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It is, I believe, in that very richness and fluidity that its continuing power throughout the centuries resides. Why do Antony, Martin, Cuthbert, Guthlac seek their different kinds of desert? Why does a thirteenth-century anchoress, snugly ensconced next to a church in a bustling medieval town, with her servants and her cat and her needlework, still need to feel that she is in the wilderness? The wilderness, whether external or internal, offers focus: it is the place where human security is stripped away, spiritual experience is intensified and issues become clearer.

Joanne McNamara, ‘Muffled Voices: The Lives of Consecrated Women in the Fourth Century’, Medieval Religious Women. Volume One: Distant Echoes, ed. John A. Nichols and Lillian Thomas Shank, Cistercian Publications (Kalamazoo, 1984), pp. 11–19. 39 Ward, Harlots of the Desert, ch. 5. See also Dunn, Emergence of Monasticism, pp. 55–8, on the move towards enclosure. ’40 The desert was still a place of temptation; apparently, women whose sexuality had already proved a snare and might still be a threat to themselves (and others) were best completely isolated.

The scale of the movement to the desert during these early centuries of the Christian Church is, however, undeniable. In the often-cited words of Athanasius, ‘the desert was made a city by monks who left their own people and registered themselves for 19 Cf. Benedicta Ward, SLG, Harlots of the Desert: A Study of Repentance in Early Monastic Sources (London & Oxford, 1987); Norman Russell, The Lives of the Desert Fathers: The Historia Monachorum in Egypto, Cistercian Publications (London, Oxford & Kalamazoo, 1981); B.

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