Richard Rolle and solitude

Tim Glover

Richard Rolle, who is commemorated by the Church of England in the coming week, was a medieval hermit and religious author. As a hermit, he pursued a life of solitude to dedicate himself to God. Hermits positioned themselves on the margins of society and rejected worldly ways of living, yet were perceived as exemplary models of a holy life. Indeed, for Rolle solitude was not only a choice but practically a prerequisite for the deepest experiences of God; an opportunity to escape the clamour of the world and tune in. 

Rolle was a fierce advocate for solitary life, but this does not mean it came without difficulties – in fact, the point was that it was difficult. It involved abandoning things that seem valuable, like wealth and reputation, and laying aside sources of comfort. Rolle encourages his readers to adopt a discipline of recalibrating their perspective, learning to find God in what appears small, weak, and humble. He writes: 

‘I walked through the endurance of harsh things, and I found Jesus, tired from his journey, afflicted with hunger, thirst, and cold; I sat alone, making myself a solitary, and I found Jesus fasting in the desert, praying alone in the mountain. I ran through pain and penance, and I found Jesus bound, scourged, wounded. Jesus is not to be found among rich men, but among poor; not among those who delight, but among the penitent; not in crowd, but in solitude.’ 


Timothy Glover is currently reading for a DPhil in English Literature at Exeter College. He is working on the writings of Richard Rolle.