Convent was run like a cult

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CATHERINE COLDSTREAM says that she is staggered by the media interest in her memoir, Cloistered: My years as a nun. “People used to glaze over when I said I’m writing about my time as a nun,” she says. But the book is barely out, and several of the broadsheets, as well as the Church Times (Books, 8 March), have run reviews and interviews. There are speaking engagements in the diary.

The bones of her story are these. She grew up in a bohemian home in north London, the daughter of Sir William Coldstream, a painter and professor of fine art, and his much younger second wife, an opera singer. The marriage was stormy, and her upbringing was dysfunctional and marred by conflict.

On the death of her father, Catherine experienced an overwhelming religious conversion. Three years later, aged 27, she joined a silent Carmelite order in Northumberland: Akenside (a pseudonym). At first, she embraced the life of a nun wholeheartedly, finding it “a kind of heaven”; over time, the dream morphed into a nightmare. A toxic power struggle — entailing emotional abuse, forced confessions, even physical violence — ensued. Twelve years after entering the monastery, she left.

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