My Years as a Nun


Brought to you by Penguin.

An astonishing memoir of twelve years as a contemplative nun in a silent monastery

Cloistered takes the reader deep into the hidden world of a traditional Carmelite monastery as it approaches the third Millennium and tells the story of an intense personal journey into and out of an enclosed life of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Finding an apparently perfect world at Akenside Priory, and a haven after the loss of her father, Catherine Coldstream trusts herself to a group of twenty silent women, believing she is trusting herself to God. As the beauty and mystery of an ancient way of life enfolds her, she surrenders herself wholly to its power, only to find that all is not as it seems behind the Order's closed doors.

Cut off from the wider world for decades, the community has managed to evade accountability to any authority beyond itself. When Sister Catherine realises that a toxic cult of the personality has replaced the ancient ideal of religious obedience, she is faced with a dilemma. Will she submit even to this, or will she be forced to speak out?

An exploration of the limits of trust, Cloistered shows us how far grief can take us along the road of self-surrender, and of how much harm is done when institutional flaws go unacknowledged. Catherine's honest account of her time in the monastery - and her dramatic flight from it - is both a beautiful love song to a lost community and a sharp critique of the abuse of power in an ancient institution.

Disclaimer: This book is a work of non-fiction based on the life, experiences and recollections of the author. In some cases names of people and places, dates, sequences and the detail of events have been changed to protect the privacy of others.

©2024 Catherine Coldstream (P)2024 Penguin Audio


  • ‘An immersive, beautifully observed study of the monastic mind, and the forces that can disrupt and unsettle it. Reading it, I felt the gravitational pull of silence and ecstatic connection
    Katherine May, author of Wintering

About the author

Catherine Coldstream

Catherine Coldstream was born in London, and grew up loving music, words, and books. After converting to Roman Catholicism in her twenties, she spent twelve years in a Carmelite monastery where she lived the life of a silent contemplative nun. Since leaving her community she has studied at the Universities of Oxford, East Anglia, and London, and taught theology, philosophy, and ethics in schools. The effects of her years as a nun have never left her and continue to inspire and inform her writing.
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