Viewing Guide for Anchoress

Showing: Tuesday, Nov. 11, 6:30 pm at Geddes, CAS Room 537

(the film will also be held on reserve in Geddes Language Lab from Friday, Nov. 6- Thursday, Nov. 13)

            Anchoress is a beautiful film, but less mainstream than what we’ve seen so far and you need to work a bit to access it. (Okay, I’ll put it in the open: it’s very “artsy.”)  There is relatively little dialogue; the characters' thoughts and emotions are communicated more often by looks and gestures than by speeches. There is no voiceover narration to explain the relationships and tensions among the characters; we are supposed to extrapolate them ourselves. There is very little music in the film; rather than a film score, we hear much sound of the natural world, as the characters might have heard it: wind, birds, insects, and a great deal of silence. Finally, the film explores the conflict between two kinds of religious experience (that of the Church hierarchy, that of the people), mostly by means of a set of repeated visual images that it asks us to notice and think about.

Though the film was inspired by actual letters written about Christine Carpenter in 1325 (now posted on the walls of the church at Shere), the film is wildly inaccurate in its presentation of village life (the reeve – occupying the highest social rung in the community-- would never deign to marry a common village girl, for example) and especially in its assumptions about conflict between the Church hierarchy and presumed adherents of pre-Christian religions in medieval Europe. The film imagines that, as a healer, Christine’s mother must have been a pagan devotee of a mother/earth goddess. In fact, fertility charms, rites, and so on lived quite comfortably with Trinitarian and eucharistic theology in popular Christian imagination in the Middle Ages. It  is certainly true that there may have been a significant gap between a literate priest’s vision of Christianity  and an illiterate peasant girl’s vision of Christianity.  One of the most interesting tensions in the film is between the priest and Christine over the meaning of her vocation.

Cast of characters, in order of appearance. Throughout the film, think about how the filmmaker and scriptwriter use images and words to characterize each figure; you may want to take notes on how you react to them.

1. Christine Carpenter, our visionary protagonist, who becomes Anchoress of Shere

2. Meg, Christine's sister, who will marry the Reeve

3. Pauline Carpenter, Christine's mother, a midwife and healer

4. the village Priest, who urges Christine to become an anchoress

5. the Reeve, the steward of the Manor, who woos Christine and marries Meg

6. William Carpenter, Pauline's devoutly religious husband

7. the Bishop, who accepts Christine's vow of isolation

8. Daisy Dyer, who bears the Priest's illegitimate child

9. the Drover, Christine's friend, who helps her to escape

There are a number of recurring visual motifs that you might want to look out for and consider:

1. birds (wings, feathers, nests, eggs)

2. earth, dirt, digging

3. harvest (grain, bread, milk, apples, pomegranate)

4. water

5. stone

6. embroidery, paintings, statues

Things to look for as you watch the film

1. the priest’s vision of Christine’s role vs. Christine’s vision of her own role

2. what Christine's visitors ask or talk to her about; what her role in the community seems to be

3. how  religious symbols are employed

Here are some questions to consider after watching the film:

1. Christine has two windows in her cell: one gives on the inside of the church, and the other outside it. Were you surprised that Christine has so much contact with people? What effect did her presence in the church have?

2. Why does the film portray Pauline Carpenter as a pagan/witch? What can she do? What can't she do? What does her husband William think he sees, after Pauline is pushed into the water?

3. How is your reading of Julian of Norwich affected by this view of the role of anchoress? Are there aspects of the film that you might want to challenge based on your reading of Julian? Are there ways in which your understanding of Julian is enhanced by the viewing of the film?

Actual letters from the church at Shere

1. Letter from John, by divine permission Bishop of Winchester, to the officials of the Archdeacon of Surrey.

Inquiry for enclosing a woman

Christine, daughter of William called the Carpenter of Schire in our diocese, has besought us by her humble petition, that whereas, desiring not feignedly, but of truth to remove herself to the fulfilment of a better life, she wishes to vow herself solemnly to continence and perpetual chastity and to let herself be shut up in a narrow place in the parish church of Schire, that therein she may be enabled to serve Almighty God the more worthily, we should consider her worthy to be granted our favourable assent and consent.

            We, observing the all too easy downfall of human frailty and that the Temptor, who is by this always gratified, is just as many times displeased by piety in our lives, and scarcely knowing the condition of the said Christine, and desiring to take care of the rights and indemnities of the Rector of the church of Schire and the parishioners there, and of any other persons who may be concerned in this matter; we commit and command you that, having first summoned to the said church of Schire, in person, the said Christine, the Rector and the parishioners there, and of any other persons who may be concerned in this matter; you shall apply yourself to seeking the truth diligently, as to whether the aforesaid Christine is of such good life and conversation that she is likely to make a success of this proposal for a more saintly life, and whether she is free or espoused to anyone or joined to marriage, and whether in the opinion of the Rector or the parishioners or of anyone else who may contribute in any way, the said Christine shall be enclosed in the manner and for the reasons aforesaid by trusty men, having full knowledge of the said Christine and of these things above mentioned, being formally sworn by law and examined one by one.

            Given at Farnham, the 11th day of the Kalends of July in the year of our Lord 1329, and in the 7th year of our consecration.

2. Letter from John, by divine permission Bishop of Winchester, to all those whom this concerns or in the future may concern.

The Bishop's consent for her enclosure

            The petition lately exhibited to us by the godly Christine sets forth that, whereas she desires for the fulfilment of a better life to remove herself, and spend her life in the service of God and in all sanctity and chastity, alongside the church there, striving with all her heart to endure henceforth perpetual enclosure; we are pleased to grant her our consent in this matter, having therefore diligently made enquiry into her life and conversation of the said Christine and all to her things right and necessary herein; and because by this enquiry we have found no cause for deciding that the said Christine should not be permitted to be enclosed there; we, observing the praiseworthy purpose of the aforesaid Christine, and with the consent also of Sir Matthew, the present Rector of the church, and the parishioners thereof, have thought it fit to grant licence to the said Christine that she may be enclosed there in the manner and for the reasons aforesaid, that thus laid aside from public and worldly sights, she may be enabled to serve God more freely in every way, and having resisted all opportunity for wantonness may keep her heart undefiled by the world.

            In witness whereof we have caused our Seal to be attached hereto.

Given at Waleton, the 14th day of the Kalends of August, in the year of our Lord 1329, and in the seventh year of our consecration.

3. Letter from John by divine permission to the Dean of Guildford.

The Re-enclosure of the Anchoress of Shere.

Christine of Schire having approached us on the eighth day of October last, to whom as is set forth elsewhere, having the consent of the Rector and the parishioners there, and being moved by certain legitimate causes in this matter we had granted a licence for her enclosure, she having by solemn act and observance taken herself into a certain enclosure adjoining the church there, now however having as we have been informed withdrawn herself from such enclosure, she has brought us the below letters (written by the papal offices at Avignon). "To the venerable Father in Christ, by the grace of God Bishop of Winchester, or his vicar spiritual, brother John of Wrotham Primarius of the Lord Pope, sends greetings in the Lord. His sister Christine, an anchoress of Schire in your diocese, the bearer of these, has by humble confession shown us that whereas at one time, as is known to you, choosing enclosure in the life of an anchoress, she made a solemn vow of continence, promising to remain in that place; now forswearing this life and conduct that she assumed, she has left her cell inconstantly and returned to the world. Now with God's help changed in heart, wishing to return to her former abode and calling, she has humbly petitioned us that she may be treated mercifully by the Apostolic See in this matter. Therefore we, who strive for the salvation of the soul of her and of all mankind with fervent longing, wishing to take care of her soul send you, according to the form of the church, absolution for her by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ that in the manner of good father of a family rejoicing in the finding of a lost sheep, and the said anchoress having come to you humbly within the space of four months from this our order, you shall cause her to be reenclosed in the same place, or elsewhere if she would not be secure there, lest by wandering any longer about the world she be exposed to the bites of the rapacious wolf and which, heaven forbid, her blood be required at your hands. And after she has been re-enclosed there and has for some time conducted herself in a worthy manner, you shall enjoin upon her by the said authority, a salutary penance in proportion to her sin; if however she neglects to come to you within the aforesaid time, without any legitimate excuse, henceforward she shall relapse into the sentence of excommunication and these present letters shall be absolutely no moment. Given at Avignon, the 6th day of the Kalends of August, in the 16th year of the Pontificate of the Lord Pope." Concerning which, we order and command you that the said Christine be thrust back into the said reenclosure, and that with suitable solicitude and competent vigilance you shall take care to guard her, thus enclosed, in due form, that she might learn at your discretion how nefarious was her committed sin, and that thereafter dedicating herself worthily to God, having first offered to God that which is inflicted on her by us, she may be enabled to achieve her salvation, not shall the said Christine wander from the laudable intention otherwise solemnly undertaken, and again run about being torn to pieces by the attacks of the Tempter, which heaven forbid, on repeated occasions, objectors and rebels in this matter being canonically repressed by the censures of the Church.
Given at Farnham, the 10th day of the Kalends of November in the year of our Lord 1332.