The silence was peaceful, not eerie, around the grounds of the Quidenham Carmel.
This group of dedicated nuns follow the Rule of Carmel, a pledge of silent prayer, which was actually written by a man, for a group of men on Mount Carmel, in the early 13th century.
“Then in 16th century Spain, Sister Teresa of Avila, who had been a Carmelite nun for about 20 years, reformed the order to become the Discalced Carmelite Order and that’s what we belong to”, explained Sister Shelagh as she broke the silent rule to tell me about her experiences as a nun.
“So in fact our order was founded by a woman based on the original male tradition, but it’s got the stamp of a woman on it.”
Sister Shelagh was 33 when she entered the convent and had lead a colourful life prior to making her vows.
“I had done various different jobs, I was teaching for the first four or five years before I entered. I was active in the peace movement, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, and I did a lot of music, but there was a hunger that wouldn’t go away.
“Whatever I did never felt as though it was quite enough and I was constantly searching for more.”
From the bridal veil to the habit
Shelagh was married before she became a nun, but after about ten years both her and her husband chose lives of monasticism over their relationship.
“In the end I found that when I came here, that deep hunger was satisfied and I had a contentment which I had never managed to achieve before.”
“Deep bond of unity”
While living in such a closed community, Sister Shelagh says she still feels like an individual.
“There is a deep bond of unity between us and it’s very supportive, living in a community. I know I couldn’t live this life on my own so I am grateful for the support.
“But it is also a constant challenge to live with people from all kinds of different backgrounds.”
Sister Stephanie spoke to me about how tensions sometimes arise and are resolved through trust and silence within the convent.
“I think a hard part about community like ours where so much of our time is actually lived in silence apart from necessary work talk, if you know you’ve really made a boob, you’ve really mucked something up, even your opportunities to apologise and say ‘I’m so sorry’ are limited.
“I think, for a lot of the women here, and certainly for women coming in today, so much is out in the open, is talked about. There’s a lot of ‘we’ve got to sit down and discuss this’, or ‘lets talk this one through’, and I think that is something particularly feminine.
“So in a sense, we’re actually being asked to sacrifice that by living in silence and allow that to happen on a deeper level.”
While there are still arguments and disagreements, like in any community, in this convent, during my time there I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of calm contentment among all of the women.