Solitude, World Peace and Christian Yogi Saints

The Abbot and his wife and I and mine made our pilgrimage to St Mary’s and St Cuthbert’s Church and Anchorite in Chester Le Street, in the far North of England.  This little church was the original resting place for St. Cuthbert’s  coffin until repeated invasions by the Vikings necessitated the removal of the coffin to a fortress/castle further up the hill. The church, a mere ten minute walk from our humble dwelling here in the old Roman town of Chester-Le Street (on the “North Road” out of London) was founded in 880 AD, and is known for having one of the most in-tact “anchorite” cells in all of England.
An “anker” of course, or “anchorite,” is a person– sometimes referred to as a “solitary”– who has renounced the world and taken “last rites” before allowing himself or herself to be walled up– literally bricked up–in a small enclosure next to the church with only a small tray-like opening in the stone for food to be passed in and for– hmmm– wastes to be passed back out. Many, like the one in St Mary St Cuthbert’s, also have a small slit to allow the anchor to view a tiny portion of the altar when mass is being held. Somewhat limited sensual stimuli in such a cell.

The purpose,of such a lifestyle– a little like going to a Baptist church camp– is to pray for salvation for both one’s self and the world. It was also a good time for copying the Bible and writing theological treatises. Sometimes people were allowed to come and “confer” with an anker to gain wisdom and insight into problems of the day. The “anker” (male) and “ankerite” (female) commitment was actually a fairly popular institution around the world and in England, prior to the  dissolution of the monasteries by King HenryVIII in  the early 1500’s.
At the church our little pilgrimage party was met by four church elders– two old men and two old women- husbands and wives– who were there to greet pilgrims such as us, and to guard the precious stuff inside.
To offer an opening and as a way of introduction, my first words to the elderly gentleman who stood to greet us was to ask, “Are you the anker?”

Momentarily surprised and non-plussed, he quicky broke into a grin. “I’ve been tempted to many different lifestyles and occupations,” he said in his deep Northumberland accent,  “but not once in my long life have I ever been tempted to be an anker.”

The other three elderly caretakers broke into polite grins and chckles at both my question and his response.  It was the beginning of a wonderful tour and many warm-hearted exchanges.  After an hour and half or so,  we four couples were in the knave of the ancient church gently laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  Such a gathering sets up, or more generously, adds to an already existing loving, or at least peaceable psychic energy “field” in that church that continued a tradition of peace and love that has been evolving over many centuries.

The Harvard and Cambridge evolutionary biologist Rupert Sheldrake  might suggest that what we were doing– and what the anchors and anchorites were doing– was responding to and participating in a non-local energy field by which and in which peace on earth might best be evolved.  Himalayan Yogis who pray and meditate in solitude in a cave for the advancement of all human beings have somewhat the same philosophical bias—  that one need not be physically present to send good vibes to the whole world, and thus to enhance the conscious evolution of all of one’s neighbors, often without them even knowing you’re alive. It’s a concept that is regaining credence with the new, ever-evolving understanding in physics which explains how a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world changes the dynamics of a typhoon on the other side of the earth.

Not much likelihood that the Christian community will soon revive the anker tradition.  But it’s nice to know that we are, at heart, ankers and ankerites, monks and nuns,  playing our part of an evolving consciousness.

After our visit to the church, the abbot and his wife and my wife and I all retired to the pub for a spot of lunch and a pint, which, we felt, likewise added to more peace on earth. We are trying to do our part.


2 Responses to Solitude, World Peace and Christian Yogi Saints

  1. robert orr says:

    Bear, I enjoyed reading this little vignette. It is wondrous to think of the extremities that some monastics have resorted to. I cannot imagine doing this myself. Thanks for sharing.


    • Bear Jack Gebhardt says:

      Hi Robert– thanks for the kind words. Actually, looking at your disciplined, ascetic lifestyle, I think you ARE living much like an anchor. Thanks for lifting the world consciousness! –Bear

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