The frontier between religion and cult is ill-defined, but after reading this article in the Daily Mail it’s difficult not to conclude that one of the crossing points is to be found on London’s Chelsea Embankment:

Sarah Cassidy is the sort of no-nonsense, capable woman you might expect to find as headmistress of a primary school. But Sarah doesn’t do children, and she doesn’t do husbands either. No. Sarah is 43, single and celibate — and determined to remain so. Each night she fastens a wire chain, known as a cilice, around her upper thigh. The device has sharp prongs that dig into the skin and flesh, though generally it does not draw blood. To most women, it sounds a peculiarly masochistic practice.
Yet Sarah says it serves a very different purpose: suppressing her desires and atoning for her sins. Quite what those sins might be it is hard to imagine. For Sarah is not just good, but very, very good. She doesn’t drink, abhors drugs and has never had sex. More than that, she is a senior female figure in Opus Dei, one of the most controversial forces in the Roman Catholic church…

…In a bid to correct false impressions, Sarah has agreed to meet me to discuss what it is that attracts women like her to what seems such an austere and, frankly, painful expression of faith. I meet her with fellow Opus Dei member Eileen Cole at the group’s £7 million London headquarters on Chelsea Embankment, where Sarah now lives.

Read the whole thing : you don’t have to subscribe to the Dan Brown school of history to find it fascinating – and more than a touch disturbing.

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