A cell, a squint, an anchorhold 

Together the words in my post title meant nothing to me. What about you?

I have just finished read The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader. 

The central character, Sarah, is an anchoress, a female anchorite. Again, I drew a blank with both terms. 


I love a book where I learn something new; something that that I knew absolutely nothing about. And one that gives me a new perspective on the world. Of course, the book has to be well-written and the characters believable. 

This is such a book. 

Read it. 

And do a little googling. Be prepared to be challenged. 

An anchorite is a hermit, in medieval times, sealed into a cell attached to a church. A life of daily prayer, denied touch, human connection, and sunlight, the anchorite was expected to fast and deny herself pleasures of food. Sometimes when she was sealed, a funeral ceremony was held as the anchorite was seen as dead to the world. She was exhorted to dig the ground with her nails,  preparing her grave as if never to physically leave! The squint, a narrow gap in the wall between her cell and the church, allows her a view to the altar so that she can see mass. Another small window allows her to receive communion and food. 

Of course, a 21st century novel cannot help but come with a feminist perspective. And surely at the time there were people who questioned the horrid treatment of women and the pain that must drive such religious fervour?

There’s tension in this novel, and drama, and sadness and hope. And tenderness. 

Read it. 

I now what to visit some churches in England that have evidence of an anchorhold and a squint. This book, more than Bridget Jones, would have set me in the position for my adventure to London. 




8 thoughts on “A cell, a squint, an anchorhold 

  1. St Julian of Norwich was an anchorite and wrote the first book in English by a woman – in the early 1400s. Her vision, passion and writings are extraordinary, her life completely unimaginable..

    I will keep an eye out for that novel. I love to imagine myself into someone else’s life, especially one so very, very far from mine.

  2. Hmmm. My first question was exactly as you expressed it, ‘what kind of pain drives such religious fervour?’ And there were apparently large numbers of anchorites / anchoresses.

    It reminds me of another book I read (fictionalised account of a real event) of a woman who was sealed in a dark room during the 1980s as punishment for a religious violation. It may have been voluntary enclosure with the anchorites, and as interesting as the historical background is, I still don’t think I can read another similar book; too distressing.

    • No, surprisingly not distressing. Yes, there’s pain and sadness and distress but also a searching for love and peace and redemption and understanding. This book will have to win prizes. It’s good.

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