Sister Rachel Denton, Hermit and Calligrapher
St Cuthbert’s House is the home of Sr Rachel – a hermit of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nottingham. St Cuthbert’s House was blessed as a hermitage on February 2nd 2002 and Rachel was installed as the hermit On November 18th 2006, in the presence of Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham, family, friends and parishioners, Rachel made her solemn profession – vows to live as a hermit for the rest of her life. In order to support herself, Rachel works to commission as a writer and scribe, and offers other print related services.
“I started house-hunting in Lincolnshire, one of the few areas with cheap homes. The house I bought, an ex-council end-of-terrace, is a long way from the chocolate-box cottage I had imagined, but the beautiful countryside more than makes up for that.
I moved here in January 2002 and started my life as a hermit, naming my house after St Cuthbert, the patron saint of hermitage. On a typical day, I pray between 6am and 8am. After breakfast, I work on my calligraphy business, perhaps on card designs or wedding invitations, until midday. I eat, nap and read until two, then work in the house or garden until five. Over supper, I listen to the radio for an hour, followed by more prayer. In the evenings I may sit and watch the fire, sew and wander around the garden.
I try to live a simple life. I grow my own fruit and vegetables and, on an income of around £8,000, I have to be careful what I spend. I don’t have a television and I allow myself only an hour of radio each day.
I made an official commitment to be a hermit in November 2006, at a special mass. Before you can take your vows in the Catholic church, you have to put together a “rule of life” agreed by the bishop. My vows were poverty, chastity and obedience, which I have interpreted as simplicity, solitude and silence.
Friends and family have been understanding – they know that this was a choice I wanted to make, that it’s part of a lifelong religious conviction. My parents come and see me once a year and I phone them once a week. Close friends and family also visit once or twice a year. I may go to a social function such as a baptism or holy communion once every three months or so. I’ll chat to people after mass on a Sunday, but I rarely stay for coffee afterwards and I don’t attend parish events. I’ve never been the sort of person who enjoyed socialising in large groups and, until I chose to become a hermit, I tried to find solitude within a more social setting. When I was teaching, I would sit and close my eyes for 20 or so minutes at lunchtime, so I could feel apart and alone.
I have thought about marriage and children in the past – I’m 46 now – and there have been boyfriends and significant relationships. But when opportunities presented themselves, I always chose not to pursue them. In the end the compulsion towards a life of silence and solitude was stronger.
It is not always easy to live this way; I know it could be seen as a selfish life. But having experienced the stillness and silence I have always longed for, I know that I am growing. I do really value friendships and relationships, but being alone is what I need to survive.”
An interesting BBC radio interview with Sr Rachel is found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qdvl9