Sister Rachel, A Modern Anchorite
“The model of religious life that best describes solitary religious life, is that of the anchorite or anchoress.
Perhaps the most familiar example of an anchoress or anchorite is Julian of Norwich who lived in the fourteenth century, in Norwich, walled within a small cell, or anchorhold, attached to a church.
The traditional picture of the anchorite’s cell had three windows: a window onto the Church, where the anchorite could receive the Sacrament, a window onto the world where people came for counsel, and a window or door for use of the servant who took care of the needs of the individual.
If it is possible to look beyond that picture of the medieval cell, there are some helpful ideas:
• A life lived with a degree of withdrawal from people around, but not an absolute solitude.
• A life literally ‘anchored’ within the local community
• A life of prayer governed by a rule of life
• A life with very definite points of contact with the world for service
• A life that is part of the genre of religious life
These help to define the life as distinct from both traditional religious life and hermit life. Part of being human is that innate but almost indefinable sense of experiencing something which is both other and beyond ourselves.
After qualifying in medicine, exploring this sense took me to live within a religious community for 23 years, and more recently to live as a solitary religious.
The pattern of life that I lead is a modern day interpretation of that of the Anchorite. The Anchorhold was the term used for the dwelling of an anchorite.
I live under life vows, according to a Rule of Life and at present I am accountable to the Bishop of Peterborough for maintaining the life I have professed.
Although I spend time in silence and solitude, I also generate income by working in the areas of spiritual direction, leading retreats and quiet days and spirituality training.
The lifestyle that I lead may be described as solitary religious life, or a modern form of the anchorite life. It is bounded by the vows of Consecrated celibacy, conversion of life and stability, and is lived according to a Rule of Life.”