Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pete Townshend – "All Shall Be Well" (1989)

All shall be well
And all shall be well
And all manner of things
Shall be well

“Monk” is a term used to describe a religious ascetic — someone who renounces worldly pleasures and lives a life of prayer and contemplation.

Most Christian monks were cenobitic – that is, they lived in communities where they worked and worshipped together.  

Mealtime at a monastery
But the earliest Christian monks were eremitic monks – that is, hermits.  Most hermits resided in communities that provided a certain level of physical protection and spiritual support, but lived much more secluded lives than cenobitic monks.  But some hermits lived alone in the desert or forest, wandering from place to place and shunning any human contact. 

I recently learned about a special kind of hermits known as anchorites.  Like hermits generally, anchorites withdraw from secular life and devote their time to prayer and devotions.

A hermit in his cave
But what distinguishes anchorites from hermits is that anchorites were permanently enclosed in small cells attached to churches.  Once an anchorite was walled up in her cell, she never left it.  (There were both male and female anchorites – a female anchorite was often called an “anchoress” – but anchorites were more commonly women.  So I am going to use “she” as my pronoun.)   

A typical anchorite’s cell – or anchorhold – might be 12 feet by 15 feet in size.  It was usually built with a small window looking into the sanctuary, so she could hear Mass and receive Holy Communion.  A second window on the outer wall of the anchorhold allowed the anchorite to receive food and drink from a servant or family member, and to hand over her chamberpot to be emptied.  

The anchorhold at All Saints Church,
King's Lynn, Norfolk (UK)
An anchorite was viewed as a kind of saint who was essentially dead to the world.  The presiding bishop (who had to approve the petition of the anchorite to be enclosed) would perform a rite that was very similar to the funeral rite before the anchorite was enclosed in the anchorhold for once and for all.

Some anchorholds had doors that were locked or barred from the outside.  But in some cases the anchorite was walled in.  (I don’t know what happened when an anchorite who was enclosed in such an anchorhold died.  Was she left in the anchorhold, which served as her tomb?  Or did someone knock a hole in the anchorhold and remove the body for burial elsewhere?)    

For some reason, there seem to have been more anchorites in England than in any other Christian country.  One guesstimate is that there between 700 and 800 English anchorites between 1100 and 1539 (when Henry VIII dissolved the English monasteries, which brought the practice of anchoritism to an end).

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The most famous English anchoress was Julian of Norwich, who is believed to have been born in 1342 and to have died in 1412.  (Julian’s real name is unknown.  She is called Julian because her anchorhold was attached to St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England.)

Julian of Norwich
Julian of Norwich was the author of Revelations of Divine Love, which discusses 16 revelations or “showings” that Julian had while near death due to an illness.  (Her illness was so serious that a priest administered last rites.)  That book is the oldest known book written by a woman in the English language.

You can click here to learn more about Julian of Norwich and her writings

In the most famous passage of Revelations of Divine Love, Julian says that she often wondered why God allowed sin to exist, but that Jesus answered her question in these words:

Sin is behovely [i.e., useful or necessary], but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

“All Shall Be Well,” one of the songs Pete Townshend wrote for his 1989 musical, The Iron Man, is based on Julian’s words:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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