Norwich is an ancient city - richly blessed with churches and a splendid cathedral.
It was also the home of a 14th century mystic whose works lay unread for generations - but which have come to light and have given inspiration to many in our day. Her name was Julian. This may not, in fact, have been her real name since it was the custom for an anchoress to take the name of the church to which she had become attached.
Little is known of the early life of Julian. Her story really begins on 8 May 1373 when, following several days of suffering, it seemed clear that she was close to death. She was anointed - and fixed her gaze on a crucifix.
What followed were a series of revelations which were to fill the rest of her life with contemplations on the greatness of God's love - especially as shown in the suffering and death of Jesus.
Julian recovered - and spent many years contemplating the revelations she had received. Eventually, she responded to the call to remove herself from the world and become an anchoress - a life which would allow her to explore more fully the visions she had received. She lived for the rest of her life in a small cell attached to the church of St Julian.
The life of an anchoress was severely restricted. She lived mainly in one room which had one window looking into the church so that she could be present at Mass - and one window which looked out onto the street. This allowed people to come and ask her advice and receive spiritual direction from her. A servant would be engaged to buy food and other requirements. When an anchoress had been accepted and her vocation for the life tested, its beginning was marked by the reading of the burial service - as, symbolically, she was dying to the world - but opening herself to the fullness of Life.
Julian's visions were harrowing - she witnessed and felt in her own body the agony that Jesus endured on the cross. Yet, her over-riding understanding was that the suffering was evidence of great love - and not in any way meant to lead to feelings of guilt. She was deeply aware of sin in the world and its power to cause suffering and pain - but totally sure that God's love was stronger: 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 had a memorable vision of a small thing - the size of a hazelnut - lying in the palm of her hand. She wondered what it was and received the answer "It is all that is made" - the whole of creation resting in her hand. She marvelled that something so small and fragile could exist - and her contemplations led her to understand that it existed only because God loved it and held it in being.
Julian's Revelations of Divine Love express the height and depth of God's love - the suffering of Jesus so that we might be redeemed - Christ our Mother who feeds us with His own Body as a mother feeds her infant from hers - a God who looks on the failings of those who try to be faithful with pity and not with blame.
Her writings are filled with what we can only call "common sense". Her moments of ecstasy and intense spiritual experience were distilled over years of contemplation and reflection into words that are filled with deep conviction and insight. Her many meetings with people earnestly seeking the Truth - and her Lord's injunction that she was to judge no-one - showed her the intrinsic value of human beings and the profound love that God has for them - even when they themselves are blind to it.
A woman having a near-death experience living for years in apparent isolation
The photograph of Julian's cell comes from the
Norwich site below
and is used with the kind permission of Fr Martin Smith
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