Anchoresses: Away!


This is too much, it’s too amazing.

A secret that only 50 or so people know about me is that I am drawn to the idea of…well, I hadn’t known what to call it, but it’s something that seminaries, convents, caves on hills, monasteries, houses on the highway where you can get your palm read, dissertation carrels, therapists’ offices, and best of all fairy chimney cells have in common in my imagination: in my imagination, in these places, you get to hang out and read and read and read and sometimes people come and ask you questions and you just tell them some stories you’ve read, and then they leave, the better for having visited you. Shelley says, “oh! you want to be a mystic, that’s what that’s called.”

And when I get all in a mood about whatever dumb thing, one name for that mood would be “Oh what’s the use, I’m just going to get a sturdy spoon and go carve myself a cave in the soft tufa rock of Cappadocia because everything forever is a sad mess and I can’t fix it or do/say/write anything helpful” or, for short, “I’ve had enough; where’s my spoon?” I’ve been in one of those off and on for a bit, and then today, looking up “amuse” to see if it was related to “muse,” “Muse,” “music,” or WHAT, I found THIS:


I was enchanted by the guide-word–she sounds like a merry lass, doesn’t she? The anchoress, gaily tossing anchors around, or sitting on them like a mermaid, or maybe it’s a terrible word for wife! No: a female anchorite. Oh, now I really think it involves boats. Hooray, boats! NO! Not boats. Retiring, seclusion, hermitage: fairy chimneys! The super crazy part is that as far as I can tell, it doesn’t even relate to anchor (though how can that be??), even though it involves retiring and staying in one place and all that. This may just be a limitation of my Latin and Greek, but:

anchor (n.) Look up anchor at Dictionary.comOld English ancor, borrowed 9c. from Latin ancora “anchor,” from or cognate with Greek ankyra “anchor, hook” (see ankle). A very early borrowing and said to be the only Latin nautical term used in the Germanic languages. The -ch- form emerged late 16c., a pedantic imitation of a corrupt spelling of the Latin word. The figurative sense of “that which gives stability or security” is from late 14c.

And 2015 says the same thing about anchorite (and -ess) as 1934: from ecclesiastical Greek anakhōrētēs, from anakhōrein ‘retire,’ from ana- ‘back’ + khōra, khōr-. So it seems like these come from different Greek sources, and it also seems possible that ankura/ankyra/άγκυρα also comes from ana+khōra in some way-er back way, and also possible that there’s just interesting reinforcing going on over the last 1000 years. I would need many years in a cave with my books to find out, and don’t tempt me.

4 thoughts on “Anchoresses: Away!

  1. I can’t remember if I taught “All shall be well.” All the words: “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Yes, I did at Bishop’s Ranch–it comes from Anchoress (English Mystic!) Julia of Norwich, or Dame Julia, for short. She was “anchored” to a church, and except for those who cared for her when ill (auto correct does NOT like “ill,” I’ll tell you!) she lived in seclusion. She did have a little window to observe the Eucharist, and through which to receive communion.

    > James Derkits > Blog: > Church:



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