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Ancrene Wisse (anchoritic knowledge) Context: Desert fathers and mothers leading solitary life of contemplation and penitence in Egyptian desert from 3.

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Presentation on theme: "Ancrene Wisse (anchoritic knowledge) Context: Desert fathers and mothers leading solitary life of contemplation and penitence in Egyptian desert from 3."— Presentation transcript:

1 Ancrene Wisse (anchoritic knowledge) Context: Desert fathers and mothers leading solitary life of contemplation and penitence in Egyptian desert from 3 rd century AD Literature of instruction for solitaries arose subsequently (Cassian etc.). Plus development of Benedictine monasticism. 11 th -12 th century monastic reform movement known as ‘new monasticism’. Desire to return to purity of living of early church. Formation of communities of solitaries (eg. Carthusians), of orders leading more austere and dedicated lives (eg. Cistercians), and rise in numbers of hermits and anchorites.

2 Difference between hermits and and anchorites: enclosure. Hard for women to enter nunneries, because not many new female foundations. Not welcomed by brothers. Also expensive. Many women decided for anchoritic option instead. Entered anchorhold straight from world. Under supervision of bishop.

3 Enclosure ceremony conducted by bishop Enclosed in anchorhold, attached to parish church – often in middle of village or town community. The anchoress perceived to die to the world, be alive only to Christ. Hence a requiem mass, prayers and psalms for the dead. Rite of extreme unction (deathbed sacrament) used. Ceremonial entry into anchorhold where open grave might be waiting. Then ritual walling up of door. Key metaphors for the anchorhold: a grave; a desert; a place of spiritual battle.

4 Shut away from world, but also highly visible to community Possibly several anchoresses together, plus maidservants Window toward outer world, and ‘squint’ window towards body of Christ on altar inside church

5 Ancrene Wisse (handbook for anchoritic guidance), plus associated works (Sawles Warde, Holy Maidenhood, and 3 saints’ lives) All written by/for same tight group of authors and readers around north Herefordshire, around 1215-1230. Author, either Augustinian canon or Dominican. Versed in learning of Paris theological schools. Initially writing for single anchoritic community of 3 upper- class sisters. Later versions imagine larger community of 20 or more scattered women. Unique body of early Middle English prose. Nothing comparable until mid 14 th century.

6 Widely copied and disseminated. 9 other 13 th -century copies, plus translation into Anglo-Norman, and into Latin. In 13 th century, mostly read by professional religious – by anchoresses and nuns. One version adapted for male religious community. 14 th -15 th century. New versions made – one with Lollard interpolations. Read by pious laity – wanted to model their spiritual practice on anchoritic models. Structure of text – idea of outer and inner rule of living. Outer rule (parts 1 and 8) encloses inner rule (parts 2-7)


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