A 15th century manuscript for hermits may be lost to the British public unless funds can be raised to prevent it being sold abroad.

Arts minister Helen Whately has placed a temporary export bar on The Myrowr Of Recluses in the hope that a buyer can be found who will enable the text to be studied by future generations.

The document is believed to have been written in the early 1400s in London by an unknown scribe as a guide for anchorites or hermits who were religious recluses that dedicated their life to prayer and contemplation.

Ms Whately said: “This beautiful decorated manuscript is a precious record of the life of hermits in 15th century England and it would be a sad loss if it was sold abroad.”

Helen Whately
Arts minister Helen Whately is trying to prevent the manuscript being sold abroad (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

The text gives advice on the reasons, both virtuous and misguided, that people seek to become an anchorite and gives information about what the lifestyle entails.

The only other version of The Myrowr Of Recluses is an incomplete manuscript dating from the mid-15th century which is in the British Library, however the document at risk of export has revealed previously unknown sections of text.

The minister’s decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest and the manuscript has been valued at £168,750.

British Library receives protected status
Another incomplete copy of the manuscript is in the British Library (DCMS/PA)

There were around 200 anchorites or hermits in England in the 13th century with more women than men choosing the lifestyle, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Committee member Leslie Webster said that the document is “of great importance to our understanding of later medieval thought and society”, adding: “It is a fascinating treasure that deserves to be saved.

“Almost certainly written for female anchorites, the text seems to be linked to the Benedictine nuns at Barking Abbey, a foundation dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, and in the 15th century, renowned as a house of educated women, inspired by its Abbess, Sybil de Felton.”

The decision on the export licence application for the manuscript will be delayed until April 13 and could be extended until August if a serious intention to raise funds to buy it is made.