Discovering Julian of Norwich
Illustration by Tim Hunt
Have you ever had a sudden thought or experience that takes you out of the usual and opens a whole new world?
I was lucky enough to work in television production and there were many such moments, but one in particular has stayed with me and enriched my life. It was discovering the writings of a Norwich woman who, on 8th May 1373 had a near-death experience which was filled with visions of the crucifixion of Jesus and impressing on her the ever-present love of God. When she had recovered from the illness she wrote about these revelations, pondering on their meaning over a long period.
She is known as Julian of Norwich, probably taking her name from the dedication of the church of St. Julian, which still exists today between Rouen Road and King Street. Like others at that time, she opted to live in a small room attached to a church, becoming an anchoress, a person of deep spirituality and from her window to the alley outside she gave counselling to those who came to her in trouble and distress.
Norwich was prosperous and creative then, but there were wars, outbreaks of plague and the Peasants’ Revolt. People would be fearful of rough justice in this world and the next. But Julian gave hope with words such as these:
“Because of our good Lord’s tender love to all those who shall be saved, he quickly comforts them, saying the cause of all this pain is sin. But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
She also says that although we are beset by all kinds of troubles, because we are so loved by God, we will not be overcome. One of Julian’s radical insights was:
‘As truly as God is our Father, so just as truly is he our Mother. Not a God of wrath but of a mother’s caring.’
Julian’s book was the first known to be written in English by a woman, but her writings must have been kept secret in her lifetime, as she would have been in danger of losing her life as a heretic. They survived in copies made by others, found in collections of books about two hundred years later and her Revelations of Divine Love were first printed in Belgium.
Now visitors and pilgrims from all over the world come to St. Julian’s Church and the Julian Centre on Rouen Road where this year some of many special events will take place. The Annual Julian Festival will be held on Saturday, 13th May.
I became involved with the Friends of Julian of Norwich once I retired, having made a short film about Julian a few years earlier. It was that experience that opened my eyes to the wonder of a medieval woman released from the cloistered ideas of the day to the liberation of knowing that we are all loved.