In the central Middle Ages, English society lavished unprecedented attention on a category of would-be outcasts who repudiated its ambitions and spurned its aspirations
Hermits and recluses (collectively anchorites) had their own, very different vision of how life should be lived, and yet nobles retained them on their estates, parishioners did their bit to support their local recluses, and every tier of society from the peasantry up to royalty journeyed to rural hermitages for prayer, advice, and spiritual instruction. Anchorites were everywhere, dotted across the landscape, striving to restore humanity''s broken image, in their own lives and in their clients. The respect that came of their endeavour grew from a heightened sense of the conflict between society''s worldly concerns and its spiritual ideals, in the minds of their admirers. Tom Licence sets out to discover why anchorites rose to prominence, in the context of European monasticism and trends in spirituality. In the past, historians linked their rise to many different things: the impact of the Norman Conquest; a crisis of identity in the monasteries; the discovery of the individual; a reaction to the profit economy; and to a new need for holy men (or holy women) to minister to a changing society. Investigating the avenues by which anchorites gained their reputation, and pinpointing their function in relation to society, this new inquiry puts these hypotheses to the test in a study of English society in the central Middle Ages.