gospel to the congregation and ask the people to pray for the prospective recluse. Then the priest, or the prospective recluse if he is a priest, should say the Mass of the Holy Spirit.
When this is finished, the aforesaid older men should take the recluse, one on either side, to his cell and as they proceed begin this antiphon:
May angels lead you to paradise and upon your arrival may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the Holy City of Jerusalem. May the ranks of angels receive you and with Lazarus, the poor man, may you have eternal rest.
The choir sings the psalm O praise the Lord [Psalm 117] together with the same antiphon. When they reach the door of the cell the recluse begins this antiphon I shall go over into the place of the wonderful tabernacle, even unto the house of God and the choir should sing the psalm Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks [Psalm 42] and then they enter the cell with the cross and thurible and water blessed by the bishop. Then the priest asperges the whole dwelling and then censes it, and then performs the whole of the office of Unction [the anointing of the sick] beginning the antiphon:
The Archangel Raphael went in and greeted Tobias and said, ‘Joy be to thee always’. And Tobias said, ‘What manner of joy shall be to me, who sits in darkness and sees not the light of heaven? And the angel said to him, ‘Be of good courage, thy desire from God is at hand.’ [cf. Tobias 5: 11-13].
And the priest should begin all the antiphons, with the choir outside the building continuing the singing of the psalms with the same antiphons.
Similarly, the Commendation of Souls should be performed by the priest up to the place where the deceased is placed on the bier so that the recluse will not miss this holy rite by the intervention of death. When these have been completed with great devotion the grave is opened and the recluse enters it and begins the antiphon Here will be my repose forever and ever; here shall I dwell for I have chosen it, the choir outside sings the psalm O Lord, remember David [Psalm 132] with the same antiphon. Then the priest sprinkles a little dust on him and begins the antiphon From the earth you made me, my Lord and Redeemer, raise me up on the last day the choir singing the psalm O Lord, thou hast fashioned me [Psalm 138] and repeating the antiphon.
After this everyone leaves, although the priest may remain for a short while, exhorting the recluse by obedience to rise up and to remain in obedience until the end. Then the door of the house is blocked up and, once the psalm with its antiphon and the prayers: It is indeed rash and O God, giver of life are completed, they all leave quietly and in peace.
Suggested further reading
Clay, Mary Rotha, Hermits and Anchorites of England, Campbell P. (ed.) (Cruahan Hill Press, Howell MI, 2014) pp. 131-142, Appendix A.
Darwin, Francis D.S., The English Medieval Recluse (SPCK, London, 1944), pp. 42-52.
Jones, E.A., ‘Ceremonies of Enclosure: Rites, Rhetoric and Reality’ in Rhetoric of the Anchorhold, McAvoy, Liz Herbert (ed.) (University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2008).
Jones, E.A. ‘Rites of Enclosure’, Traditio 67 (2012), pp. 145-234.