Diary of an Involuntary Anchorite page 3

Cooking and Food March 30

The Ancrene Wisse advises anchoresses:

You shall eat twice every day from Easter until the Holyrood day, (14th September), except on Fridays, and Ember days, and procession days and vigils. In those days, and in the Advent, you shall not eat any thing white, except necessity require it. The other half year you shall fast always, except only on Sundays.

 You shall eat no flesh nor lard except in great sickness; or whosoever is infirm may eat potage without scruple ; and accustom yourselves to little drink. Nevertheless, dear sisters, your meat and your drink have seemed to me less than I would have it. Fast no day upon bread and water, except you have leave.

So they were vegetarian all the year round, and in the coldest half of the year followed fasting rules, which was only one meal a day taken after 3 pm (the hour Christ died on the Cross).

Loretta, like many anchoresses had a maidservant who cooked for her – as a noble woman she wouldn’t have been used to cooking and in any case it would probably have been impractical if not lethal within an anchorhold.

For us modern anchorites eating and cooking are one of the pleasures of our enclosure. Since buying fresh bread is impossible without going shopping frequently ( this must be one of the horrors of lockdown in France where people buy bread once even twice a day) I have gone back to baking my own. The act of mixing and kneading is soothing and contemplative, I’m not going out so I can put it to prove and check when it is ready to bake, and the sight, smell and taste of bread you have made yourself is very satisfying.

I’ve also tried some breads made with baking powder instead of yeast. The Jewish Cheese bread was a particular success. If you were caught without yeast when lock down hit and want to try it email me for the recipe!

Another Anchoress – March 31st

Our anchoress  Loretta  at St Stephen’s had a sister, Annora. She was imprisoned by King John but unlike her brother and mother she survived. She followed her sister’s example and became an anchoress – at Iffley, near Oxford. Last year I met Dr Hilary Pearson, an expert in medieval spirituality who lives in Iffley so naturally has an interest in Annora. Like me she sees the anchorite life as having useful lessons for our present experience. She writes:

Ancrene Wisse gives a lot of guidance for dealing with the temptations that the anchoress is likely to experience. Some of these we are also likely to experience, particularly once the novelty of our situation has worn off and no end is in sight, such as anger, sloth and envy. The anchoress is told that she must always be on her guard, and that the only way to defeat these temptations is to have concern for others, and to constantly pray and meditate on Christ’s life and sufferings. So, we should use this time to care for others in any way possible, and to keep in touch through phone calls, emails or social media. And perhaps we should use some of this free time to learn more about our faith through reading and meditating on the Scriptures, and through books or materials on the Internet.

You can read her whole article and also find links to more about Annora and Anchoresses  (as well as  to information and pictures on one of the most lovely Romanesque churches in England) at https://iffleychurch.org.uk/heritage/self-isolation-lessons-from-annora/

Lost in Space Saturday 4th April


I haven’t written much in my diary this week. Most of my writing energy has been devoted to preparing for Holy Week. Instead of just one sermon, which was what I had expected to do this week before the lockdown, I have written four meditations: and all these have to be recorded, and suitable images found to illustrate them. It’s enjoyable creative work but it doesnt leave much time for diarying.

Something which has also taken my attention this week is the problems faced by those who were away from home when the virus struck. A Russian friend of mine emailed me to say she was stuck at Luton Airport. She was travelling from St Petersburg to Switzerland to work at a conference as an interpreter – because of the bizarreness of airline ticket prices she had booked to get there via Luton, England. Unfortunately, whilst she was en route to Luton, Switzerland closed its borders and she was not allowed onto her connecting flight. After Switzerland she had planned to go to Israel (although she is Russian she has an Israeli passport) so she tried to change her ticket to go there directly from Luton. Although the airline was prepared to do that, the flight the next day was full, the flights for the next three days were cancelled, so she was booked to fly in four day’s time. She spent these four days and nights living, sleeping and eating in the airport.

Unsurprisingly during those four days the euros she had brought with her for her trip began to run out, so she contacted her friends to see if we could help her. Some of us managed to transfer money to her account (not easy – the bureaucracy involved in sending money to Russia can be difficult – I remember one occasion when a distinguished professor and I flew to St Petersburg with two thousand pounds from a UK Government Grant hidden as dollars amongst our underwear in our suitcases, because there was no other reliable way we could get it there!).

After my friend had waited four days for her flight, it was cancelled at the last minute. She was given one night free in an airport hotel as compensation (which at least meant she got to sleep in a bed) but was then returned to the airport to wait for the next flight, another four days away. After another day and night in Luton Airport she was told all future flights to Tel Aviv by her airline were now cancelled and she would have to leave the airport. She decided that the only way to get to Israel was to go to Heathrow. Fortunately whilst she was travelling there enough Euros arrived in her account to buy a new ticket with another airline, and she got to Israel the next morning. She is now self-isolating for two weeks in case she has caught the virus on this complicated trip.

A harrowing story which makes me grateful I was at home with a garden when all this started.

One thought on “Diary of an Involuntary Anchorite page 3

  1. Jean

    Your Russian friend must have been very frightened to be in limbo like that. I’m so glad you were able to help her and that she eventually got home. Jean

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