This paper -- especially its footnotes -- represents the origin of the now defunct journal Vox Benedictina. It is a based on a paper I gave at St. Benedict's Center at Madison, Wisconsin in October 1980 which, in turn, is an abridgement of a talk I gave at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter's in Muenster, Saskatchewan in the spring of 1980. It appeared, with many footnotes shortened or omitted, in Fourteenth Century Mystics Newsletter 9 (1983), 12-25. The scope of the paper was so enormous, however, that I soon realised that I was pursuing a fool's course to even hope that, within my lifetime, I could do more than scratch the surface of this most exciting field. I continued my research until 1984 when Vox Benedictina and Peregrina Publishing took over my life -- a situation which remains to this day. The paper was first circulated as the first of the Peregrina Papers in 1984 and has been reprinted many times since. My embarrassment has increased in direct proportion as the data has grown more and more out-of-date. I first withdrew it from circulation in 1987 but to my amazement, orders still came in for it and, after a fair amount of soul-searching, I decided to republish it with only a few minor changes -- but along with a more recent paper on thirteenth-century Desert Mothers. I used to live in hope that some day, perhaps, I might have the time to finish a long-projected book on the subject. I am now convinced that I will never complete this project, the demand for the original research paper has been such that I have overcome my doubts and am circulating once again, but this time through the miracle of cyberspace. With the exception of a few additions to the footnotes, the text is largely unchanged from the first printed edition.In virtually all the studies of the eremetical tradition of mediæval western Europe, there is usually a passing reference to the very large number of female recluses. Thus when I began this study in 1980, it came as a shock to realise that amazingly little had been published on this phenomenon: Francesca Steele's study on anchoresses of the Middle Ages published seventy-seven years previously and Rotha May Clay's basic work on mediæval English hermits, originally published in 1914.1 Yet these women numbered in the thousands -- indeed, I would venture to say in the tens of thousands. For instance, Vandenbrouck noted that in 1320 in Rome alone, there were 260 female recluses2 while Sainsaulieu reported that he had found 455 recluses of both sexes in France before the tenth century and 3,000 in the following centuries.3 Even more extraordinary is the startling information which, as long ago as 1908, Fr. Delehaye gave us about a ninth-century Syrian monastery where about hundred women lived as stylites.4 When I first began my research into this area of studies -- despite my limited access to primary materials -- I was able to locate in somewhat less than less than eighteen months, approximately 1100 named Desert Mothers and 900 anonymous female recluses who lived from the sixth to the fifteenth centuries. It was clear that I had only scratched the surface.
A study of the female anchoretic tradition is therefore a project of immense proportions and this paper makes no pretense to be more than a superficial introduction to the field. The importance of the subject, however, cannot be denied. Although living solitary lives of prayer and contemplation, these women exerted a profound influence on society both politically and spiritually.5 They advised the powerful of this world and despite official censure, acted as spiritual advisors and even as unofficial confessors to the laity.6 I therefore hope that this sketchy treatment of the Desert Mothers might rouse the interest of other researchers and that, by combining our efforts, we might more fully record and understand this remarkable phenomenon.
My choice of the term "Desert Mothers" had its origin in a mildly flippant attempt to make up for the unwittingly myopic vision of monastic historians who, it would seem, saw the Egyptian desert as being populated only by men and, hence, the whole history of monasticism as being primarily a male phenomenon. If Paul and Antony and their Egyptian imitators are called patres, why not apply its feminine equivalent, matres, to Sara, Syncletica and their followers? I then found that just as Antony was called abba [father], so too was Sara called amma (mother) and, with Syncletica,7 is one of the few women whose sayings are included in The Sayings of the Fathers.8 When, however, I found that both Sara and Syncletica were considered to be the precursors of the solitary life in the Ancrene Riwle, 9 an English rule for anchoresses which was written in the twelfth or thirteenth century, I realised that my apparent flippancy had a solid basis in fact.
Indeed a whole new approach to early monastic history opens up when one views the Egyptian desert as populated by both men and women. Palladius mentions 2975 women in his Lausiac History 10 and, according to Wallis Budge in his preface to The Paradise of the Fathers, "of the sixty eight histories which are given in the first book of the Syriac Paradise, nineteen are devoted to the lives of women" who, he says, were "as well able to live the stern life of the solitary as any man." 11 27% is no mean proportion when we consider that these are individually named women or groups of women, and the figure does not include the countless anonymous virgins who also inhabited the desert both as coenobites and recluses. Even more important perhaps, and a fact not frequently noted, is that before Antony went into the desert, he first placed his sister in a community of "respected and trusted virgins."12 Obviously such communities -- which surely can be called "monastic" -- had existed for some time before the "Father of Monasticism" set out on his desert journey. And we can trace this tradition of consecrated virgins back even further. Zenaïs and Philonilla are venerated in the Greek Menology as kinswomen of St. Paul, the former a recluse and the latter, "no less holy," living in the world.13 Moreover, in the Old Testament, we find not only Elijah and Elias as precursors of the eremetical life, but also Anna the prophetess and Judith, venerated as patronesses of recluses by Burhard14 and the author of the Ancrene Riwle.15
Why, then, are so few of these women known except to specialists? The amazing popularity of such stories in the later Middle Ages as that of the hermit Mary of Egypt16 indicates that there must have been a long tradition stretching back through the centuries, indeed to the desert itself.17 The answer clearly must be that most of the saints' lives were written by men for a male monastic audience and, not surprisingly, show a male bias. Although these lives of the Desert Mothers have been dismissed as "romantic legends", such a charge is a meaningless one since for the hagiographer, factual information is always subservient to edification.18 On the contrary, these "lifes"19 are important because they show us those things of the spirit which were thought to be sufficiently important to merit recording. It is beside the point to ask if Mary the Egyptian actually did what Sophronios said she did, or if Mary Magdalene really spent the last thirty years of her life as a recluse in a cave in a treeless, waterless desert near Marseilles.20 In the context of a saint's life, actions such as these are important and the very real success of saints' lives over the centuries -- even in our "rationalistic" twentieth century -- shows clearly that they have struck a responsive chord in their audience. Another reason for this dismissal of the Desert Mothers must be connected to the fear of and hostility towards women which is rife in the writings of the Church Fathers and is reflected in the lives of their Desert counterparts. Woman, as the daughter of Eve, was considered to be the sign of the lower reason, of lust and carnality. It was she, said the Fathers, who tempts man, the higher reason of the intellect and the will, to sin by giving in to his baser, carnal desires.21 Thus Antony was assaulted by demons who took the form of women22 and the Abba Sisois replied to the despairing wail of his disciple "But where is there a place without women except in the desert?" by immediately saying, "Then take me to the desert!"23 He obviously litte reflected that even the desert was filled with women, not the least of whom was the Amma Matrona who is reported to have commented on this conversation (with admirable common sense), that one carries oneself wherever one goes and that one cannot escape temptation by mere flight.24
This fear of women is vividly expressed in the extraordinary story of the third-century recluse, Martinian, who thought he had escaped the dreaded female sex by settling on a rock in the middle of the sea. Through the wiles of the devil who wished to tempt him, a woman called Photina managed to survive a shipwreck who was very reluctantly saved from drowning by the recluse. He was, however, so appalled by the thought of sharing his rock with a woman, that he immediately threw himself into the sea. Rescued by two dolphins, he continued his flight from women and travelled through one hundred and sixty-four states before being mercifully released from the female scourge by death.25 This anti-feminine bias can even be seen in the view women had of themselves. Thus Amma Sara used to say to her brethren, "I am a woman in sex but not in spirit."26 Eight centuries later, it was said of that mediæval Desert Mother, Christina of Markyate, that when she had repulsed the advances of a lecherous cleric, "she was more like a man than a woman," whereas he justifiably might have been called a woman.27
There are many lives of these women. In the fourth century we find Alexandra who shut herself up in a tomb and was visited by Melania the Elder;28 Mary the Egyptian;29 Thaïs;30 the sisters Nymphodora, Menodora and Metrodona, recluses in a tumulus at Pythiis;31 Photina who took possession of Martinian's rock for six years after the abrupt departure of that terrified man; and, of course, Sara and Syncletica, to name only a few. From the middle of the fifth century to the middle of the sixth, we find, among others, Anastasia,32 Apollonaria,33 Athanasia,34 Euphrosyne,35 Hilaria,36 Theodora,37 Matrona,38 Eugenia,39 Marina,40 Eusebia Hospitia,41 Pelagia,42 as well as Marana and Cyra who lived in chains in a small half-roofed enclosure for forty-two years and who were visited by Theodoret, Bishop of Cyprus.43
As John Anson has pointed out,44 three motifs can be seen in these lives: 1) a flight from the world, occasioned either by impending marriage or by a life of sin; 2) the assumption of male attire and subsequent seclusion; and 3) discovery and recognition, usually after the death of the saint. In later lives we see these same themes repeated again and again. Perhaps the most interesting facet of the life of the Desert Mother was her assumption of male clothing. This would appear to have been not only a reflection of the male orientation of the early Church, but also a prudent course of action in the desert where a lone female could easily be mistaken for a demon and summarily thrashed or killed. The disguise did, however, have its dangers for there are many cases reported where "the female man of God"45 was accused of seduction by another woman, who would then produce a child as proof of the saint's sin.46
Since time does not allow for a detailed examination of these lives, we must move northwards to see how this new phenomenon took root in the emerging countries of Europe. In the fourth century all the recluses whom I have found so far were located in Italy and France. Protegées of Jerome included Melania the Younger who, for a time, was a recluse on the Mount of Olives,47 Marcella48 and Asella.49 The latter, although only twelve years old, lived "shut up in a narrow cell [and so] roamed through Paradise," seeking "all her delight in solitude and [thereby] found for herself a monastic hermitage in the centre of busy Rome."50 Another Roman recluse, mentioned by Palladius, was visited by Serapion. "Why do you remain solitary?" he asked. "I do not remain solitary. I am on a journey." "Where are you journeying?" he asked. "To God," she replied. Despite her sanctity, however, she was reprimanded for her pride by Serapion since she would not obey him by stripping in public. This was proof enough for the ascetic Serapion that she was not entirely dead to the world.51 Others are Romana, who lived in a cave on Mount Soracte until her death in 324 at the age of eleven or twelve52 and, in France, Vitalina, a solitary in Auvergne whom Martin of Tours visited53 Florence,54 Menna and Triaise.55
When we reach the fifth century, a rather strange situation seems to occur. I found only one Gaulish recluse56 in contrast to at least fifteen Celtic recluses. At the end of the fifth century I found three recluses who lived near Rheims but they were of Irish origin.57 In the sixth century there were six recluses living in Gaul, of whom three were mentioned by Gregory of Tours;58 one in Belgium and three in Italy. Tygria barely qualifies as a recluse since she did not conceal herself to pursue a solitary life but in order to hide the thumb and two fingers of John the Baptist which she had stolen from his shrine in Alexandria.59 Against these ten continental recluses, there are eighteen Celtic saints. Moving into the seventh century, we find four female solitaries living in the Lowlands, two of whom were of Irish origin; three in Gaul, all Irish; two in Italy, both English; and ten in England. By the eighth century the ratio begins to even out: two in Belgium, one of whom was Irish; three in Gaul; two in Italy; two in Ireland and seven in England. Prominent among these English recluses is Lioba who, on Boniface's death, retired as abbess of Tauberbischofsheim and went to live in solitude with a few companions.60 By the ninth century there seem to be more female recluses in what we would now call Germany, but this proportion may be changed once I gather more information on France and Belgium.
Certain tentative conclusions can be drawn from this extremely small sample, even if one allows for the notoriously difficult task of identifying and dating the Celtic saints of the British Isles.61 Despite the example of St. Martin of Tours and although highest honour was paid to the hermits living on Lérins and on the neighbouring island of Léro, the eremetical life in these early centuries never gained the popularity in Gaul as it did in Ireland.62 As early as the beginning of the sixth century, the Irish ascetic practices of solitude and peregrination had become so widespread and hermits so numerous as to pose a problem to the organised Church.63 As Nora Chadwick has pointed out, "the more fully developed forms of anchoritism in the Celtic Church do not appear to have developed from the Anchorites of the mountains and forest of eastern Gaul.... Its affinities are surely with the solitaries and the little communities of the lavræ of Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia."64
Chadwick's theory that the roots of Celtic spirituality lay in the desert model with little or no influence from the continent goes far to explain the disproportionate number of Irish recluses in relation to their continental counterparts. Given the profound influence of Irish monastic spirituality upon the Anglo-Saxons, it is not surprising that the eremetical tradition in England in the later Middle Ages was a strong as it was. Although the impression one gains from reading Bede is that monastic life in Anglo-Saxon England was almost entirely coenobitic in nature, he was strongly influenced by the eremetic ideal, an influence which is evident in his veneration for such men as Aidan and Cuthbert.65 Indeed, we need look no further than the extant vernacular poetry to realise the impact this form of Irish asceticism had on the Anglo-Saxons.66 Even Hilda of Whitby, that most organised of abbesses, has been called "a patroness of recluses,"67 and it seems likely that, in view of her close friendship with Aidan, her sojourn north of the Wear before she became abbess of Hartlepool partook of the eremetical life. Indeed, her predecessor at Hartlepool, Heiu, retired to Calcaria as a recluse.68 And Aldhelm writes not only of Paul and Antony as exemplars of the eremetical life, but also of Eugenia and the Old Testament Judith.69 Among the saintly women Aldhelm lists, we find Ethelthrith who lived as a recluse for forty years in Croyland,70 Milburga who fled an unwelcome marriage and lived for a time as a recluse before becoming an abbess,71 and Frideswide who, also fleeing an unwelcome suitor, lived a solitary life for three years about ten miles from Oxford.72 I have singled out these three women since they, with Hilda, are named in a twelfth-century psalter which Talbot has convincingly argued was written specifically for the recluse Christina of Markyate "to conform to her interests."73 Looking forward, therefore, to the twelfth century, we see that the eremetical tradition never abated in England, even in face of the herarchy at that time which, alien and Norman, seemed "more concerned with the organised and disciplined forms of religious asceticism"74 than with that form which found its expression in the life of the recluse.
There seems to have been a diminishing of interest in the solitary life during the ninth and tenth centuries. Sainsaulieu found only seven recluses in France during this period75 and I have located only twenty-three in England and on the continent. Oddly, St. Gall seems to be an exception. There we find the redoubtable Wiborada and a whole host of women solitaries who followed her example.76 Perhaps the reason for this decrease in the numbers of women recluses might be the exercise of a firmer control by the Church over her children (especially those of the feminine gender) for it is in the ninth century that we find our first fully developed rule for recluses. Grimlaicus' rule legislates for all facets of the solitary life, placing it firmly under the jurisdiction of the hierarchy.77 It is perhaps not surprising, then, that from this time on, we find fewer eccentric ascetics than we did in either Egypt or Ireland. They infrequently appear as in the bizarre case of Christina Mirabilis (Ý1224) who, fleeing the stench of sinful humanity after her vision of God, lived on treetops and steeples and threw herself into hot ovens to warn people of the fate which awaited sinners.78
By the eleventh century, the life of the hermit once more assumed the importance it had had in the early centuries of the Church. From the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries Sainsaulieu found about 3,000 names in France.79 Doerr has listed 433 names of female recluses and their reclusoria in south Germany alone80 and Clay noted 750 cells in England and over 650 actual names, of whom 180 are women.81 These increased numbers can be accounted for not only by the population explosion but also by a marked increase in lay piety. The ideals embodied by Peter Damian and St. Bernard had a profound influence on the ascetic life and were reflected in the increased numbers of individuals who found their vocation in the life of a recluse. Sermons based on saints' lives also had a profound influence in shaping the spiritual sensibilities of the laity.82 Thus we find, inter alia, Queen Margaret of Scotland who frequently withdrew to a cave not far from Dunfermline for prayer and meditation;83 Diemut of Wessobrun, noted copyist of manuscripts;84 Chelidonia who was a recluse for sixty years in the mountains near Subiaco;85 Damgerosa who lived as a recluse for fifty years on a hill near Le Mans;86 and, in England, Christina of Markyate, whose life has been edited and elegantly translated by C.H. Talbot.87 I single out Christina for discussion since she serves as a perfect example of the various motifs we have seen in this reckless dash through the centuries in pursuit of the Desert Mothers.
Christina was born about 1096 at Huntingdon in England where, as we have seen, the eremetic tradition had such a tenacious hold. Early pledging a vow of virginity at St. Alban's, she was betrothed against her will to one Burhred. Against the opposition of her parents and the bishop who had tried to seduce her, she followed the example of the Desert Mothers and fled, disguised as a man. She took refuge with the recluse Alfwen at Flamstead where she stayed for two years before moving into a tiny cell in the hermitage of the saintly Roger. After four years of enclosure, she returned to Markyate and, although invited to become superior of a community of nuns, decided to remain a recluse and made her formal monastic profession about 1130. Although a solitary, she was very much involved in worldly matters and acted as advisor to Geoffrey, abbot of St. Alban's. Throughout her life, despite the hardships and illnesses she endured, she emerges as a well-balanced person who "found her equilibrium in a life of prayer and solitude."88
Since this paper is merely an introductory survey to the female anchoretic tradition, I mention only in passing the two famous twelfth-century rules for recluses, that of Aelred of Rievaulx89 and the Ancrene Riwle. Both are suffused with the Cistercian spirit and both are adaptations of the Benedictine Rule, with the mysticism of Antony and Cassian added in full measure. From the same century we have two letters written by Abelard to Heloïse90 in which he recounts the origin of religious orders for women and extols the virtues of the solitary life as lived by such persons as Mary the Egyptian:
Let us therefore set up huts for ourselves in the desert so that we may be better able to stand before the Lord and, being prepared, take part in serving him, so that the society of men will not jolt the bed of our repose, disturb our rest, breed temptations and distract our minds from our holy calling.91While many people are unfamiliar with these early Desert Mothers, no one can be unaware of that great efflorescence of mystical treatises written in the fourteenth century. The tradition upon which the writers was already ancient and we must be grateful that, in the twentieth century, we can benefit from the spiritual experiences and insights of these mediæval recluses. Such a one is Julian of Norwich. Virtually nothing is known of her life. All we have are her writings.92 Such anonymity is, indeed, a fitting conclusion to this paper since, surely, this was the aim of these holy women. They withdrew from the world and sought seclusion and concealment in order to devote themselves entirely to contemplation. Julian's work speaks for her in a way that factual history could never do. Her spiritual harmony, equilibrium and integration are testimony to the validity of the solitary life. Although some of the earlier lives are frequently absurd and often funny, nevertheless the spiritual motivation is real and, as many of you doubtless are aware, this quest for solitude is a very real contemporary phenomenon.93 Indeed, it is through the example of two such recluses that I have embarked on this little-travelled path and undertaken a course of study which I feel will occupy my remaining years. To them, therefore, I respectfully dedicate this paper.
1. Francesca Steele, Anchoresses of the West (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder, 1903). Rotha May Clay, The Hermits and Anchorites of England (1914; rpt. Detroit: Singing Tree Press, n.d.). Steeles' study is still useful but the author's sources are either not noted or are of doubtful reliability. See Ann K. Warren, The Anchorite in Medieval England 1110-1539 (Case Western Reserve University, 1980) and Patricia J.F. Rosof, Anchoresses in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Society (New York University, 1978). For the women who populated the Egyptian and Syrian deserts of the early centuries, see Agnes Smith Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 2 vols. (London: C.J. Clay, 1900) and now Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, tr. with an introd. by Sebastian P. Brock and Susan Ashbrook Harvey (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987) and Benedicta Ward, Harlots of the Desert: A Study of Repentance in Early Monastic Sources (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1987). The eremetical tradition has always been more prominent in the Eastern Orthodox churches. The best, and most recent, source for these lives is Holy Women of Byzantium: Ten Saints' Lives in English Translation, ed. Alice-Mary Talbot (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1996). See also The Lives of the Spiritual Mothers (Buena Vista CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1991) and The Lives of the Holy Women Martyrs: An Orthodox Martyrologion of Spiritual Heroines É According to the Church Calender, tr. and comp. from the Greek of The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church and Other Sources (Buena Vista CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1991), both volumes illustrated with good reproductions of icons of these holy women. See also Eva Catafygiotu Topping, Holy Mothers of Orthodoxy: Women and the Church (Minneapolis: Light and Life, 1987) and Saints and Sisterhood: The Lives of Forty-Eight Holy Women: A Menologion or Month-by-Month Listing and Study of Women Saints on the Orthodox Calendar (Minneapolis: Light and Life, 1990); and Brenda Meehan, Holy Women of Russia: The Lives of Five Orthodox Women Offer Spiritual Guidance for Today (San Francisco: Harper, 1993.
2. See François Vandenbrouck, "Lay Spirituality in the Twelfth Century" in Jean Leclercq, François Vandenbrouck and Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the Middle Ages (London: Burns & Oates, 1968) 277.
4. Hippolyte Delehaye, "Les femmes stylites" Analecta bollandiana 27 (1908) 391392. Fr. Delehaye here corrects his earlier interpretation of a reference in Epiphanius' description of a monastery of women near Gethsemani, found in two manuscripts: Ms. Vat. gr. 443 and Ms. Moscow 148. The Vatican manuscript intimates that a male stylite was appointed as spiritual advisor to a colony of female stylites. Delehaye dismissed this reference: such a form of penitence was unsuited, he said, to those members of the weaker sex: "pour la sexe faible." To his amazement, however, he later discovered an eleventh-century woman stylite who practised her ascetic devotions near Ephesus. Unfortunately, he never fulfilled his promise "en ajouter beaucoup d'autres quand nous aurons le loisir de revenir sur la subjet." The question therefore remains. Who were these "beaucoup d'autres"? Alas, my Greek is insufficient to the task and my training such that I am unable to pursue this intriguing avenue of studies.
5. See Peter Brown, "The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity" Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971) 80101 and Elizabeth Petroff, "Medieval Women Visionaries; Seven Stages to Power" Frontiers 3 (1978) 3445. The latter article is of especial interest to the focus of this paper and goes far to explain both the preponderance of women as recluses and their impact on society.
6. Christina Mirabilis, for instance, heard Count Louis' deathbed confession, although the author of her life, Thomas de Cantimpré, is at pains to emphasise that she was not able to give absolution (Acta sanctorum 24 Jul. V, 657 and available on this web site; translated by Margot H. King, The Life of Christina of Saint-Trond, Peregrina Translations Series (1986; rpt. Toronto: Peregrina Publishing Co., 1995) 25. See H.C. Lea, A History of Auricular Confession and Indulgences in the Latin Church, Vol. I (Philadelphia: Lea Brothers, 1896) 21820 for further examples.
7. PG 28, cols. 14871558. There are three translations, two into English and one into French: The Life and Regimen of the Blessed and Holy Teacher, Syncletica, by Pseudo-Athanasius, tr. Elizabeth Bongie, Peregrina Translations Series (Toronto: Peregrina Publishing Co., 1995) and "Pseudo-Athanasius: The Life and Activity of the Holy and Blessed Teacher Syncletica" tr. Elizabeth Castelli in Ascetic Behaviour in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook, ed. Vincent L. Wimbush (Minneapolis, 1990) 265-311; and Vie de Sainte Synclétique, tr. Sr. Benedicta Bernard (Solesmes: Abbaye de Bellefontaine, 1972). See also Kevin Corrigan, "Syncletica and Macrina: Two Early Lives of Women Saints" Vox Benedictina 6:3 (July 1989) 241257 and Mary Forman, "Amma Syncletica: A Spirituality of Experience" Ibid., 10:2 (Winter 1993) 199-237.
8. The Sayings of the Fathers, tr. Owen Chadwick in Western Asceticism (London: SCM Press, 1958) 33-189 and the Syriac version, tr. E. A. Wallis Budge in Paradise of the Fathers, Vol. I (London: Chatto & Windus, 1970). For a recent study of the women who populated the deserts of Egypt and Syria, see Arthur L. Fisher, "Women and Gender in Palladius' Lausiac History" Studia Monastica 33 (1991) 23-50.
9. There are many editions of the Ancrene Riwle. The English texts have been edited by J.R.R. Tolkien (Early English Text Society no. 249, 1962), R.M. Wilson (EETS no. 229, 1954); Mabel Day (EETS no. 225, 1952); J. Påhlsson (Lund, 1911); A. C. Baugh (EETS no. 232, 1956); Frances M. Mack (EETS no. 252, 1962) and J. H. Fisher (EETS no. 223, 1945). The French texts have been edited by J. A. Herbert (EETS no. 219, 1944) and W.H. Tretheway (EETS no. 240, 1958). The Latin text has been edited by Charlotte d'Evelyn (EETS no. 216, 1944). Readily available is Geoffrey Shepherd's edition of the Ancrene Wisse [Parts six and seven only] (London: Thomas Nelson, 1959). Two translations are available: The Nun's Rule, tr. James Morton (London: Chatto and Windus 1907) and The Ancrene Riwle, tr. M.B. Salu (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1955).
10. Palladius, The Lausiac History, ed. Cuthbert Butler (Cambridge: University Press, 1898-1904); tr. W.K. Lowther Clarke (London: SPCK, 1918), and E.A. Wallis Budge in vol. 2 of his Paradise of the Fathers.
15. Judith is called the patroness of recluses in the AR: "Judith shut up betokeneth an anchoress shut up, who ought to lead a hard life as did the lady Judith." (Morton, p. 96). See also pp. 103, 104, 225, 226, 227, 228, 233.
16. The earliest version of the life of St, Mary of Egypt occurs in the sixth-century life of Cyriacos by Cyril of Scythopolis but the longer and better known version has been attributed to Sophronios (Ý ca. 638) and translated by Paul the Deacon (PL 73, 671-90) and by an anonymous author (Acta sanctorum 2 April I, 77-84). There are versions of the legend by Flodoard of Rheims (PL 135, 541-548) and Hildebert of Lavardin (PL 171, 1321-1340; Acta sanctorum April I, 8490). There are also versions in Old and Middle English, Dutch, Norwegian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and many in Old French. The most famous of the OF versions is that by Rutebeuf, edited by my mother: La vie de Sainte Marie l'Egyptienne, ed. Bernadine A. Bujila (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1949).
19. I consciously use this odd plural which my mentor and dear friend, Professor Charles W. Jones, employed in his Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan; Biography of a Legend to illustrate the truth of Reginald of Durham's dictum, "all things are common in the communion of saints." Its use, he says, "emphasizes that the many authors [of saints' lifes] conceived of their act of composition as retelling the same life without change of fact or emphasis." All saints' lifes should essentially be one" (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947, p. 16). See also his Saints' Lives and Chronicles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1947), esp. p. 61)
20. Acta sanctorum 22 July V, 188225. See also Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda aurea, ed. Th. Graesse (Dresdæ & Lipsiæ: Impensis Librariæ Arnoldianæ, 1846), p. 407-417; tr. Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger (New York: Arno Press, 1969), p. 355-364, esp. p. 360. See also Margot H. King "The Legend of Martha and Mary" Vox Benedictina 6/1 (January 1989): 5-13.
21. Augustine, De genesi ad litteram 9. 5, 9. 31, 11. 42; De gratia Christi et de peccato originali II, 40; Confessiones 13, 32; De opera monachorum 40; De trinitate 7, 7, 10; De continentia I. 23; De civitate Dei 14. 11; Leander of Seville, De institutione virginum et de contemptu mundi, Præf.; Jerome, Commentarius in epistulam Paulinam ad Ephesios 3. 5; Adversus Helvidium 22; Epistula 130. 10.
27. The Life of Christina of Markyate, ed. and tr. C.H. Talbot (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959) 115. As late as the fifteenth century, a recently widowed Christine de Pisan made the remark in her book Mutacion de fortune that, unable to provide for her family, she lay wishing for death and "Fortune came and turned her into a man." Quoted by Enid McLeod, The Order of the Rose; The Life and Ideas of Christine de Pizan (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman, 1976), p. 33. Thus do monastic ideas slip into the secular world. The divine gift of grace becomes "Fortune" and Christine's femininity becomes masculine so that she can earn enough money to support her family in the masculine field of writing.
29. St. Mary of Egypt (see above, n. 17) was a prostitute who was miraculously converted and lived as a hermit in the desert for forty-seven years on roots, water and two loaves of bread. Ultimately she was discovered by the priest Zosimus who heard her confession and the following year brought her communion. He returned after a lapse of another year to find her dead. See the recent translation by Maria Kouli in Holy Women of Byzantium, ed. Talbot, 65-93 and Ward, "St. Mary of Egypt: The Liturgical Icon of Repentance" in Harlots of the Desert 26-56. For a profound examination of underlying themes of the story of St. Mary, see especially the wonderful introduction to the Slavonic life by Mother Thekla: The Life of St. Mary of Egypt, ed. and tr. Mother Katherine and Mother Thekla, The Library of Orthodox Thinking (1974; rpt. Toronto: Peregrina Publishing Co., 1997). The Orthodox Church commemorates St. Mary on the fifth Sunday of Lent and her story is read on the Thursday of that week. See The Great Canon of Saint Andrew ed. and tr. Mother Katherine and Mother Thekla, The Library of Orthodox Thinking (1974; rpt. Toronto: Peregrina Publishing Co., 1991) (1974; rpt. Toronto: Peregrina Publishing Co., 1997). and The Lenten Triodion, tr. Mother Mary and ARchimandrite Kallistos Ware (1978; rpt. London: Faber and Faber, 1984) 447-463.
30. Thaïs, a notorious courtesan, was converted by the anchorite Pavuncius who placed her in a cell attached to a convent in the Theban desert, sealed the door, and allowed her only one little window through which the nuns could pass her bread and water. After three years, it was miraculously revealed to one of St. Antony's disciples that her sins had been forgiven. Although she did not want to leave her cell, once released, Thaïs lived for only fifteen days before God took her to him. See Wallis Budge, Paradise I, 140142) and Ward, "Thaïs: How to Receive a Gift" in Harlots of the Desert 76-84.
32. Anastasia, fleeing the lecherous advances of the emperor Justinian and the jealousy of the empress Theodora, built a convent five miles from Alexandria. After the death of Theodora, Justinian resumed his pursuit of Anastasia and she found refuge in a cave near the lavra of the abbot Daniel in Scete. There she lived as a recluse until her death twenty years later (Acta sanctorum 10 Mar. II, 4041; tr. from the Syriac by Brock and Harvey in Holy Women of the Syrian Orient 142-149.
33. Apollinaria, also called Apollinaris Syncletica, left her wealthy home in Rome to live the life of a hermit in the desert near Jerusalem. She then journeyed to the lavra of St. Macarius in Scete and, so disfigured was she by her ascetic life, that she was thought to be a man and assumed the name of Dorotheus (Acta sanctorum 5 Jan. I, 257261).
34. Athanasia and her husband Andronicus decided to live as ascetics after the death of their children. After staying twelve years in a convent, Athanasia went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the advice of the abbot Daniel. On the way she met Andronicus who did not recognise her because of the disfigurement caused by her harsh life. They travelled together and on their return Andronicus proposed they live together as fellow ascetics. "Athanasius" agreed on condition that they follow a strict rule of silence. This they did for twelve years until Athanasia's death, and her true identity was not revealed to Andronicus until he was on the point of death himself ("Vie de sainte Athanasie d'Egine" ed. F. Halkin in Six inédits d'hagiographie byzantine (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1987) 179-195; .Acta sanctorum 9 Oct. IV, 997-1000; "The Life of St. Athanasia of Aegina" Maistor (Canberra, 1984) 199-224; and, most recently, "Life of St. Athansia of Aegina" tr. Lee Francis Sherry in Holy Women of Byzantium, ed. Talbot, 137-158).
35. Euphrosyne, seized with a desire for the monastic life, entered a monastery disguised as a man under the name of Smaragdus. However her beauty so distracted the other monks that the abbot ordered her to live as a recluse in her cell. There she lived until her death thirty three years later (Acta sanctorum 11 Feb. II, 533544; tr. by Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, Vol. 2, 4659); reprinted in Vox Benedictina 1 (1984) 140-156). This is one of the rare occasions when it happened that a woman's beauty was not destroyed but continued to act as a temptation to sin despite a male disguise.
36. Hilaria was, according to legend, the older daughter of the emperor Zeno. She fled her home disguised as a man and was given a cell in the desert by the abbot Bamfu where she lived for many years under the name of Hilarion the Eunuch. (Patrologia Orientalis, ed. R. Graffen and F. Nau 11 (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1916): 624638; tr. James Drescher, Three Coptic Legends: Hilaria, Archellites, The Seven Sleepers (Cairo: Impr. de l'Institut Français d'archéologie orientale, 1947). See also White, The Monasteries of the Wadi n'Natrun 224-225. Many monasteries were established specifically for eunuchs. See R. Guilland, "Les eunuques dans l'empire byzantine" Revue des études byzantines 1 (1943) 197-238 and K.M. Ringrose, "Living in Shadows: Eunuchs and Gender in Byzantium" in Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, ed. G. Herdt (New York, 1994) 85-109; 507-518.
37. Theodora, married to a good man but unfaithful to him, was seized with remorse and fled disguised as a man. She was admitted to a monastery under the name of Theodoric and lived there until she was accused of having "fathered" a child. Expelled from the monastery, she lived alone with the baby for seven years until she was re-admitted to the monastery where she lived a life of great humility until her death (Acta sanctorum 11 Sept. III, 788-789). This is not the same Theodora whose life has been so wonderfully translated by Alice-Mary Talbot, "Life of St. Theodora of Thessalonike" in Holy Women of Byzantium, ed. Talbot, 159-237.
38. Matrona, fleeing a bad husband, assumed male garb and the name of Babylus and entered a monastery. However her true identity was discovered and she entered a convent at Emesa where she became abbess until she was forced to flee her husband again. She hid herself in a ruined heathen temple at Berytus and lived the life of a recluse until the death of her husband. (Patrologia Orientalis 3, 289-291; see "Life of St. Matrona of Perge" tr. Jeffrey Feathersone, introd. and notes Cyril Mango in Holy Women of Byzantium, ed. Talbot, 13- 64; partial translation by Khalifa Abubakr Bernnasser, Gender and Sanctity in Early Byzantine Monasticism: A Study of the Phenomenon of Female Ascetics in Male Monastic Habit; With a trans. of The Life of St. Matrona (Unpub. diss., Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey, 1984). Thanks to the wonderful work of Paul Halsall at Fordham University, this translation is now available on the web: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/matrona.html)
39. Eugenia was yet another who, disguised as a man, entered a monastery where she remained living the life of a humble monk until she was elected abbot. She reluctantly accepted the office but "made a little cell for herself by the side of the door of the monastery that she might be continually in it, that she might not be a burden on the brothers who were with her, and be better off in her dwelling than all those who were with her" (Lewis, Select Narratives, 14; PL 73, 605-624.
40. Marina, unlike our other "transvestites," entered a convent as a tiny child with her father who was concerned about her fate if she were left alone in the sinful world. He impressed upon her the importance of concealing her true sex and she assumed the name of Marinus. Years later she was accused of fathering a child and she and the baby lived outside the monastery gate. After five years, she was allowed to return to the monastery where she humbly lived a life of great hardship ("Vie et office de sainte Marine" Revue d'orient chrétien 6 (1901) 575-577 and reprinted in Bibliothèque hagiographique Orientale 8 (Paris, 1905) 36-38.; The Life of St. Mary/Marinos, tr. Nicholas Constas in Talbot, Holy Women of Byzantium, 1-12; Legenda aurea 84, 79).
41. Eusebia Hospitia, accompanied by two maids, fled an unwelcome marriage and, disguised as men, arrived at Mylas in Caria. There she built a chapel in honour of St. Stephen and lived a solitary life until joined by a few other holy women (Acta sanctorum 24 Jan. III, 212-268).
42. Pelagia was an actress, a notoriously evil and despised profession in the early days of the church. She practised her profession in Antioch under the name of Margaret until she came to repent of her evil ways by the preaching of St. Nonnus. Since at that time it was impossible to allow a member of the acting profession to be baptised until the very point of death, Pelagia was only permitted, after many dramatic protestations of her sincerity, to be put under the care of the deaconess Romana whose duties consisted of taking care of catechumens. Pelagia gave away all her finery and treasures and was ultimately baptised, confirmed and allowed to receive communion. She then slipped away from Antioch dressed as a monk and went to Jerusalem where she built herself a hermitage on the Mount of Olives where she lived for three years until her death: Acta sanctorum 8 Oct. IV, 248268; Pélagie la pénitente: Métamorphose d'une légende; Les textes et leurs histoire grec, latin, syriaque, arabe, arménien, géorgien, slavon; ed. Pierre Petitmengin (Paris: Etudes Augustiniennes, 1981); tr. Brock and Harvey, Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, 40-62. See also Ward, "Pelagia: Beauty Riding By" in Harlots of the Desert, 57-75.
44. John Anson, "The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism; The Origins and Development of a Motif," Viator 5 (1974) 1-32; Evelyne Patlagean, "L'histoire de la femme déguisée en moine et l'évolution de la sainteté féminine en Byzance," Studi medievali 3e serie, 17 (1976), 597-623; Meeks, W.A. "The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of Symbol in Earliest Christianity" History of Religions 13 (1973-1974) 165-208; Kerstin Aspegren, The Male Woman: A Feminine Ideal in the Early Church, ed. R. Kieffer (Uppsala: Academia Ubsaliensis; Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1990); Baudoin de Gaiffier "Palatins et eunuques dans quelques documents hagiographiques" Analecta bollandiana 75 (1957), 17-46; Bernnasser, Gender and Sanctity in Early Byzantine Monasticism; and Vern Bullough, "Transvestism in the Middle Ages" in Sexual Practices and the Medieval Church, ed. Vern L. Bullough and James Brundate (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1982) 43-54. For a Freudian interpretation, see M. Delcourt, "Female Saints in Masculine Clothing" Hermaphrodite: Myths and Rites of the Bisexual Figure in Classical Antiquity, tr. J. Nicholson (London: Studio Books, 1961) 84-102 .
46. Such were Eugenia, Apollinaria, Hilaria, Marina, Margarita, Theodore and Anna. See "Mary, the Niece of Abraham of Qidun" tr. Brock and Harvey, Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, 40-39; "The Story of the Blessed Mary Who Was Called Marina," tr. Agnes Smith Lewis, with an introduction by Margot H. King Vox Benedictina 2: 4 (October 1985) 305-317 and Ward, "Maria the Niece of Abraham: An Image of Salvation" Harlots of the Desert 85-101.
47. Vie de Sainte Melania, ed. and tr. Denys Gorce (Paris: Cerf, 1962); "S. Melaniæ iunioris, Acta græca," ed. H.D. Analecta bollandiana 22 (1903), 549; tr. Elizabeth A. Clark, The Life of Melania the Younger (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1984). See also Dunbar, Dictionary Vol. 2, 85-87.
54. Florence, converted by St. Hilary in Phrygia, returned with him to Poitiers where he placed her under the guidance of the recluse Triaise and then built a cell for her six leagues from the town (Dunbar, Dictionary Vol. 1, 320; II, 272).
56. Cerona and her brother Sophronius fled their heathen parents but when their relationship was mistaken for an illicit love they separated. Cerona built herself a cell in a solitary wood near Mortagne in the diocese of Séez (now Sées) about 440 where she lived as a recluse until she was joined by other holy women and then formed the first monastery in the diocese (Dunbar, Dictionary Vol. 1, 172).
58. Clothilda: Gregory of Tours, Historia francorum 4, 1, ed. W. Arndt and B. Krusch, MGH.SS rer. merov. I (1885, 1937); tr. Lewis Thorpe (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974); the recluse at Radegund's convent in Poitiers (Ibid. VI, 29) and Monegund: De vita patrum 19, Acta sanctorum 2 Jul. I, 275282.
61. Thus Almedha was also known as Eiliswedd, Elynet, Eiliueth, Elived, Aeliuedha, Eilwetha, Aiphetha, Eliveta, Elevetha, Electa, Aylud, Aylett, Haylett, Haellide, Taylad, Eylythe, Ailed, Aled, and Alud (S. Baring-Gould and John Fisher, The Lives of the British Saints Vol. 2 (London: Published for the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1908), p. 418-419). Add to this the difficulty, noted by Kathleen Hughes that, of 119 women saints mentioned in the Martyrology of Tallaght, only four lives are extant: Early Christian Ireland (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972) p. 234235)
62. Thus John Ryan: "The Gauls were much more active than contemplative by nature and found life in solitude altogether more trying than did the Egyptians": Irish Monasticism; Origins and Early Development (Dublin: Talbot, 1931) 259-260.
63. So Columbanus reported that Finian of Clonard had asked the writer Gildas about the monks who were leaving their monasteries to become hermits against the wishes of their abbots (Epistola III ad Gregorium papam, ed. W. Gunlach, MGH. Epistolæ 3 (1892): 159), quoted by Ryan, Irish Monasticism 26).
64. Nora Chadwick, The Age of the Saints in the Early Celtic Church (London: Oxford University Press, 1963) 86-87; happily, now reprinted: Lampeter: Llanerch, 1997. But see O. Loyer in Les chrétientés celtiques (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1965) who argues that the movement was from Gaul to Britain.
65. Bede, Ecclesiastical History 3, 16; 4, 28 (29), ed. Bertram Colgrave and R.A.B. Mynors (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969); Vita Sancti Cuthberti auctore Beda, ed. and tr. Bertram Colgrave (Cambridge: University Press, 1940), 341-407; and Beda metrische Vita Sancti Cuthberti, ed. Werner Jaager (Leipzig: Mayer & Muller, 1935).
66. See P.L. Henry, The Early English and Celtic Lyric (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966). The Old English poem The Phoenix undoubtedly concerns the solitary life (see John Bugge, "The Virgin Phoenix" Mediæval Studies 398 (1976) 332-350), as do The Seafarer and The Wanderer. See especially Dorothy Whitelock, "The Interpretation of The Seafarer" in Early Cultures of Northwest Europe, ed. Cyril Fox and Bruce Dickens (Cambridge: University Press, 1950) 261-272.
76. Acta sanctorum 2 May I, 287-313. See also Eva Irblich, Die Vitæ Sanctæ Wiborada: ein Heiligenleben der 10. Jahrhunderts als Zeitbild (Friedrichshafen: Bodensee-Geschichtsverein, 1970). The history of recluses at St. Gall is curious. Before Wiborada, there is only one recorded case of enclosure, but that case is remarkable. In 883 the Abbot Hartmuot received permission from both his monks and his Emperor, Charles the Fat to resign his position and be shut up in a small cell "with only a small opening for the insertion of food" (Ratpert, Casus S. Galli, AD 877-883; ed. Von Arx, MGH.SS I, 73-74). The place of his confinement is unknown. Wiboroda, on the other hand, received permission to become a recluse from Bishop Salomon of Constance (not the abbot) first in a small dwelling by St. George's church and then in an inclusorium attached to St. Mangen's church which belonged to the monastery where she lived from 916-926, She had many imitators, both male and female, and the inclusorium was inhabited by recluses until 1428 (E. Poeschel, Die Kunstdenkmaler des Kantons St. Gallen II/I (Basel, 1957) 174, quoted by Irblich, p. 165). Similarly, the inclusorium by St. Mangen's Church was utilised from 920 until the death of the recluse Barbara Horbogin in 1509: E. Schlumpf, Quellen zur Geschichte der Inclusen in der Stadt Sankt Gallen (St. Gallen, 1953) 19, quoted by Irblich 169.
77. Grimlaicus, Regula solitariorum (PL 103: 575-664). Doerr mentions a translation into MGH of the fourteenth century: St. Emmeram, cgm 4884 (Das Institut 146). Would his rule, appearing as it does, in a century when the popularity of the solitary life had suffered a decline be somehow connected with St. Gall? Nothing is known of Grimlaicus except that he was a priest and recluse. Basedow locates him in Rheims (Die Inclusen in Deutschland (Heidelburg: J. Horning, 1895) 10) following Mabillon: "Grimlaicus presbyter [ut puto] remensis" (Acta sanctorum OSB, sæc. VII 43). Little is known of the solitaries in Rheims. See Gougaud, "Etude sur la Réclusion Réligieuse," Revue Mabillon 13 (1923) 32.
89. Aelred, De institutis reclusarum, ed. C.H. Talbot, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediævalis 1 (Turnholt: Brepols, 1971): 635-682 and Analecta S.O.C. 7 (1951), 167-217; La Vie de Recluse, ed. and tr. Charles Dumont, Sources Chrétiennes 76 (Paris: Cerf, 1961); and "The Life of the Recluse" in The Works of Aelred of Rievaulx Vol. 1, Cistercian Fathers series 2 (Kalamazoo MI: Cistercian Publications, 1971). See also Walter Daniel's Life of Ailred Abbot of Rievaulx, ed. and trans. F.M. Powice (London: Nelson, 1950) and Amédée Hallier, The Monastic Theology of Aelred of Rievaulx (Shannon: Cistercian Publications, 1969).
90. Abelard, Epistula 6, ed. J.T. Muckle, Mediæval Studies 17 (1955), 253-281; and Epistula 7, ed. T.P. McLaughlin, Ibid., 18 (1956), 241-292; tr. Betty Radice (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), p. 180-269 (Epistula 6 abridged).
92. The preferred edition of Julian's Revelations is that by Marion Glasscoe: Julian of Norwich: A Revelation of Love (Exeter: University of Exeter, 1976) and the better translation that by M.L, Del Mastro: Revelations of Divine Love (Garden City NY: Image, 1977). Less trustworthy but more easily obtainable is the two-volume edition by Edmund College and James Walsh, A Book of Showings (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediæval Studies, 1978) and their translation in the series, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1978).
93. See Marie Le Roy Ladurie, Femmes au désert: témoignages sur la vie erémitique (Paris-Fribourg: Editions Saint Paul, 1971) for a study of the renewal of the eremitic life for women. It consists of fifty answers to a questionnaire sent by the author to hermits living in Europe, Asia and North America.
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