Anchorite’s Cell, Westmeath, Ireland

‘He is said by the natives, who hold him in great veneration for his sanctity, every day to dig or rather scrape, for he useth no other tools but his nails, a portion of his grave’
~ Henry Piers writing about the hermit Patrick Beglin in 1682 ~

The Anchorite’s Cell is situated at the foot of a rock outcrop known as ‘Carraig Chaile Fhobhair’ and is part of the large eclectically complex of Fore Abbey and surrounds. It is the 6th of the 7 ‘Wonders of Fore’, known as ‘the Anchorite in the Stone’ but habitation at this site predates its use as a hermitage. The origins of a church at this location probably predate the 2nd millennium however what is certain is that a church is first mentioned here in 1302 ecclesiastical tax records.

When looking at the structure known as the ‘Anchorite’s cell’ it can be hard to ascertain the different elements of this building. Originally the hermit’s cell stood where the two story 15th century tower house on the eastern end of the church is situated, and was incorporated into its successor. This tower house was damaged during the 16th century and was rebuilt by Richard Nugent in 1680. The original church was integrated into the 19th century Nugent Mausoleum that now stands attached to the tower. There is evidence that the original church may have actually stood to the north of the tower but this is hard to determine.

The story of the ‘Hermit in the Stone’ is certainly one of the more fascinating aspects of the cell, especially considering we known the name of the last anchorite who lived there named Patrick Beglin (also known as Begley) who died in 1616. Beglin made the decision to spend the remainder of his life in his small dark cell where, ‘a tall man can hardly stretch himself at length’, in meditation and prayer. Beglin said he would never leave by the door of the cell however for whatever reason he did try leave the cell by the window and broke his neck. He was buried under a ‘heap of stones within the cell’. This story is somewhat echoed in the Dúchas Schools Collection of the 1930s, a Mary Smith of Carpenterstown stated, ‘The story says that when entering his cell he made a vow never to pass the door of it. In his youth he was very fond of hunting. One day on looking out of the window of his cell, he saw a hunt passing through the bog. The thought struck him that he would not be breaching his vow if he got out on the window. He jumped out took a horse out of the stables and followed the hunt as far as Carpenterstown and on crossing the ditch his horse stumbled and fell and killed the hermit.’ This story is purportedly evidenced by one of the many wayside crosses that dot the area of Fore.

It should be mentioned that anchorites differ from hermits in that a hermit did not have to take a vow of stability of place like an anchorite did. Many anchorites were actually blocked up in very small cells with one window into the church and one to the world outside. Anchorite’s took part in a type of consecration that mirrors many parts of the funeral rite, the understanding being that from that date forth they were dead to the world they knew. Throughout much of the 12th to 14th century the majority of the anchorites of whom we know the recorded gender were female, one of the most well known being Julian of Norwich, who spent of three decades enclosed until her death, and in 1395 wrote the Revelations of Divine Love, the first theological book written in English by a woman.

GPS: 53.68136, -7.22959

 

2 thoughts on “Anchorite’s Cell, Westmeath, Ireland

  1. I often wonder what anchorites thought about all day. The sensory and social deprivation they put themselves through must have caused (at least some of) them to have mad hallucinations. And they were probably a bit mental before going in too.

    • I think it is quite hard to understand as its even past the extent of being a hermit (which I think many people would happily have a year or so of!) However I have always had an affinity for the extremities of devotion. I’ve read some of Julian of Norwich’s writings and they do seem on the brink between emphatically and unrelentingly inspired and divine and on the other hand the product of a lifetime spent in prayer, meditation which would in many senses would lead to hallucination or mental fatigue. Intriguing characters for sure.

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