The Anchoress - Robyn Cadwallader
First lines: "I was near the door, where woman should stay. The floor was hard, refusing me, though I lay face down, my arms outstretched, embracing it, wanting this life, this death. I knew there were people nearby, those from the village who had come to look or pray, but I saw none of them. Voices in the sanctuary that seemed so far away sang a dirge, a celebration of loss, prayers for me. I knew the words: I had read and reread them, memorized them, prayed on them, but now they were nothing but sound."
I was intrigued by the story of The Anchoress as I'd never heard of the anchorite life before. I knew about cloistered nuns as I had visited a cloistered convent when I was a teenager. We were allowed to talk to them through a screen in which they could only see us from the waist up, a privacy screen raised in case any outside visitor was inappropriately dressed. They were a giggly group of ladies who enjoyed their simple life of prayer and work inside the convent walls. It was an interesting experience to say the least.
Set in medieval times, Sarah is a 17 year old young woman who chooses to become an Anchoress, shutting herself away from the world. She thinks by leaving the outside world, it will help her forget her grief about her sister who died in childbirth and protect her from marrying the local lord's son. She will spend her day in prayer and deny herself all those things that will come between her and God. Except that even though she is shut away from the world, the world still revolves around her. She can still hear all the the activities of the village, the people who work in and around the church. There is a parlor in which those who wish counsel may sit and talk with her through a covered window. She goes through a myriad of emotions and in the process, figures out her place in the world and what it truly means to be the Anchoress for the community. It's quite an intriguing story, delving into the culture of a 13th century village and spiritual life.