A CHURCHGOER in Stanton St Quintin has volunteered to be locked alone in a cell overnight.

Liz Cullen, 58, who suffers from arthritis, will be bedding down for the night on the floor of a six-foot square room in the church, with no electricity and only bats for company.

When St Giles, which dates back to the 12th century, was visited by a conservation architect and a building archaeologist earlier this year, they said they strongly suspected the vestry may have been an anchorite cell, of which there are only three confirmed in the country.

Hermits, or anchorites, would make a lifelong commitment to retire into seclusion in confined quarters to pray.

Mrs Cullen, who lives in Lower Stanton, said: “Before they were locked up they would swear over their open coffin in the church. If there was no door they’d be sealed in by bricking up the entrance.”

The anchorhold, a tiny room or cell, had a slanting window with a view of the altar called a squint, for the anchorite to receive communion, and another small window through which to pass in food, remove waste and give spiritual advice to visitors.

She said: “Many people have suggested I should be locked up, usually jokingly, so I thought, ‘Why not be an overnight anchorite?’ “I’m not planning to get much sleep. I’ll be in there for 12 hours.

“It will be quiet and I’ll have plenty of time to think; I think it will be a contemplative experience. My husband thinks I’m absolutely mad.”

She has been given the blessing of Rev Christopher Bryan and the parochial church council. The Bishop of Bristol, the Right Rev Mike Hill, will carry out an enclosure ceremony before she begins her overnight lock-in.

She will wear a hooded robe with a rope belt that she made herself, and take in only a camping mat, sleeping bag, portable toilet, diary and pen.

Mrs Cullen, who has been a regular at the church for 18 years, retired last year as a teacher of adults with learning disabilities at Cirencester College. She wants to raise funds for a solar-powered borehole to supply clean water and sanitation at a new school in Gunjur in The Gambia.

She has so far raised more than £300 but has a target of £5,000 by December. Donate at http://tinyurl.com/mo4o62m