rating: 0+x

Basic Information

An anchorite or anchoress is a religious hermit who has renounced their connections to the outside world and lives in a cell (called an anchorhold) inside a church or monastery.

In some cases the cell was merely a bedroom, and they could freely step out into the church, though they may choose to only do so on certain holy days. More restricted versions were at least as common, and frequently the anchorhold was actually bricked up except for small windows (called a hagioscope or "squint"), possibly shuttered, and closed with the seal of the local bishop. The windows were to allow the passage of food, water, and the chamber pot, or to allow the anchorite to hear prayers, take holy communion or dispense wisdom like a sage.

The anchorite lived a life of spiritual contemplation, and were regarded as very wise and holy. Not just anyone could become an anchorite, you had to petition the catholic church for the right to be sealed up on the holy grounds.

Being bound by oath to stay indoors and renounce worldly events, anchorites were dependent on the charity of the church or community for their continued existence.

See also:


Game and Story Use

  • A prophet, sage, seer, avatar, faith healer or other source of wisdom could be cast as an anchorite to make them a bit more exotic and otherworldly.
  • In a non-Christian context, it would be entirely normal for some oracle or other vessel of the gods to live like this. Buddhist holy men might well take to this sort of thing with aplomb, walling themselves up for years to meditate in peace…
  • In games with divine intervention or divine/clerical magic, the anchorite might be a high-level spell-caster. They may in effect be the genius loci of the church, or serve as an immobile last line of defense should the cathedral be besieged.
    • Of course, in a setting with the right sort of cosmology, the souls of dead anchorites, transfigured into tutelary spirits of some kind might be an important asset for a holy place - this may not happen at once of course and this may have bearing on who gets permission to be immured - only those with a good chance to ascend are authorised.
  • An anchorite might make an interesting patron for the PCs, being a retired adventurer or former spymaster who found religion. They no longer interact with the outside world directly, but they still watch over it via inspired visions and send the PCs out to right wrongs.
  • The old anchorite has been sealed in that wall for longer than anyone can remember. It turns out they were bitten by a vampire generations ago, and the local priests gave them the choice of a stake through the heart or being walled up inside the church where they couldn't hurt anyone. The flagellant priests provide just enough of their own willingly-donated blood to keep the undead anchorite alive. The holy ground of the church keeps the vampire from using their powers to escape.
    • Alternatively, the anchorite is a transubstantian vampire, possibly atoning for his unlife prior to conversion.
    • The converted pet monster generally might be an amusing anchorite.
  • You know those times when your players do something really awful, maybe destroy some poor NPCs life? Having the effected NPC move to the church and become an anchorite is a novel way to show how deeply they've been hurt. Plus, later, you can use them as something of a recurring villain when months or years of hermitage have convinced them that God wants vengeance for the horrible thing the PCs have done.
    • Alternatively, a particularly elusive former BBEG, long thought dead, might crop up as an anchorite in a distant church.
  • An anchorite in the wall might be a mastercraft artisan, producing illuminated manuscripts or embroidered altarcloths that make the local church very respected in the larger religious community.
  • Hidden behind their windows, an anchorite might be the only witness to a crime or other problem that happens within the church.
  • An anchorite who is supposedly sealed in his anchorhold but can actually come and go quite easily - perhaps via a secret tunnel - could get up to all sorts of strange things. If no-one gets to see the anchorite's face then the mysterious stranger is doubly unlikely to be traced to his cell.
  • An anchorite might also make a good custodian for something - sealed up with it so that neither can come in or out.
  • Of course, there's always the possibility of an involuntary anchorite - someone sealed up in an anchorhold as an enforced penance for some offence…
    • There are several legends of various monks and nuns being immured for various sins - often for fornicating or committing sodomy with other monks or nuns - potentially the immurement could be after the fashion of an anchorite for the duration of their natural life, with the final sealing up performed post mortem.
  • How about an entire monastery of anchorites, forming a sort of sketic community … each monk is immured in his cell, served by the novices living outside? When a brother dies, his cell is sealed up and left. Possibly new cells are built over and around it like nest of bees or wasps. When a novice takes his final vows, the other novices take him to an unused cell and brick him in
  • A Catharistic type of religion might practice immurement as the beginning of their endura rite where an elder at an appropriate level of enlightenment chooses to be walled up in a place of worship as an example to the rest of the faithful.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License