Born in the village of Thornton in the diocese of York in England, Richard Rolle was one of the great spiritual leaders of England. He came from humble beginnings and, through the help of a benefactor, was able to attend Oxford. Although he was an outstanding student, he decided to quit before finishing his master's degree because he did not want to get mixed up in the vanity of the academic world.
Rolle returned to Yorkshire and literally ran away from home in order to become a hermit. He made a hermit's habit out of his father's raincoat and left for a nearby church to spend the night in prayer as a preparation. While there he was enthralled in a deep experience of prayer so astonishing that onlookers could only marvel as he prayed through the night. When he later preached in that church, it marked the beginning of a powerful ministry.
He lived in different towns and villages throughout his life: sometimes in a monastery, sometimes in a nunnery. He also became famous for his writings, especially his work The Fire of Love. Rolle wrote with a kind of passion and energy that few writers have demonstrated. For two hundred years following his death he was highly revered as "St. Richard the Hermit," and his writings were treasured by both religious and nonreligious.