The Anchoress

At age seventeen, Sarah asks to be sealed into a windowless cell for the rest of her life. Why would someone do such a thing, especially at such a young age?

Sarah is an anchoress, a holy woman who spends her days in prayer and gives spiritual advice to the women of her 11th century English village. Sarah hopes to follow in the footsteps of the previous anchoress, who the villagers claim was so holy that she didn’t even need food or water to survive. As soon as the door is nailed shut, Sarah swallows her fear and throws herself into the life of an ascetic, denying herself any comfort and communicating with the village through the veil of a black curtain. But Sarah doesn’t want to admit that she’s running from a traumatic past, and it isn’t long before that past catches up with her. She soon finds herself ensnared in the struggles and scandals of the townsfolk, the church, and a resentful suitor, and it seems that the harder she tries to break free of the cares of worldly life, the deeper she’s dragged into them.

Based on research into the lives of real anchorites from the middle ages, The Anchoress paints a fascinating portrait of recluses, clergy, peasants and lords in medieval England. Each character is vividly rendered, and Sarah’s dilemma—to stay in a situation that feels more and more dangerous, or to invoke the wrath of the church by breaking her vows—comes to a head in a conclusion that’s as surprising as it is satisfying. The history will draw you into this book, but it's Sarah’s rich and poignant story that will stay with you afterwards.