Anchored

Author: Margaret V. Horan

A historical study of the Anchoress Julian of Norwich and Anchorite Patrick Beglan of Fore, Co. Westmeath.

The words anchorite and anchoress have a metallic ring like a tenor bell. The bells of Norwich are famous reminders of the anchoress Julian who lived in a cell at St. Julian’s church c.1373 – 1416. Julian is well known for her book, Revelations of Divine Love. She wrote in Middle English at the time of Chaucer and was the first woman to write a book in English. In her time there were about thirty anchorites and anchoresses in Norwich city. These were men and women of prayer who were enclosed in their cells for life. They were expected to provide their own cells and income. Kings, bishops and religious communities were their patrons.

Many anchorholds were attached to churches. The living room had three windows. In Julian’s cell one window connected her to the church liturgy. A second window allowed her maid, Alice, to provide practical service. The third window overlooked the street. This was used by Julian to give advice and comfort to all who sought her prayer. Today Julian’s cell is a place of quiet retreat. A constant stream of people visits daily. All hope for a share in the joy and peace experienced by Julian.

Medieval Ireland cannot boast of many anchorites. However, the late -medieval cell of the anchorite of Fore, Co. Westmeath, is well documented. The cell can be visited in the monastic valley of Fore. The valley holds the ruins of the fifth century church of St. Feichin and the twelfth century Benedictine Priory. The ‘anchorite set in stone’ is one of the Seven wonders of Fore.

Patrick Beglan, anchorite, lived at Fore for a number of years. He said Mass in his cell and all who attended left a donation for the holy man. He had a man servant who lived in an out – house nearby. The anchorite’s living quarters, a room twelve-foot by eight, are reached by climbing a spiral stone stairs. On one wall is an open fireplace. In a corner opposite is a garderobe. There are three windows. One faces east, another faces west. A squint window overlooks the altar on the ground floor of the anchorhold. The natives believe that the anchorite dug part of his grave with his fingers in the oratory floor each day. He carved his epitaph on stone in 1616 asking for prayers from future visitors to the cell.

There is no record to indicate how long Patrick Beglan lived in the cell at Fore. No one knows where he was ordained or where he ministered before he became an anchorite. It is likely that he was educated and ordained on the continent, as Ireland’s religious freedom was severely limited in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The anchorite’s cell has all the appearance of a Norman watchtower. It provided a ready-made anchorite’s cell. After Patrick Beglan’s time the Anglo-Norman Nugent family extended the cell to provide a mausoleum for family burials. The present day entrance to the anchorite’s cell is through the mausoleum.

The story of the anchorite of Fore is quite different from that of Julian of Norwich. The church and monastery near Patrick Beglan were places of silent history in his time. The common bond of Julian and Patrick is solitary life with a vow of enclosure … anchored for God.