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  • The date is 1272, and outside a small church in northern England, a crowd has gathered.

  • Masons are putting the finishing touches on a new extension to the church, and the assembled

  • crowd peers through the final few holes left in the stone wall they are building.

  • Through those holes they can see a young woman, sitting on a rough wooden bed, clasping her

  • hands together in prayer.

  • Finally, the masons insert the last stone into place, and the woman is sealed away,

  • never to feel the warmth of the sun on her skin or the warmth of a loved one's embrace

  • ever again.

  • She will live out her life and die in the tiny room she has just been entombed within.

  • But what might be most shocking of all is the fact that this isn't a punishment, in

  • fact it's an honor.

  • And it's an honor that the young woman has chosen for herself.

  • Anchorites were a religious group that grew in popularity during the middle to late middle

  • ages, and while they attracted both men and women, they were predominantly female with

  • as many as twice as many women as men becoming anchorites.

  • These pious men and women dedicated their life wholeheartedly to God, and more specifically

  • to prayer for the salvation of the world- and the best way to accomplish this in their

  • minds was to seal themselves away, where they could not be tempted or led astray from their

  • path.

  • It's believed that John the Baptist served as inspiration for the Anchorite way of life,

  • as he was a hermit monk who retreated from the world so that he may come closer to God.

  • For his faith and devotion, God rewarded him with the privilege of preparing others for

  • the coming of Jesus, and ultimately with the baptism of Jesus himself as the latter began

  • his earthly ministry.

  • Yet while John the Baptist was a famous hermit, he wasn't a recluse by any means, and certainly

  • did not go to the extreme lengths that Anchorites did.

  • Hermitdom was also popular during the time of the Anchorites, and for much the same reasons

  • as John the Baptist's- becoming a hermit was a way of leaving the world behind and enduring

  • a life of hardship in a bid to become closer to God.

  • Unlike today where we consider hermits to be creepy weirdos, hermits were largely honored

  • during the Middle Ages, as their seclusion was seen as an act of pious devotion to God.

  • Hermits were often sought out for their spiritual wisdom and counsel, and received some level

  • of honor rather than disdain.

  • For some, hermitdom was too easy a path to follow, and these people decided that they

  • needed a more extreme form of social isolation in order to get close to God.

  • To become an anchorite, an individual needed to get the cooperation of a church, as their

  • cell where they would spend the rest of their life needed to be constructed on the side

  • of a church where they could still be close to religious services.

  • The anchorite had to prove to the Bishop of the church that they were capable of supporting

  • themselves for a number of years, and had the services of at least one servant to bring

  • them food and water as well as remove their waste.

  • This has led modern researchers to puzzle over the practice, as it is clear that only

  • educated, financially well-to-do individuals could afford to engage in such a lifestyle,

  • and these aren't the type of people who's lives are so difficult that they might seek

  • to escape them by any means necessary.

  • This is evidence then that the life of an Anchorite was not just chosen by those who

  • participated, but even desired, bizarre as that might seem to us today.

  • Once entombed, the Anchorite was forbidden from ever leaving their enclosure, and given

  • that there was no doorway and they were surrounded in solid stone, escape was a moot point.

  • The only openings to the outside world were two to three slits cut into the rock.

  • One slit would face into the church, from where the Anchorite could see the altar and

  • could partake in mass.

  • Another slit would face outwards, from where the Anchorite could receive visitors.

  • Sometimes a third slit was cut for the anchorite to receive food and water and to pass their

  • waste to a servant on the outside.

  • The interior of the cell contained only sparse and very rough wooden furnishings, typically

  • just a rough cot to sleep on, a desk, and possibly a chest or set of drawers.

  • Fresh hay may have been shoved through the slits for the Anchorite to make a bed with,

  • but that was the extent of comfort for the imprisoned.

  • In fact, the more difficult the living conditions the more holy the experience was considered,

  • and Anchorites often actively strove for discomfort in order to bring themselves closer to God.

  • The interior of the cell was typically about twelve square feet, or the size of a small

  • bedroom.

  • There was no bathroom, largely because this was the middle ages, and the anchorite would

  • have to make use of a bucket, living with their waste until it was collected by a servant

  • on the outside.

  • In summer months with sweltering heat, the cell provided little to no relief from breezes,

  • as the slits cut into the chamber were far too small to allow much air flow.

  • The insufferable heat must have only been worsened by the stench from the anchorite's

  • waste, and their own body as Anchorites would be unable to bathe.

  • Some Anchorites did include additional furnishings so that they could pursue a trade craft while

  • entombed.

  • One famous anchorite was a renowned goldsmith, and worked with raw ore brought to him, crafting

  • it into jewelry and holy symbols.

  • These would have been the time's version of a Louis Vuitton bag today, as Anchorites were

  • that highly renowned and wearing an item crafted by one would have been a great honor.

  • For this reason, Anchorite 'guidebooks' encouraged them to limit their crafting or sewing to

  • simple, modest items, as the celebrity of these figures was well known.

  • Celebrity was itself a bit of a problem for the anchorite, and despite being able to receive

  • visitors through the slit in their cell, they were expressly discouraged from doing so.

  • Anchorite guide books warned that anchorites were to limit their time spent with visitors

  • to a minimum, and churches were instructed to forbid the gathering of large groups of

  • visitors.

  • While Anchorites were highly sought after for spiritual guidance and religious advice,

  • they were discouraged from spending their time chatting away as they were supposed to

  • focus on prayer and religious study instead.

  • Celebrities though, they were, and despite being extreme recluses, Anchorites were highly

  • honored within the Church.

  • In a society where women held little to no power, women Anchorites- who outnumbered men

  • by as much as two to one- were seen as the highest spiritual authority within their church,

  • even higher than the Bishop himself.

  • Their wisdom was even sought after by nobles, and even kings and queens.

  • Some modern researchers postulate that women chose to become Anchorites so that they could

  • escape the social oppression of their day, and receive prestige and honor in a world

  • where they would have otherwise been nothing much more than a wife, expected to rear and

  • raise children.

  • Some in fact believe that the life of an anchorite was so popular with women because they sought

  • it as a means of escaping forced marriages.

  • The term anchorite is believed to have originated from the prestige afforded to these solitaires,

  • as their wisdom and piety was believed to be the literal anchor of a church.

  • Dedicating their life wholeheartedly to prayer, these men and women were thought to be immune

  • to worldly temptations and deceits, and thus could steer a church through troublesome periods

  • by being its spiritual anchor.

  • This was a role taken extremely seriously by the Anchorite, with part of their motivation

  • for entombment being a need to pray for the sins of the world.

  • By dedicating themselves to praying for the world, the Anchorite hoped to intercede between

  • God's judgment and a wicked world, and the Anchorite would spend much of their time in

  • supplication for God's mercy.

  • The family and friends of an Anchorite was encouraged to consider their loved one to

  • be dead, and in fact they were legally considered as such.

  • As the final stones were laid into place in an Anchorite's cell, the priest would deliver

  • final rites, the prayers which were said at a person's funeral.

  • Their earthly lives were over, and now were given over for prayer to God until the day

  • they died.

  • With so few visitors though, an Anchorite might die without anyone noticing except for

  • their assigned servant, and last rites seems a bit practical as well as ceremonial.

  • It's not known what Anchorites felt about their way of life, if they had any regrets

  • over their entombing or if they gladly accepted such an extreme lifestyle.

  • The only surviving text from an Anchoress is that of Julian of Norwich, an Anchorite

  • that lived in the late 1300s.

  • The only reference to her personal feelings on her lifestyle is a small comment which

  • reads, 'this place is a prison, this life is penance'.

  • Whether Julian was referring to the earth as a prison, and our earthly lives as penance,

  • or her actual life entombed next to a church is unknown.

  • Anchorites were nothing if not stoic.

  • It wouldn't matter much if an Anchorite did experience a change of heart anyways, as the

  • church would never allow them to be freed.

  • Anchorism was a deadly serious commitment, and there was no option to fail.

  • That being said, some Anchorites did eventually attempt to escape with the help of outsiders.

  • Yet for some, Anchorism was not extreme enough, and a group known as the Stylites had for

  • a long time been engaging in an even more extreme lifestyle choice.

  • Stylities get their name from the world stylos, which means pillar, and from their habit of

  • living out their lives entirely sitting atop stone pillars.

  • Exposed to the elements on a tiny platform, Stylites vowed to spend their entire lives

  • perched atop stone pillars and endure extreme hardship for the sake of closeness to God.

  • Much like Anchorites, Stylites were also greatly honored, and one in particular- St. Daniel

  • the Stylite- even received royal visitors who sought out his wisdom.

  • Perched atop a pillar built specially for him outside Constantinople by Emperor Leo

  • I, St. Daniel gave counsel to Emperors Leo and Zeno of Constantinople, as well as the

  • city's patriarch.

  • He regularly held sermons and counseled the faithful, partaking in the Eucharist and even,

  • it's claimed, healing the sick.

  • It's said that he came down from his pillar only once in thirty three years, to turn Emperor

  • Baliscus away from Monophysitism, a blasphemous belief that Jesus Christ was not God in human

  • flesh, but was entirely God and had no human nature.

  • For Christians, the belief that Jesus was both part human and part divine is a point

  • of great comfort, as it inspires them to believe in a savior that endured the same hardships

  • and temptations with the same human frailty that normal people do, and yet triumphed over

  • them.

  • Turning away to the blasphemy of Monophysitism then would likely be a good excuse for St.

  • Daniel to abandon his perch briefly, but we bet getting the chance to stretch his legs

  • must've felt amazing.

  • The life of an Anchorite or a Stylite couldn't have been an easy one, and while this seems

  • insane to us today and there is no mention in the Bible of any of these practices being

  • necessary at all, one can't help but admire the conviction and personal discipline it

  • must have taken to live out a life of extreme solitude, and the selflessness of dedicating

  • oneself to a life of prayer for the world.

  • Next time you're in your room at home and the internet goes out, close your eyes for

  • a moment and imagine that you now have to spend the rest of your life in that room,

  • with no entertainment, no bathroom breaks, and no human contact.

  • Want to hear more stories about religion?

  • Check out our video, Where could the ark of the covenant be?

  • Or check out this other video instead!

The date is 1272, and outside a small church in northern England, a crowd has gathered.

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Why Were These People Buried Alive Inside A Church

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    Summer posted on 2020/09/11
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