Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Giovanna Benadusi, Ph.D.

Committee Member

William Murray, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Anne Koenig, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer Dukes-Knight, Ph.D.


Medieval English Anchorites, Salvation, Mysticism, Hermits, Twelfth-Century Vitae


This dissertation explores the different ways medieval authors conceived of anchoritism and solitary life by focusing on three important phases of the movement which are represented by Wulfric of Haselbury, Christina of Markyate, and fourteenth-century mystics. It is grounded in the medieval English anchoritic literature that was produced by religious scholars between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. Initially, lacking a tradition of their own and a language to articulate the anchoritic experience, medieval hagiographers borrowed the desert imagery from the story of the early fathers who lived in the Syrian and Egyptian deserts, which they viewed as a place of solitude and physical suffering and in which they sought perfection and salvation. While acts of penitence and the sacrament of penance would never be removed from the economy of salvation, by the eleventh century, the desert was no longer a viable analogue for salvation. I argue that in the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, new ideas of what constituted salvation and how it was fulfilled were elaborated. The cell became the place in which devotion to the sacraments was fulfilled, and it was this sacramental devotion, particularly the Eucharist but also marriage and holy orders, not physical isolation that imbued anchorites with exceptional holiness and led them to salvation. A century later a new understanding of the economy of salvation emerged, which deemphasized the physical body and was grounded in mysticism or the inward migration of the spiritual center. This was the final transformation in medieval English anchoritism and the narratives of the reclusive changed to reflect that turn.