|Julian of Norwich's cell was was destroyed during a World War II air raid. The original walls of the adjoining church survived, and the cell was rebuilt.|
An anchorhold is a dwelling used by a type of religious recluse known as an anchorite (male) or anchoress (female) who - unlike hermits - lived in cells that were associated with established churches. Some anchorholds were built directly onto religious buildings, creating a connection between the recluse (who could be permanently enclosed in the cell) and the physical structure of the church, monastery, convent or other religious structure.
By agreeing to take up permanent residence in the anchorhold - typically by being walled in - the anchorites and anchoresses were considered dead to the earthly world. Leaving the cell was not an option, and the consequences for attempting to escape could be extremely severe, ranging from eternal damnation to death by burning.
The earliest anchorholds were recorded in the 3rd century in the Mediterranean. Anchorholds later appeared across Northern Europe during the medieval period. Early structures were frequently made from timber as simple lean-to constructions, but later they were built from stone.
Regardless of the materials used, anchorholds were extremely small spaces that may have included as many as three windows. One window allowed meals to be delivered to the cell’s occupant. Another shuttered window (called a "hagioscope" or "squint") allowed occupants to observe church services from their cell. A third window allowed light to come into the cell, but would be covered to prevent people from seeing in - and the occupant from seeing out. However, this small window would not prevent members of the community (or religious pilgrims) from seeking advice from the anchorites or anchoresses.
There were several noteworthy English anchorites and anchoresses, including Julian of Norwich. Julian was one of the first women to write a book in English. She wrote it in the 1370s while living as an anchoress in a small room attached to St Julian’s Church.
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