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Persons who have retired into solitude to live the religious life. The term is derived through the Latin and French from the Greek ναχωρητής, from ναχωρε[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).

[a. donahue/eds.]


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anchorites, who had their origin in the early church, were solitary holy men or women (anchoresses) living an ascetic life of contemplation and confined to a strictly enclosed cell that was often attached to, or inside, a church. Though initially subject to no rules, by the 12th cent. they were required to be licensed and controlled by the diocesan bishop. In England they were particularly numerous during the 11th and 12th cents. and were supported by many patrons, while treatises, including the Ancrene Wisse, were written for their spiritual guidance.

Brian Golding


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Stylites See ISOETACEAE.

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Hermits (Religious recluses)

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