Persons who have retired into solitude to live the religious life. The term is derived through the Latin and French from the Greek ἀναχωρητής, from ἀναχωρε[symbol omitted] (to withdraw, to retire). In practice the Latin words anachorita and eremita have been used synonymously, and the same holds for the modern language derivatives of these two words. If a slight nuance of distinction is discernible, however, it is that hermit refers to one who has retired into a place far from human habitation, whereas anchorite refers to one living in a cell adjacent to a community. In both East and West, this latter kind of solitary has been more numerous than the former kind. With the Justinian reforms of the 6th century, the Eastern solitaries were gathered in to dwell near a community, although other and more dramatic forms of eremitical life continued to exist by way of exception. In the Eastern Christian tradition, all anchorites live adjacent to a community and in some way are dependent upon it, although a few noncanonical hermits continue to exist. In the West, the medieval anchors and anchoresses, solitaries who lived usually in cells built against the walls of churches, have ceased to exist; but the anchoritic life has been preserved by congregations such as the Carthusians and the Camaldolese.
Bibliography: r. m. clay, The Hermits and Anchorites of England (London 1914). a. k. warren, Anchorites and Their Patrons in Medieval England (Berkeley, CA 1985) v. arnone, La valle degli anacoreti: viaggio nella solitudine agli albori del cristianesimo (Casale Monferrato 1999).