[MR] History Blog: Medieval Anchoress Has Syphilis

Garth Groff and Sally Sanford mallardlodge1000 at gmail.com
Fri Feb 17 03:08:06 PST 2023

Noble Friends,

A recent History Blog post discussed the amazing burial of a medieval
anchoress discovered in 2007 during an archaeological dig at the All Saints
Church site in Yorkshire, England.

Anchorites and anchoresses were a curious feature of the medieval church.
They were a type of religious hermit, who chose to be walled up in a cell
within a church. Only a small opening was provided for food and other
necessities. Far from giving the inmate the peace and solitude they craved,
their fame often brought a great deal of attention. Spiritual seekers (and
casual tourists) came to them for advice and blessings. Perhaps rather
smugly, the churches where the anchorites were interred often profited from
their fame.

Julian of Norwich was the most famous anchoress, and had a regular stream
of visitors. She was frequently pestered by the very tiresome Margery
Kempe. Julian has never been canonized by the Catholic Church, but anyone
who could put up with weepy Margery must have been a saint.

The anchoress of All Saints is thought to have been Lady Isabel German who
lived in a tiny room at the church from 1428 to 1448. Curiously, her tomb
was not the usual long recumbent grave. Rather she was found in a cramped
seated position. It is possible Isabel's cell had a ceiling so low she was
unable to stand, and eventually became frozen in that position.
Alternately, she was found to have serious bone lesions caused by syphilis
which may have forced her to spend her last years sitting down.

The story is at http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/66478 .

Another version was offered by the BBC:
https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-64571638 .

More about anchorites is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchorite .

Yours Aye,

Mungo Napier, Laird of Mallard Lodge  🦆

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