The Modern Hermit Living in an End-of-Terrace House

An excellent article on Rachel Denton previously mentioned on Citydesert:

“Nestled beyond extensive farmland in Lincolnshire and a series of seemingly infinite narrow lanes, lies a red brick, end-of-terrace, ex-council house – home to one of Britain’s hermits.
Dressed simply in a long tabard, white top and skirt, and leaning on a twisted walking stick, Rachel Denton looks almost timeless.
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But this 50-year-old woman is all about the present and celebrates a life of solitude, silence and prayer, using digital technology to maintain her vows and her hermitage.
Solitude is something many people are frightened of but fascinated by”

“Part of me would love to live in a cave on a mountain and see nobody ever and not have a Facebook and Twitter account, but the reality is that if I’m to earn my own living, technology enables me to do that.”

A teacher for 15 years, culminating in a deputy headship in Cambridgeshire, Rachel gave it all up 12 years ago for a life of contemplative silence as a Roman Catholic hermit.

The word hermit derives from the Greek term eremite, meaning ‘of the desert’. Hermits have inspired literature and popular culture throughout the centuries, from medieval romances and Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, to Tolstoy, Nietzsche, and even Star Wars and Monty Python.

Rachel’s own brand of hermitage requires a degree of self-sufficiency. She grows her own vegetables and eats a lot of scrambled eggs thanks to her two chickens. To generate income, she runs a calligraphy and stationery workshop from home.
“Nobody was interested in me in the slightest until I became a hermit”

Hi-tech digital literacy underpins this singular way of life, linking Rachel to the outside world, facilitating her business and allowing her to maintain relationships with family and friends.
Although she has withdrawn to a solitary life, Rachel still places herself within the world community. She has 86 followers on Twitter, and will tweet several times a month – social media is a vital link to the outside world. Her twitter page reads: “Tweets are rare but precious.”
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Far from being a reclusive character, Rachel is warm, highly articulate and positively chatty….

Rachel now spends her time living simply in prayer and contemplation, with her cats, chickens and vegetable patch.

She sees friends and family once or twice a year and even teaches one-to-one, but she always returns from the world to her solitary place to “wait to recognise God”.
There is no guidebook to hermitage. No official hermit rules. In fact, Rachel says that when she asked the bishop if she could take vows as a hermit, his first reaction was that the Catholic church did not do hermits.

Only after being shown the reference in canon law did the bishop change his mind.
Rachel then took her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; which she interprets as simplicity, solitude and silence.

She is now officially a hermit of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nottingham. But she admits, that although she is guided by her rule of life, there are times when she has to make it up as she goes along.

“It’s part of the maverick way of hermitage that each hermit does it their own way. There is no discipleship except of Jesus. Hermitage is within each one of us and for some people like me, it becomes a way of life.”

She has three rules for her life as a hermit.
One is to live simply in solitude and silence, staying and returning there in so far as duties permit.
The second is to earn a sufficient living, trying to maintain that solitude and silence. And the third is to pray every day.

Much of her work and contact with family and friends can be carried out online.
While practical reasons take her out and about, normally at least once a week, she can also go for days without speaking and says solitude gives her energy and happiness…
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Rachel likens her journey to that of the desert fathers – the early Christian hermits who wandered the Egyptian desert. She describes her home as “the hut at the edge of the desert”.

Unlike those who might fear an increasingly solitary existence, Rachel embraces it enthusiastically. “I feel thrilled about it,” she smiles.

When asked to sum up what living alone brings her, Rachel is unequivocal. “It gives me gratitude. It makes me grateful from the moment I wake up till the moment I go to bed again.””


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