The Anchoress

It was only the other night that I was luxuriating in the sounds of the Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum ( by Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard was in the charts in the 50s. The 1150s, that is. It occured to me that her monophonic compostions would be the ideal background for a recent publication by Robyn Cadwallader ( – ‘The Anchoress’.

Now, it’s not every girl who hungers to be shut up for life in a tiny cell (measuring seven by nine paces) in abject poverty, eating frugal meals, and existing in a state of contemplative prayer. The careers guidance officer at The Grammar might have a challenge selling that one. I mean, could you take your Smartphone and your boyfriend in with you? What about Netflix? The life of an ‘anchoress’ was, however, undertaken in mediaeval Europe. In this tale Sarah is only seventeen in 1255 when she chooses to become an anchoress. Fleeing the grief of losing a much loved sister in childbirth as well as pressure to marry, she decides to renounce the world, with all its dangers, desires, and temptations, and commit herself to a life of prayer. But it soon becomes clear that even the thick, unforgiving walls of Sarah’s cell cannot keep the outside world away, and her body and soul are still in great danger. Robyn Cadwallader’s powerful debut novel tells an absorbing and readable story of faith, desire, shame, fear, and the very human need for connection and touch. Evocative and haunting, The Anchoress is both quietly heartbreaking and not so predictable as you might imagine. Make yourself into a feather on the breath of God. Float away on this historical fiction.


Enquire at your local library or available at


320 pages in Faber & Faber

First published 5 February 2015

ISBN 978-0571313327


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Robyn Cadwallader

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