Monthly Archives: April 2014

Medieval Anchorites in their Communities 2014 in the form of a table

(Inspired by the table of contents to Contemplations on the Dread and Love of God, aka Fervor Amoris)

I. On arriving

A How it was a long trip to travel from Brussels to Gregynog, Tregynon, Wales.

B How the trains were all on time, and I managed to put in some solid reading and write feedback on Diana’s PhD outline.

C How I was awaited at the station by a lady from Station Cars taxis, Newtown (Powys), who called me by my first name and how nice that was after a 9-hour trip with a very early start.

D How I dropped my luggage in my very comfortable room, and managed to sneak into the opening manuscript workshop and still caught most of it.

II. Conference pleasures and dangers

E How it was nice to see so many of our anchoritic colleagues again, and to meet many new. How we hope Margaret Healey-Varley and Krista Murchison (and others) will keep in touch with the Devotional Compilations project.

F The pleasure of listening to seriously good papers and stimulating discussion and questions afterwards. On the trinity of scholarship, enthusiasm, and generosity.

G The pleasure of living in a beautiful and comfortable manor house for three days: discovering the layout of the house, enjoying the wooden panelling, furniture, soft carpet on the stairs, amazing art work (three Rembrandt etchings! real?), banisters worked into the wall and gleaming floorboards.

H The dangers of gleaming but slippery floorboards in the book room, and the kindness of Catherine who kept smiling despite her injured elbow after she fell.

I The pleasure of walking the grounds: finding the lake before dinner, catching the dew before breakfast.

III. Food for the body, soul, heart and mind

K How Eddie Jones’s new edition of the Speculum Inclusorum / A Mirror for Recluses was presented to the author, and toasted with wine and juice.

L How the meals were excellent, the desserts sumptious, the coffee and tea breaks cakey, and the conversation sparkling.

M How laughter and painfully moving moments alternated in Sue Bevan’s ‘My Life with Shurl’.

N Recurring topics: Eve of Wilton, the isolation of the anchorite as a myth.

O Recurring topics: the influence of Anselm on anchoritic spirituality, new readings of Julian of Norwich.

P Recurring words: speculative – speculation – speculate / liminal – liminality.

IV. More pleasures, burdens and trials

Q How Denis planned to give a French horn recital, and how that did not come to pass.

R How it was nice to hear about the Lincoln Thornton manuscript in Clarck Drieshen’s talk, about Charles D’Orleans in Eddie Jones’s, about Cerquiglini in Bella Millett’s, about sermons in Fumiko Yoshikawa’s, about Mechtild of Hackeborn in Naoe Kukita Yoshikawa’s, ….

S The pleasure of buying books at a discount, the burden of carrying them home and the rewards of reading them.

T The trials (or pleasures – according to the individual person’s experience) of being in a place where your phone says ‘no service’ and wifi is so unreliable as to be virtually (note the word) non-existent.

V. On going home

U The realization that all these brilliant papers will at some point be available in what is already a very promising conference volume.

W The realization that Tregynon is a remote place, and that we need to catch the earlier train, and miss the final paper, communal lunch and general goodbyes.

X The realization that, in the taxi to the station, we return to the world as if from the constraints and freedoms of the anchorhold (not unlike returning home from a summer camp), and slowly begin to think about what we will do tomorrow and at the weekend.

Y On how to continue work on ‘our’ devotional compilations with renewed energy, more contextual information and a clearer sense of where we want to go and the work it will entail.

Z On ninety minutes (give or take a couple) in the British Library, on meeting Charles d’Orleans (again) and Charles Dickens in the bookshop, and getting online in the café (tweet, tweet).

AB The prospect of doing more work at the British Library in the second term of next year, when Diana will hopefully be at Oxford on a mobility grant, and I will probably be a regular Eurostar user.

CD The conclusion that we are lucky to work on a great project in a thriving discipline and in conversation with a wonderful research community.

Deo Gracias. MC.


My most special creative experience I had together with a friend when I was seventeen years old and we wrote a composition for the oboe and the clarinet together. The two of us created something in many free hours, a lot of evenings and some weekends. The time we spent creating it cannot really be put into words for many reasons. I’m still proud of the result, but maybe even happier with the experience of this shared creative process. This process got for the most part detached from the school project it originally was and became significant for us in itself. We did not really care anymore what our music teacher thought about the sometimes very strange harmonies we wrote, which I think was not just a sign of our stubbornness, but also a sign that things were going really well.

When it comes to creativity, this kind of experience is not valued very highly in our modern society, except maybe in pop music or when writing the scripts for films or television series. A ‘classical’ author or composer who says he or she needs others to be able to write is however a bit of a ‘loser’. Real authors should write their works on their own, or at least pretend that they isolate themselves from others to be able to write (because, of course, in a world where publishers and editors have all the power, published authors are never really autonomous).

I think about these attitudes to originality often when I try to understand the work of our medieval compilers. They were involved readers who, by compiling, but also by adapting, selecting, translating and adding to the texts of others, worked ‘together’ with the authors of their source texts (even if these authors did not know anything about that), to create something new across boundaries of space and time. That medieval compilers do not work in isolation, but openly used the work of others, does not mean their texts are not interesting, original or creative.

My friend and I finished our composition and passed our school project as well as our other final exams. After the graduation ceremony we sneaked through the dark corridors of the school down to the music room where we spent all those hours composing. While we could still faintly hear the celebrations, we secretly left our initials on the wall of the music room. I wonder if they are still there.