Norwich is a particularly quaint city on the eastern-cental side of England and home to a famous woman mystic commonly referred to as Julian of Norwich. Julian's feast day in the Roman Catholic tradition is on May 13th and May 8th for Anglican, Episcopalian and the Lutheran denominations.
During Easter season and as we approach Pentecost, we hear about God's love in gospel passages and other church readings, especially this week. St Julian, from an obscure cell in Norwich, wrote about being touched by God's love (her shewings) and in such a way that it still moves hearts.
Although Norwich is peaceful today, it is good to know that this wasn't always the case. In Julian's time plagues swept the land and some historians have surmised that even her loved ones, which might have included a spouse and children, were taken away "in an instant". As you can read on this entrance plaque (left), the actual building needed to be rebuilt and rededicated as it did not survive the bombardments of World War II.
The restored building is a replica of the original with a small chapel and another room which represents the cell of Julian. In this cell room is a simple chapel with altar and benches that surround the wall. A window within the cell room depicts Julian kneeling with hands raised during her vision of Jesus' passion. The Risen Christ is depicted as rising out of an urn containing five lily branches with blooms (a scene appropriate for this Easter season). A floating ribbon contains the inscription "All Shall Be Well".
When we visited, an accommodating Anglican priest and some of Julian's followers were on site. As it turned out, one woman and her husband were "transplants" from Wisconsin and associated with the Order of Julian of Norwich, a religious community of monastic contemplatives located in Wisconsin.
From the cell wall plaque (right) we read:
Lady Julian was called to serve God in the solitary life. From her anchorhood- on the site of this chapel – she enriched the world by her writings. Her book, The Revelations of Divine Love, sets out the meaning of the visions she had received on May 8, 1373. From the window of her cell, too, she gave council and comfort to the burdened and perplexed.
In this holy place we can almost hear her saying “God said not ‘though shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be afflicted’, but ‘thou shalt not be overcome’”. Another of her beautiful sayings is “Our falling hindereth Him not to love us”. She had found that truly the key to all religious experience is this:
“Love was His measuring”.
"I saw fully clear that one God made us,
He loved us, which love was never slacked,
nor ever shall be.
And in this love our life is everlasting”.
Julian’s fourteenth century world was as marked by aggression, insecurity and change as is ours today. Her most famous words- born of intense personal suffering, “All shall be well” are needed and as true now as when she wrote them. Go on your way rejoicing, “live gladly and gaily because of His love".
The post-war rebuilding took place under the direction of the
Anglican Church, the official Church of England. Julian was indeed a Catholic by all accounts, however and fortunately, it was the Anglicans who were inspired had had the ability to “resurrect” Julian after discovering her manuscripts over a century after her death. Her interesting life captured the imaginations of the public and spread.
“Modern interest in the text [of Julian's writings] increased with the 1877 publication of a new edition of the Long Text by Henry Collins. An important moment was the publication of Grace Warrack's 1901 version of the book, with its "sympathetic informed introduction" and modernized language, which introduced most early 20th century readers to Julian's writings”.
As noted first above, the original church was badly damaged during war bombardments and you’ll find this is the sad case throughout Europe and beyond. Not only buildings were destroyed, but more importantly people. And once again, this church relates the courageous striving to rebuild after ruin.
With so many impulses circulating throughout Europe during that post war period, I was glad to see that they rebuilt from as much of the original structure plan as possible and that organizers strove to maintain a lucid “aura” of holiness- which was the mark of Julian’s life.
You’ll find nothing too grand here. The altar carvings in the main church and other liturgical items (some historical) are well-made, noble and thoughtfully placed.
More images from the interior of St Julian's Shrine:
In my thought, Julian is a fascinating and approachable medieval woman, not unlike ST Hildegard of Bignen, who was entirely opposite of Julian in so many ways but holiness.
“Revelations is a celebrated work in Catholicism and Anglicanism because of the clarity and depth of Julian's visions of God. Julian of Norwich is now recognized as one of England's most important mystics”.
"BIRGITTA (Bridget) of Sweden (1303-1373) and Julian of Norwich (1342-141?) were contemporaries, Julian being born the year of Birgitta's Arras Vision of St Dionysius concerning the Hundred Years' War between the Kings of England and France, 1342, Birgitta's Vision of the Crucifix at St Pauls outside the Walls, in Rome, being in 1368, and Julian's Vision of the Crucifix in 1373, the year of Birgitta's death in Rome. Birgitta, the mother of eight children and Mother Foundress of the Brigittine Order, travelled on pilgrimage and into exile: to Trondheim, Compostela, Rome, and Jerusalem. She and her daughter worked with Catherine of Siena defending the Papacy. All three women, Birgitta of Sweden, Catherine of Siena, and Julian of Norwich, wrote books called Revelations, Birgitta's unfolding from 1345 until her death in 1373, Catherine's, 1377-1378, Julian's perhaps from 1368-1413. Margery Kempe copied them." ulmita website on St Birgitta
Since the initiation of this blog in 2013, I have been featuring simple posts about religious sites and historical places that I have visited in England (and elsewhere). I will continue to do so as inspired. In a later post (this month) we can look at Norwich (City) and someday later, their Cathedral. Eventually, this blogger will arrive in Walsingham. Quotes gleaned from Wikipedia.
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