Hermits and Anchorites of England by Rotha Mary Clay

Often when we think of the hermits, we think of the very first centuries of Christendom, of men like St. Anthony of Egypt or St. Simeon Stylites who spent decades in solitude seeking God's face in the empty places of the earth. But usually our thought of the hermits ends there, for with the organization of monastic communities around Rules, such as those of St. Benedict and St. Basil, does not the age of the hermits end and the age of the monasteries begin?

In fact it did not. While monasticism became the dominant manner of asceticism, at least in the west, there always remained an eremetic strain, albeit a minority. Medieval Europe never lacked for hermits, dwelling in the caves of France or on the rocky isles of the Irish Sea, sanctifying the world by their presence and offering unceasing prayer to God.

Medieval England had a particularly rich eremitic tradition, one that began with the great hermits of the Anglo-Saxon and Irish tradition and continued right up until the eve of the Anglican revolution. This long tradition is documented in a new edition of the classic 1914 work Hermits and Anchorites of England by English medievalist Rotha Mary Clay.

Drawing on land titles, legal records, primary sources such as the 13th century Ancrene Riwle (“Guide for Anchoresses”), and even archaeological remains, Ms. Clay is able to reconstruct a vivid picture of the eremitical life in Merrie Old England. We are introduced to characters such as Kenyth of Glanmorgan, a Welsh hermit who lived exposed to the rain and wind on a promontory jutting into the Irish Sea; David Welkes, a 15th century hermit of Dover who won the esteem of King Henry V; Celestria, an enclosed anchoress of Gloucester, and many more men and women who served God in solitude from the days of Hengist and Horsa right up until the eve of the Reformation, when the agents of Cromwell drove them out of hiding and made them pensioners of the Crown.

This new edition of Ms. Clay’s work preserves the original text in its entirety, with only minor changes in punctuation to make it more palatable to modern American readers. Differences in formatting between this edition and the 1914 original made it impossible to retain every illustration on the same page as Clay had them arranged, but we have attempted to get as close as possible. The book contains over fifty illustrations; no illustrations from the original are omitted.

Hermits and Anchorites of England is particularly noteworthy for its abundance of illustrations depicting the caves and dwellings of these hermit folk. Most of these descriptions were collected by Ms. Clay herself during her extensive travels throughout England researching the work.

It is our hope that this reprint of Ms. Clay’s classic work will inspire in the reader a greater love for England’s medieval Catholic heritage, enkindle a deeper understanding of the eremitic vocation, and hasten the return of the day when our culture is again seasoned with the presence of Catholic hermits offering their prayers and their very lives to God in the solitary places of the earth.
Paperback, 261 pages, $17.50 USD + shipping.



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