The Anchoress' Rule f.4r
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
Anchorites were ascetic monks who lived in alone or in small groups in enclosures attached to churches, never emerging. Anchoresses were women who sealed themselves away, their funerals being celebrated upon their enclosure, signifying their death to the world. In the 13th century, increasing numbers of religious men and women were seeking a personal and total devotion. As did all monks and nuns, anchorites followed rules governing daily activities and subordinating individual will to that of the community and God. The Ancrene Riwle (Anchoress' Rule) was originally written for three young noblewomen, probably in north Worcestershire, who were embarking on this religious exile from the world. About 1300 Matilda de Clare, the Countess of Gloucester, gave the book to the Augustinian canonesses at Canonsleigh, Devon. The Anchoress' Rule, although it concerns daily conduct of a nun, does not have the character of standard monastic rules, such as the Rule of St Benedict. It is written in a much more personal vein, aimed at guiding the individual devotions of the anchoress.
The first page begins with a Latin quotation, based on the Song of Solomon, in which the reader is called upon to live as the bride of Christ. The writer uses many figures of speech, parables, even jokes to bring the reader into a world of intense spiritual experience. It is considered one of the great works in Middle English. The notes in the margins may be corrections made later by the author of the rule.