The North Aisle
The North Chapel
"I felt within me a merry and unknown heat ... I was expert it was not from a creature but from my Maker, as it grew hotter and more glad."
- Rolle on his first mystical experience.
History - Richard Rolle
The historian, the Rev. Joseph Hunter, in his "History of the Deanery of Doncaster", published in 1828 wrote the following brief summary of the life of the Yorkshire Hermit and mystic, Richard Rolle:
"Few persons who have written so much have left so few memorials of themselves. All that appears to be of certainty known respecting him is that sometime about the beginning of the reign of Edward III, Richard withdrew himself from a world whose manners he was disgusted by and devoted himself to a life of austerity and divine meditation in a cell not far from the monastery of Hampole and he continued this mode of life till his death in 1349."
Richard was born into a poor family at Thornton-le-Dale in North Yorkshire and proved to be bright enough to attract the admiration of Thomas Neville, Archdeacon of Durham, who was prepared to sponsor him through his studies at Oxford. However, disgusted by the wealth, power, privilege and generally unchristian worldliness of ecclesiastical Oxford, he left university before he gained a degree.
Having rejected the rare chance to gain prestige, social advancement and financial security offered by scholarship, he embarked upon the life of a hermit embracing solitude, simplicity and poverty in order to better know and serve God.
After living in a variety of different locations, Richard eventually settled in a cell near to the Priory of Hampole where, though never ordained priest, he may have acted as confessor or chaplain to members of the convent. Richard Rolle is regarded as the first English mystic trying, through prayer and meditation, to bring his soul to fullest communion with God.
He was amongst the very first to write in the English language of his times and was the author of many books on devotional themes. His most famous work, "The Fire of Love", written in English prose at a time when most scholars wrote in Latin, gave to ordinary people of his day access to a clearer understanding of God's love.
After his death in 1349, possibly of the Black Death (which reduced England's population by one-third) the nuns of Hampole sought unsuccessfully to have Richard created a saint. Had they succeeded this would have brought enormous prestige to their priory.
Nonetheless Richard's fame persisted after his death, and his tomb, provided by a local admirer, became a place of pilgrimage. The many reports of miracles of healing that were believed to have occurred there indicate the considerable affection in which he was regarded by the inhabitants of the local villages and nearby towns.
Commandment written by Richard Rolle for a Cistercian Nun of Hampole Priory:
The Commandment of God is that we love Our Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our thought.
With all our heart, that is with all our understanding, without erring.
With all our soul, that is with all our will, without gain saying.
With all our thought, that is that we think on Him, without forgetting.
In this manner is very love and true, that is the work of man's will.
For love is a deliberate stirring of our thought towards God, so that it receive nothing that is against the love of Jesus Christ, and that thereby it is enduring in sweetness of devotion.