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Rites of Enclosure: The English Ordines for the Enclosing of Anchorites, S. XII – S. XVI

From: Traditio
Volume 67, 2012
pp. 145-234 | 10.1353/trd.2012.0000

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The enclosed solitary life, like other forms of (broadly speaking) monastic vocation, can trace its origins to the eastern deserts of the third and fourth centuries. But its development as a distinct and separately regulated form of living belongs to the central Middle Ages. By the twelfth century, the anchoritic vocation was an established part of a spiritual landscape that also included regular cenobites (monks, canons, nuns) and the still comparatively unregulated, freely wandering hermits. Anchorites usually lived alone (or at least without any spiritual companion: the life was impossible without servants or some other way of attending to the practitioner’s domestic needs), in a cell attached (in most cases) to a parish church, often in an urban location; if men, they were usually priests, though more often seculars than regulars; in England, female anchorites, of whom very few appear to have been nuns prior to their enclosure, outnumbered males throughout the period.

Renunciation of the world for entry into a life of strict enclosure, never to emerge in life or even usually in death, is a transition that demands to be marked by some kind of ritual. A liturgical rite for the enclosing of anchorites first appears in the twelfth century, in both English and continental examples, as one of the occasional offices that was reserved to the bishop.

The Rite of Enclosure in England

Texts of the Rite

As one might expect, therefore, most of the texts of the rite extant from England are to be found in manuscript pontificals. The development of the pontifical, or “bishop’s book,” has been the subject of exhaustive study. At a number of points in its history the book assumed a more or less standard and authoritative form (the Romano-Germanic Pontifical of the tenth century, the Roman Pontifical of the twelfth, the thirteenth-century Pontifical of Durandus of Mende that lies behind the early printed texts), but none of these pontificals includes a rite for the enclosure of anchorites.

I know of fourteen manuscript pontificals in British libraries that contain an enclosure ordo. The list below is based on the survey of pontificals in English and Welsh libraries by Brückmann, supplemented by Ker’s Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries and other catalogue searches. The entries have been crosschecked against, and occasionally modified by, Richard Kay’s repertory of manuscript pontificals. Wherever possible, an indication is given of the bishop (or bishops) or see(s) to whom the manuscript belonged or with which it can be associated, and dates of composition and active use. This is not always straightforward. Pontificals were volumes particular to the individual bishop for whom they were put together rather than being compiled according to the use of a specific diocese. At the same time, a number of bishops used pontificals that had originally been designed for someone else. The especially fine pontifical that is now Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 79, to cite a well-known example, was begun for Guy de Mohun, bishop of St. David’s (1397–1407). It was subsequently acquired by Richard Clifford, bishop of Worcester (1402–7), and of London (1407–21). The “Clifford Pontifical” was completed during Clifford’s time as bishop of London, but after his death it was returned to Worcester, where it was used and supplemented by Philip Morgan of Worcester (1419–26) and subsequently of Ely. It was still being added to in the time of Henry VII.

In an influential schema, Durandus divided his pontifical into three sections: blessings of persons (including ordinations, etc.); consecrations and blessings of things; and various offices pertaining to the bishop. The enclosure ordo generally appears towards the end of the section containing blessings of persons, usually following the consecration of monastic superiors, monks, and nuns, and often alongside other semi- or para-monastic vocations such as vowesses and hermits. An indication is also given in the list below of the company that the enclosure ordo keeps. The manuscripts are listed in approximate chronological order.

  • London, BL MS Cotton Vespasian D XV (“Vespasian”)

    Fols. 1–67 only (68–123 originally separate).

    s. xii. A collection of pontifical offices, perhaps originally several booklets bound together. Canterbury(?), adapted (also s...

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