Anchorites in the Age of Covid-19: Zooming with Julian of Norwich

Jennifer’s beautiful crocheted work inspired by Julian of Norwich

This year more of my students worked on anchorites than ever before. Covid-19 has affected all of us, but students in my Medieval Women Writers class gravitated towards those women walled up for life in cells who dedicated themselves to God. Julian of Norwich in particular was an inspiration to my brilliant and creative students. Her most famous line–“All shall be well”–resonated with my students during this time of self-quarantine, anxiety, and loneliness. From crochet to short stories, research papers to screenplays, Julian and her sister nuns became a sanctuary for my students to explore their own fears, annoyance, pessimism, and even hopes. Teresa de Cartagena, the deaf Spanish nun of the fifteen century, whose ears were “cloistered” by God, was also a touchstone.

Madison’s psychedelic Julian

My student, Jennifer, crocheted an amazing work with Julian’s famous lines of consolation. Yet another student, Madison, conjured up images of women according to 20th century art movements. She wanted to show the links between medieval women and their modern counterparts. Here is her rendering of Julian like a 1960’s pop art psychedelic poster–it even has the apple Eve ate, but with a twist–Adam is blamed.



Amber’s anchorite praying

Here are some examples from an amazing series of photos taken by Amber, whose forensic diorama of an anchorite’s life wowed the class. We are not alone. All shall be well.

Even the anchorite’s waste had to be gotten rid of by charitable visitors



Anchorites historical and imaginary live days of solitude yet filled with spiritual joy. May we find it too.

Students also wrote magnificent parodies to express their views about medieval women.

Aphrodite adapted Ariana Grande’s song, “thank u, next” to make it “thank u, christ” from the point of view of an anchorite, walled up in a cell by a church for decades.

Spend more time with myself,

I have nothing to do,

So I sit here and write…

God taught me love, (love)

God taught me patience, (patience)

Sin isn’t bad,

It leads you to forgiveness….

All shall be well,

And all shall be well

And all manner of things,

Shall be well.

And Joel wrote a fantastic parody of “My Way” from the perspective of a female heretic about to be burned at the stake.

Joel’s fabulous lyrics!

Her Way Lyrics

And now, the end is near

And so I face my final verdict

My friends, I’ll say it clear

I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a holy life

I cherished each and every day

And more, much more than this

I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few

Like holding back, and my submission

But I did what I was bid to do

And saw it through without exemption

I shared each blissful dream

Each tender word from whom I pray

And more, much more than this

I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure He knew

When I had asked, “Is this really you?”

But through it all, when there was doubt

He raised me up, high enough to shout:

“I am here! I have no fear,

I’ll do it my way!”

They’ve laughed, they’ve criticized

They’ve made it clear, we’re undeserving

And now, as tears subside

I find myself unreserving

To think that He chose me

And not him, nor him, nor they

Oh no, no none but me

I’ll do it my way

For what is a woman, what has she got

If not herself, then she has naught

To say the things revealed to her

And not the words that men prefer

The record shows, God only knows

I did it my way

Yes, it was

My way

Yes, historical anchorites did it their way. Here is beautifully a poignant picture of the church in Shere, where Christine Carpenter was in an anchoritic cell at St. James’s Church.

Vestiges of Christine Carpenter’s anchorhold in Shere, England. Photo by Professor Diana Wall from her twitter feed.
This is a photo I took in 1994 of Christine’s “squint”

Professor Diana Watt posted this photo of the church on her twitter feed, @Diane_Watt. I visited Shere with my husband in 1994. We walked from Winchester to Canterbury and Shere lies along the Pilgrims’ Way. An anchorite like Julian of Norwich would have looked out into the church through a squint.  The photo to the right shows the squint from Christine of Carpenter’s cell in Shere.

Christine escaped from her cell. Read documents about her abandoning her cell and her return. Note that one letter mentions how she might be excommunicated! Here is the brochure where you can read about her life: ChristineCarpenter.


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