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“All shall be well”: what the reclusive medieval anchorites can teach us about self-isolating

As we farewell our friends and loved ones, buy enormous quantities of tinned tomatoes and prepare to enter a period of confinement, the lives of these religious devotees are worth considering

By Joanna Pidcock  

An illuminated manuscript showing an anchorite.

Isolation is a strange thing. It is used as punishment—solitary confinement, house arrest—at the same time as people seek it out through retreats and wellness therapies. As a society we value people who are gregarious and fun, but throughout history we have sought out those who live in isolation for wisdom and guidance. Hermits, gurus, mystics, even artists and authors who are notoriously private about their personal lives—these individuals have long been objects of fascination.

There is a cultural pressure on a…

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