Title

Women in Anchoritic and Semi-anchoritic Monasticism in Egypt: Rethinking the Landscape

Document Type

Article

Publication Title

Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture

Department

Religious Studies

ISSN

0009-6407

Volume

83

Issue

1

DOI

10.1017/S0009640713001650

First Page

1

Last Page

17

Publication Date

3-1-2014

Abstract

Outside of hagiography, the evidence for female anchorites in early Christian Egypt remains scarce. House ascetics in cities survive for us in documentary and other sources, but women monks in non-coenobitic, nonurban environments are more difficult to locate, to the point at which some scholars have begun to question their very existence. This essay seeks to change the parameters of the scholarly debate over the nature of non-coenobitic female monastic experience. It examines hagiography, monastic rules and letters, and documentary papyri to reassess the state of the field and to produce a fuller portrait of anchoritic and semi-anchoritic female asceticism. Non-coenobitic women's monasticism existed, and it crossed boundaries of geography and social status, as wed as the traditional categories of lavra, eremitic, coenobitic, and house asceticism. This interdisciplinary approach provides insights not only into women ascetics' physical locations but also into their class, education, and levels of autonomy. An intervention into the historiography of women's asceticism in late antique Egypt, this study ultimately questions the advisability of using traditional categorizations of "anchoritic", "lavra", and "coenobitic" to classify female monasticism, because they obscure the particularities and diversity of female ascetic history.

Comments

Awarded the Jane Dempsey Douglass Prize by the American Society of Church History in 2015