In contrast to earlier times when the major mystics were often also prominent ecclesiastical figures, those of "the long 15th century" were mostly marginal figures: hermits, poets, anchoresses
, and little known male and female religious--underscoring both the relatively minor impact of mysticism on the institutional church in that century and the growing division between deep spirituality and academic theology.
Holy virgins, beguines, widows, matrons, and anchoresses
undertook various sorts of religious vocations outside the cloister, participating in spiritual networks in the distinctive urban conditions of the twelfth to thirteenth centuries.
We do know that one of the early readerships for Ancrene Wisse was a group of three female anchoresses
, and the production of this guide seems to have been through the request of its early readers.
As a married woman who chooses to exercise her piety in a public sphere, Kempe comes up against challenges and has experiences which are unmatched in the lives of nuns or anchoresses
who may be able physically to avoid worldly corruption after their enclosure.
Many anchorites and anchoresses
taught people from their cells.
That may have come from the "Ancrene Riwle" well known at the time, that prohibited Christian anchoresses
from viewing other persons even in confession, (12) and Abarbanel believes she chose the site for her cell during the two months she wandered on the mountains.
2) As they have shown, medieval holy women--recluses and anchoresses
included--functioned only within tightly woven spiritual networks that Connected other mulieres religiosae, sympathetic clerics, and powerful nobles who provided economic and political support in return for the women's prayers and spiritual authority.
typically walled themselves up in a small room they never left and into which food was brought to them.
It is interesting that the two most influential anchoresses
, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, were both mystics that recorded their holy visions and strange levitations.
Initially studied for its philological importance, Ancrene Wisse, an early thirteenth century Middle English rule for anchoresses
, is now also celebrated for its landmark status within the development of vernacular religious writing, its fascinating insights into the regime of enclosed women, and its impact upon later devotional practice.
Nicholas Watson challenges the traditional view of misogyny in the Ancrene Wisse, arguing the author might be better viewed as an athletic coach, urging the anchoresses
and other members of the laity to a better mode of life.
The rule for anchoresses
states that a recluse is to "regard any vision [she] may see, whether in dreams or waking, as mere delusion, for it is nothing but [the devil's] guile.