From Within the Walls: The Anchorites of Westminster Abbey

Bernadine De Beaux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

There is a secret that lurks from within the walls of Westminster Abbey. Its importance cannot be ignored nor undervalued. Nestled behind St Benedict’s chapel within the Abbey are the remains of an anchorite cell, which from the early thirteenth century, was the eternal home of anchorites until the Reformation. Men and women were enclosed in this space in different periods, to live the rest of their lives in solitude, to be closer to and to better commune, with God. Royalty are said to have confessed, sought spiritual guidance and requested intercessory prayers from the male anchorites enclosed in Westminster Abbey. However, very little is known of the female anchorites who resided in the cell.

There are records of royal and noble patrons who gave gifts and donations to them in return for their intercessory prayers, but no record of royal visitors or specific incidences of spiritual counselling is documented. This paper examines how the different genders of the anchorites enclosed at Westminster Abbey reinforced specific ideologies about the roles the anchorites played in the lives of the aristocracy and royals. How the anchorite’s gender could strengthen religious and contemplative behavior, and why the Westminster male anchorites held a perceived higher status than their female counterparts.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalWriting From Below - Dr Michael Noble Special Edition
Volume5
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020

Keywords

  • Anchorites
  • Anchorholds
  • Ascetics
  • Solitaries
  • Westminster Abbey

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