At a time when so many of us are experiencing some measure of isolation, it is hard to fathom the choice to live in extreme confinement in the middle of the urban bustle. But hermits were once unremarkable features of England’s cities.
The 13th-century traveller entering London from the north, at Cripplegate, would have walked within yards of a hermit’s cell. There were also cells at Aldgate, Bishops-gate, Temple Bar and Cornhill, as well as many others beyond the city limits.
These hermits — more properly called anchorites or anchoresses — permanently enclosed themselves in cells attached to churches in order to live a life of prayer and contemplation. (The word comes from the Greek anachorein, meaning ‘to retire or retreat’.