Moreover, I enjoyed The Anchoresses’ Rule, and after much debate, I decided that I should tailor my search with an actual work of medieval literature in mind, instead of just searching through articles on medieval literature. I can only wonder if another, larger, library would have had more information, or if such things can truly only be found on the internet.
Now, since reading The Anchoresses’ Rule, I have been interested in the religious ideologies of the medieval culture, and how it might have affected the practitioners. Why did they choose such a secluded lifestyle? How did they cope with the eternal loneliness? In my search for more information, though, I found few articles, which actually suggests much about the anchorite culture as a whole. They were solitary, and in so being, were essentially left behind in medieval cultural studies. They were; however, not forgotten by those who study and live in similar solitude, such as the Hermitary, which offers quite a wide variety of articles and reflections on such isolation.
Religion was a constant source of conflict during the medieval era. For example, in an Introduction to Anti-Judaism, Fantasy, and Medieval Literature, by Judith Rosenthal, the clash between Jewish voices and Christian depictions of Jewish characters illuminates an intriguing problem. In fact, as she studied Chaucer, she noticed that “a picture of the theological and spiritual battle between medieval Jews and Christians, underlying the literary works [of this era], produced by poets of both faiths, emerges” (Rosenthal 2). The Christians had a tendency, at this point, to mark the Jews as terrible people because they followed a different faith. Both religions thought that they were following the “right path” and that the other was theologically wrong. In fact, not much has changed despite eight hundred years of “evolution.”
Even Margery Kemp is guilty of this religious prejudice as she “depicts the Jews as symbols of evil…[and as] Christkillers in her vision of the Crucifixion” (Rosenthal 2). In an attempt to uncover Kemp’s actual source of animosity towards the Jews, Rosenthal goes further to advise that Kemp was influenced by many anti-Judaic ideologies, including “the Gospels, the doctrine of the church fathers, and the English medieval drama[s]” (2). This suggests that her focus of contempt was brought on by her own religious teachings, and in fact, could not have been helped.
If even the “doctrine of the church fathers” is telling Kemp that Jews are blasphemous fiends, then what else would Kemp write about? It is unfortunate that the ideology of a priest; however wrong or right he may be, often becomes the fervent ideology of his followers, even though it may be wrong or even hurtful to other human beings. Moreover, if there’s one thing that has been proven time and time again to literally incite wars, it’s the varying versions of religious ideologies. And medieval literature is simply a great example in epitomizing this fact.
Judith Rosenthal’s article was important in an understanding of religion in medieval literature because it highlighted the problem with the different religions of the time. In fact, since we still have these problems within our own culture now, this article was doubly significant. Religion was always a determining factor in philosophy, and we just haven’t changed.
In a stroke of luck, I found an article that discusses the literal life of an anchorite, called Goscelin of St. Bertin's Book of Consolation for the Anchoress Eva, by the Hermitary. I found it a clever discussion on the approach for living a spiritual life as an anchorite or anchoress. In fact, this article examines the little-known life of Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, who lived from 1035-1107. Because he wrote in “the genre of advice guides to women based on the letters of St. Jerome and the confessional style established by St. Augustine” (Hermitary, Goscelin 1), he is important to study to get a better perception of the hardships that the anchorites endured quietly.
His writings are exceptional because it was discovered that Goscelin fell in love with the anchoress Eva and that his Liber Confortatorius (1082) was written as a result of his unadulterated love for her, and was “as much for his own solace and consolation as for Eva's unsolicited guidance” (Hermitary, Goscelin 1). Their story began when she came to England as a child and joined the Wilton convent, with Goscelin as her mentor and tutor (1). They apparently had a very close relationship (presumably even sexual) and when Goscelin learned in later years that she left the convent to join another small group of anchoresses, he was utterly devastated and was inspired to write the Liber.
Eva remained with her new enclave for twenty years, and eventually became a “model of sanctity and anchoritism in France, celebrated by respectable abbots, and even the subject of a poem by the teacher of classics Hilary of Orleans” (Hermitary, Goscelin 2). Honestly, I wish that I could have found out more about her, as it seemed she lived such a fascinating life, even though she lived the life of a devout and isolated anchoress. To be celebrated for her sanctity must have been an amazing honor for one of the cloth. This in itself was worth reading the article, just to actually comprehend what an anchoress sought to achieve.
Now, there is a bit of controversy, of course, surrounding the nature of Goscelin’s work. Scholars have wondered if he was “being quite literal in revealing his morbid affection [for Eva]” (Hermitary, Goscelin 2), or if he was “simply using an elaborate and rhetorical vocabulary inspired by his knowledge of Ovid” (2). If he was, in fact, being literal in expounding on his affection and undying love for Eva, then clearly he wasn’t wholesome enough to be an anchorite.
Moreover, in his capacity as a tutor to young and inexperienced anchoresses, he probably shouldn’t have been allowed to remain within the convent; which only makes his story that much more intriguing. But maybe Eva simply inspired something within his old and lonely soul. Maybe he was able to imagine two young lovers, and thus created beautiful poetry and was able to mimic the mortal love that, if he had chosen another path in life, he could possibly have lived.
The true meaning of Goscelin’s work doesn’t matter, though, because scholars have decided that his words explain much in regards to “historical context for what it reveals about society, gender, and religious life” (Hermitary, Goscelin 2). This in itself is fascinating for a student of medieval literature: reading about a possible love affair between two such “moral” members of the church. Moreover, “the work is significant for what it suggests about women anchorites and reclusion, and for what it tells about the status and roles of men and women of the period” (3). However, even without the actual physical affair, his work provides much to demonstrate the pain between the star-crossed lovers, or more specifically, the physical and emotional confines of pursuing a spiritual lifestyle, devoid of such normal human pursuits as love.
The conclusion of the article points out that “the unctuous tone, restless subtexts, bizarre anecdotes, and unhealthy relationship to Eva make the work unattractive and even unnerving” (Hermitary, Goscelin 3). This is significant to note, because it suggests a great deal about the nature and minds of the anchorites. Such seclusion might be harmful to the mind, especially if that man is more apt to need love and attention.
Finally, the article Ancrene Wisse: a Medieval Guide for Anchoresses discusses The Anchoresses’ Rule, which I found most illuminating, given my interest in that particular work. For the most part, this article discusses the “psychology of the anchorite and how the Ancrene Wisse reveals it” (Hermitary, Ancrene 1). The anchorite is more than just a solitary person, they have feelings and desires too; however, they understand why such bad influences “must be avoided” (1). From this explanation, I definitely felt grief for the anchorites and anchoresses. Obviously anchorites choose their path based on the need for a spiritual identity, or to serve the spiritual cloth, with no regard to the lesser needs of mere mortals, like themselves.
Moreover, “the withdrawal of the anchoress means familiarity with no male’s sight” (Hermitary, Ancrene 1). Like the nuns of today, they don’t have contact with men, and in order to serve God with more tenacity, they are spiritually married to God.
But it is that very need for company and love that seems to damage them the most. In fact, the “despair of isolation and lack of companionship may plague the anchoress and lead her to temptation” (Hermitary, Ancrene 1). Since this must be true, it would certainly explain why Goscelin wrote with such desire about Eva. Maybe they really had an illicit relationship when the need for companionship grew too great.
Clearly, the author of The Anchoresses’ Rule “knows of pregnancies, gossip, fraud, [and] of maid-servants who betray or tempt the virtue of their mistresses” (Hermitary, Ancrene 2). This is important to realize because they are evidently aware of the bad behaviors and temptations that would lead them down the wrong path. However, it must have been difficult to lead such a life while others were enjoying gossip and lustful sins.
Furthermore, The Anchoresses’ Rule is “a pageant of [the] practical and spiritual, always assuming that the anchoritic life is a superior grace but also an entirely rational one” (Hermitary, Ancrene 2). I found this especially poignant, as it is definitely preachy to the extreme in regards to the sins of life. In fact, the reason that the life of an anchorite is so completely spiritual and fulfilling is because it is thought of as a superior way of life. In class, we even talked about how many anchorites were already wealthy as they took up the cause and moved into the convent, but most needed funding from outside sources. Now, the only way to get such funds would be by having a spiritual and promising path that would merit funding. People would never hand over a check for a lifetime of food and clothing for a bum. But they would certainly do so if becoming an anchorite aided the church and the literary culture, which it clearly did.
Fortunately, I found that the articles were each like an extension of the others. The first, Introduction to Anti-Judaism, Fantasy, and Medieval Literature, by Judith Rosenthal, was very helpful in understanding how religion worked during the medieval period. Actually, all of the works that we’ve read this semester would benefit from an understanding of the religious ideologies of the time.
I especially enjoyed the complimentary nature of Goscelin of St. Bertin's Book of Consolation for the Anchoress Eva and the Ancrene Wisse: a Medieval Guide for Anchoresses. Goscelin’s work illuminated the base and unforgettable temptations of the anchorite or anchoress, which purely complimented the examination of The Anchoresses’ Rule. They both gave much of the same information regarding the cloistered life, as well as the religious dilemmas of the period.
Overall, I think that this research has helped me gain an understanding of what I was reading. I found it especially fascinating to be interested in a work and look up criticisms based on a historical reading. I do have to comment, though, that I was disappointed with the amount of articles and books that discuss medieval literature. Chaucer, of course, gets books and books, but lesser known authors, like Goscelin and the three anchoresses, get little or nothing at all. And that lack of information is a shame.
Hermitary. “Ancrene Wisse: a Medieval Guide for Anchoresses.”
Hermitary. “Goscelin of St. Bertin's Book of Consolation for the Anchoress Eva.”
Rosenthal, Judith. “Introduction to Anti-Judaism, Fantasy, and Medieval Literature.”
Medieval Encounters: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Culture in Confluence and
Dialogue. 3 (1999): 358-420.