Publication Date



This paper uses both archaeological and ethno-historical data to cross-examine theoretical explanations for understanding the anchoritic lifestyle, which are grounded in gender and feminist theory, sexuality and queer theory, as well as theories of personhood and permeability. For interpretations related to gender and feminist theory, I will crossexamine case studies involving other circumstances of ordained seclusion in Christianity. These case studies include the monjeríos, or the separate living quarters built for unmarried indigenous women of Spanish colonial California, as well as seclusion of “wayward women” by the Magdalen Society of Philadelphia. In addition, I examine archaeological studies conducted by Roberta Gilchirst and Michelle Sauer, who interpret aspects of the anchoress’ worldview through the lens of sexuality and queer theory. I offer a critique of these various theoretical frameworks and also consider theories of personhood, particularly the notion of permeability, as a more productive theoretical approach for understanding the lifestyle and choices of the medieval anchoress. The physical remains of the anchoress’ lifestyle and archaeological analysis provide a new lens with which to imagine the anchoritic worldview, a subject which has only been explored using literature written by men from this time. By exploring the anchoritic lifestyle in this way, we can let the anchoresses, who wrote very little, speak a little more for themselves.