RECLUSE (Lat. reclusus, inclusus): The Early Recluses. Specifically a particular kind of solitary who lives a life of seclusion in a cell (clausa, recluserium) in the belief that God is served by so doing. The practise became common in the West, although reports from the East concerning a temporary or permanent immurement of both male and female hermits are not lacking. Gregory of Tours (d. 593 or 594) is the first in the West to mention a number of recluses of both sexes, and this incloistered life appears to have been widely extended in Gaul in the sixth century. Protasius lived thus at Combronde in Auvergne (Vit patrum, v.), Junianus (d. 530) at Limoges (Gloria confessorum, ciii.), the widow Monegundis at Tours (Vit patrum, xix.), Leobardus (d. 583) at Marmoutier near Tours, Hospitius at Vienne (Hist. Francorum, vi. 6), and others. Gregory further tells of the incloistration of a twelve-year-old lad, Anatolius, near Bordeaux (Hist. Francorum, viii. 34). He also describes (Hist. Francorum, vi. 29) the solemn act of immuring, in the cloister of the Holy Cross at Poitiers, during the time of St. Radegonde (d. 587). The cell being duly prepared, the Abbess Radegonde, amid the chanting of psalms, conducted the new recluse to her cell, attended by the rest of the nuns bearing lighted tapers. Here the incloistered one took leave of the nuns with a kiss, and then followed the sealing of the door. The Western Church made early provision for an ecclesiastical regulation and subjection of the incloistered religious under the church authorities. The synods of Vannes, 465 (canon vii.), Agde, 506 (canon xxxviii.), Toledo, 648 (canon v.), and Frankfort, 794 (canon xii.) decreed that permission to lead the recluse life should be given only to those who had been regularly brought up and well approved in the cloister.
Classes of Recluses. In spite of all efforts on the part of the Church to regulate the system, it retained a certain freedom and diversity. The recluses only in part affiliated with Benedictine or other cloisters; a system of lay recluses existed, independent of the orders, who in some cases annexed their cells to cloisters or to cathedral churches. Finally, there was still another class of recluses, and these must have been the least acceptable to the Church, as they lived isolated as forest and wilderness hermits, and bound themselves to no rule. The Church tolerated them, chiefly because the people venerated them for their supposed gifts of miracles and healing; but controversies concerning them were not lacking. There were recluses associated with the Benedictine cloister of St. Gall. In the ninth and tenth centuries there were also recluses in connection with other Benedictine cloisters, as at Fulda, Messobrunn, Göttweig, St. Emmeram, Nieder-Alteich, and elsewhere. Recluses were also found in the monasteries of priors obedient to the Augustinian rule, and in cloisters of the Cistercians and the Premonstrants. The most renowned unattached recluses who lived in sylvan solitude are St. Liutbirga, who dwelt in a cave of the so-called Rosstrappe, in the nether Bodethal, from about 830 to 860 (Vita in B. Pez, Thesaurus anecdotorum, ii. 146-178, 6 vols., Augsburg, 1721-1723); and St. Sisu of Drubeck in Westphalia, who inhabited her hermitage for sixty-four years (Thietmar, Chronicon, ix. 8).
Rules. Efforts to regulate the life of the solitary monks and nuns connected with cloisters were not lacking. The oldest rule was drawn up by a Frankish cloistral ecclesiastic Grimilach, probably before the close of the ninth century (L. Holstenius, Codex regularum, ed. M. Brockie, i. 291-344, Augsburg, 1759). It is based on the Benedictine rule, and that of Aachen dating from 817. Only monks who have passed through the cloister or secular ecclesiastics approved by strict tests, and only by permission of the bishop or abbot, are allowed to become recluses. Amid the pealing of bells, the prospective solitary enters the cell prepared for him, and the bishop seals it with his ring. The privilege of receiving daily communion is also allowed to the lay recluse. With the "contemplative life," which conjointly with the observance of the customary canonical hours obliges him to ceaseless inward prayer, he is to combine a life of action, to earn his food by manual labor, and to distribute, of his surplus, alms to the poor. This rule, again, forbids exaggerated fasting and even allows wine. Lastly, the recluse may have as many as three disciples to serve him, while the aged and infirm recluses are allowed an attendant, who also sees to their baths. There is a very compendious rule for solitaries from the Augustinian jurisdiction of Baumburg, which appears to belong to the eleventh century, and has regard chiefly to the needs of lay recluses (M. Rader, Bavaria sancta, iii. 114 sqq., Munich, 1624; B. Haeften, Disquisitiones monastic, p. 83, Antwerp, 1644). It gives precise directions with reference to the nature and outfit of the cell, which is to be constructed of stone, twelve feet square, with three windows, one opening into the choir of the church and serving for the reception of the communion, a second admitting food and drink, and the third, provided with glass or horn, letting in the light. Besides these rules for male recluses, there are two for women. About the middle of the twelfth century, Ethelred (d. 1166), Cistercian abbot of Revesby in the diocese of York, upon the request of his sister, a recluse, wrote a rule entitled Aelredi regula sive institutio inclusarum (Holstenius-Brockie, ut sup., i. 418-440). Above all he assails the symptoms of moral decline and of grievous abuses in the contemporary recluse life of England. He desires complete seclusion from the outer world; and energetically forbids the distribution of alms to the poor, and the reception of guests. His ideal is a purely contemplative life. Yet even in this respect his "Institution," like Benedictine monasticism at large, bears an aristocratic stamp. The recluse nun has in her service an old woman and a young maid, the latter attending to menial tasks. Half a century earlier is the Ancren Riwle ("Anchorite Rule"), composed probably by Bishop Richard Poor (d. 1237), of Salisbury (B. ten Brink, Geschichte der englischen Litteratur, i. 251-257, Berlin, 1877), for three noble dames living as recluse nuns at Tarrant in Dorsetshire.
Decline and Disappearance. In the later Middle Ages, the solitaries were driven out by the mendicant orders and the Beguine communities (see BEGHARDS, BEGUINES). Sporadically, however, they persisted even down to the Reformation period. Leo X. conceded the same favors to four recluses of St. Andrew's Chapel in St. Peter's Church that he had accorded the Clares (Wadding, Annates minores, ad. 1515 n. 4). In the seventeenth century they disappeared altogether, one of the latest being Johanna of Cambry, who had herself immured as a recluse at St. Andrew's Church, Lille, in 1625, and died there in 1639 (Helyot, Ordres monastiques, iv. 338 sqq.).
In the Evangelical church, intense ascetic zeal urged certain Dutch Reformed extremists to restore the medieval recluse life, the best-known being the solitary Johann Gennuvit of Venningen on the Ruhr (d. 1699), who tenanted a lonely cabin (Zöckler, p. 576).