Hermits and Recluses in English Society, 950–1200

“Hermits and Recluses in English Society, 950–1200”
Tom Licence, Oxford University Press, 2011
hermits-and-recluses-in-english-society-950-1200
“In the central Middle Ages, English society lavished unprecedented attention on a category of would-be outcasts who repudiated its ambitions and spurned its aspirations. Hermits and recluses (collectively ‘anchorites’) had their own, very different, vision of how life should be lived, and yet nobles retained them on their estates, parishioners did their bit to support their local recluses, and every tier of society from the peasantry up to royalty journeyed to rural hermitages for prayer, advice, and spiritual instruction. Anchorites were everywhere, dotted across the landscape, striving to restore humanity’s broken image, in their own lives and in their clients. The respect that came of their endeavour grew from a heightened sense of the conflict between society’s worldly concerns and its spiritual ideals, in the minds of their admirers. This book sets out to discover why anchorites rose to prominence, in the context of European monasticism and trends in spirituality. In the past, historians linked their rise to many different things: to the impact of the Norman Conquest; a crisis of identity in the monasteries; to the discovery of the individual; to a reaction to the profit economy; and to a new need for ‘holy men’ (or holy women) to minister to a changing society. Investigating the avenues by which anchorites gained their reputation, and pinpointing their function in relation to society, this new inquiry puts these hypotheses to the test, in a study of English society in the central Middle Ages.”

Contents:
Introduction
1 The Anglo-Saxon and European background
2 The rise of the hermit in England
3 The rise of the recluse
4 How anchorites made a living
5 Eradicating sin, in theory
6 Eradicating sin, in practice
7 How anchorites helped others
8 How anchorites became saints
Conclusion

http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592364.001.0001/acprof-9780199592364

In the central Middle Ages, English society lavished unprecedented attention on a category of would-be outcasts who repudiated its ambitions and spurned its aspirations. Hermits and recluses (collectively ‘anchorites’) had their own, very different vision of how life should be lived, and yet nobles retained them on their estates, parishioners did their bit to support their local recluses, and every tier of society from the peasantry up to royalty journeyed to rural hermitages for prayer, advice, and spiritual instruction. Anchorites were everywhere, dotted across the landscape, striving to restore humanity’s broken image, in their own lives and in their clients. The respect that came of their endeavour grew from a heightened sense of the conflict between society’s worldly concerns and its spiritual ideals, in the minds of their admirers.

Tom Licence sets out to discover why anchorites rose to prominence, in the context of European monasticism and trends in spirituality. In the past, historians linked their rise to many different things: the impact of the Norman Conquest; a crisis of identity in the monasteries; the discovery of the individual; a reaction to the profit economy; and to a new need for ‘holy men’ (or holy women) to minister to a changing society. Investigating the avenues by which anchorites gained their reputation, and pinpointing their function in relation to society, this new inquiry puts these hypotheses to the test in a study of English society in the central Middle Ages.”
hermits bell
Rothschild Canticles (f. 53r): Hermits ringing the monastery bell. (C. 1300)

http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199592364.do

“Religious solitaries were a feature of the English spiritual landscape ‘from the dawn of Christianity in England until the sixteenth century’ but, since Rotha Clay (who wrote those words) attempted her overarching survey almost a century ago, coverage of their history has been decidedly patchy. It is less so now, thanks to Tom Licence’s important new book.
Clay and the many 19th-century antiquaries who got the hermit-hunting bug were interested in some basic questions: where did hermits live? When? What were their names? Those questions still need asking, of course, but Licence is interested in a set of higher order research questions, which together seek to place the burgeoning popularity of the anchoritic vocation in central medieval England in its social context. They are laid out early in the book’s introduction: ‘Where did all these anchorites come from? How could they wield such power? What, if anything, was their function? And why did society harbour these people who bypassed its norms and scorned its aspirations?’ (p. 2). The word ‘function’ in that third question points to the pair of hugely influential studies with which the whole book is in dialogue: Henry Mayr-Harting’s study of Wulfric of Haselbury, ‘Functions of a twelfth-century recluse’, and Mayr-Harting’s inspiration for that essay, Peter Brown’s ‘Rise and function of the holy man in late antiquity’. From those works has emerged an image of the solitary as an outsider to whom the rest of society could look for arbitration and mediation, to smooth over local disagreements or major cultural dislocations (notably, in Wulfric’s case, the Conquest). Licence’s stated intention is to look at these issues again, and to shift the emphasis of the analysis away from anthropology and socioeconomics and back towards the spiritual…
In the earlier chapters of his book, Licence is working against an old-established tradition that sees hermits and recluses as the response of native spirituality to the upheaval in religious life brought by the Conquest. He disposes of that narrative with a neat pincer movement, showing first that hermits had enjoyed the extensive support of English secular lords from at least 950, and secondly (and more familiarly) that a revival of interest in the eremitic way of life was a pan-European phenomenon during the whole of the period under examination. When he turns to the enclosed solitaries or recluses, Licence concedes that the Conquest may have made a difference; but only inasmuch as a distinct terminology for this brand of solitary life (inclusus, recluse) seems to be a continental importation. The excellent discussion of these early English recluses reprises Licence’s valuable essay in Anglo-Saxon England, published in 2007. The situation of both vocations in their northern European context is particularly valuable, and Licence’s will be the standard account of their rise to prominence during this period.”
http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1324

“…the core function of hermits and recluses, according to Licence, was their role in eradicating sin through spiritual warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Chapters five and six address this role in theory and practice, the former presenting three allegorical interpretations of the hermit as angelic exile, as penitential journeyman, and as an imitator of Christ. These core chapters feature the author’s central argument to which he repeatedly returns in subsequent chapters: that at a time of heightened fear of its consequences, hermits and recluses perfected a unique intercessory function in society through their techniques for the disposal of sin.”
http://ahr.oxfordjournals.org/content/117/5/1645.full

For further reviews see:
http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/415784.article
http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8702530
https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2022/13871/11.11.11.html
blessing hermit
The blessing of a hermit. From Corpus Christi College Cambridge, MS 79, fol. 18v.

A related work which is of interest is Henrietta Leyser, “Hermits and the New Monasticism : a study of religious communities in Western Europe, 1000-1150” (1984)
hermits and the new
For reviews see http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2854563?uid=3737536&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21103112763851
http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7676856

See also “Eremitism versus Monasticism in Medieval Europe” at
http://www.hermitary.com/articles/eremitism_europe.html and
“Hermits and Anchorites of England” at http://hermits.ex.ac.uk/index/hermits

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