A few years ago, I read a story about an anchoress.
It troubled and interested me in turn; this idea of a woman condemned to a life of contained piety and discomfort. She would spend her life in a tiny cell, with no escape but death, and only her God and internal resources for comfort. Food and drink would be restricted to that which could be passed through an opening or window. She would be expected to wear harsh fabrics, to purposefully withdraw from physical comforts. She may have been forced to share her cell with her own grave, pre-dug as an inescapable memento mori.
All this was voluntary, although we all know how often voluntary decisions are made by people who have little or no sane choice. How would it feel? To become one, alone — different from one’s family and friends? Revered and yet shunned, physically at least. To be missed or replaced by those who loved you — depending on the love.
To be locked in an anchorite cell for a day might be interesting, but the true experience could only be realised if one truly believed that this was a life sentence. For every anchoress who wrote beautiful prayers, how many broke under the strain of fear and loneliness? How many died from preventable disease? How many were burned by invaders? How many lay silent, shivering, desperate to die? I’m sure there were some who felt elated, at least at some point, by their spiritual journey — but that journey is not for me, and I can’t relate to it.
Reading the story about the anchoress gave me recurrent food for thought for several years — but it took only weeks for me to lose the link, and now I have no idea where the story is, if it still exists on the internet, nor how to share it.
Does anyone know of prizewinning fiction about an anchoress? A story in which the woman hears the bricks being put in place behind her?
Could it have been in The Paris Review? Or some other literary gem? Did it win a prize, or was it shortlisted, in an online competition? Was there a green bar down the side of the website?
My memory fails — but really, if anyone could find it for me, this story that I lost, but that gave me so much to contemplate — I would be so grateful to find it again.