When I was in Norwich recently I visited the Shrine of St. Julian of Norwich.
The Church of St Julian is within the parish of St John Timberell. It is located in King Street.
The Shrine itself is on the North side of the Church, where the vestry might have been. Unlike the church, which I would describe as Anglo-Catholic and ornate, the room which is built where the Shrine used to be, is fairly plain but certainly prayerful.
The original Shrine was torn down at the Reformation as part of the widespread acts of religious vandalism by the so-called reformers. The Church itself was destroyed by a German bomb during WWII. During rebuilding, excavations revealed the foundations of what was thought to be a medieval cell so it was rebuilt and is the Chapel of Mother Julian which we see today. Her more lasting legacy is her personal story and the writing which came from it.
Julian was so named after the Church where she resided in the latter part of her life, and where she lived out her life as an ‘Anchoress’ (someone who withdraws completely from the world to live a life of prayer in total solitude., though she was able to pray for and give spiritual advice through a window.)
She is known for just one book—The Revelations of Divine Love– which record sixteen visions granted to her by God on May 8th and 9th 1373 and it is her reflections on these over a 20 year period. The Visions came to her when she was just 30 and they followed an illness which took her to the brink of death. Shortly after this she took up residence in a room built onto the church of St Julian & St Edward, Norwich.
At the heart of her thinking was the realization of our Lord’s suffering on the Cross which she accepted as the result of John 3:16—God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.
For Julian, Christ’s sacrifice demonstrated the immensity of God’s Love and it was the central theme of her meditations. Alongside this she saw Christ’s nurturing of a new humanity (our re-birth into eternal life through the Resurrection) as like the action of a Mother giving birth to and nurturing of her child. This idea of God as ‘Mother’ as well as ‘Father’ was more common in Medieval times than the masculine emphasis of later ages and perhaps only today is there an appreciation of God as embodying both male and female—a view that has restored women to their rightful place as co-equal with men. Celtic Christians, in an earlier time, had understood this too and they coined the phrase—“there is in the heart of God a mother’s heart.”
Julian saw the heart of the Gospel as God simply loving us—holding us in His love which is deeply tender and never leaves us. She saw that God was in everything good and this led to her famous vision of the hazelnut which she held in the palm of her hand. Asking God what it meant she understood that it represented all that God has made. It was so small it could have simply disappeared but it did not because God was continually loving it. From this she concluded that everything good is loved like that by God and everything has its being because of God’s love. The Hazelnut became for her the symbol of this and she saw that it had three characteristics—God made it. God loves it. God keeps it.
God was Maker, Lover and Keeper of all. This was at the heart of God sending Jesus to love us into His Kingdom through his life, his suffering on the Cross and the new life He gives us through the Resurrection.
Julian’s Revelations can be summed up in a few beautiful words that she wrote: “Love was our Lord’s meaning. And I saw for certain, both here and elsewhere, that before ever he made us, God loved us, and that his love has never slackened nor ever will”
‘Love was our Lord’s meaning’ and we are caught up in that meaning. It is the Gospel in fact, as it were, in a nutshell !
Julian Shrine Chapel; Photo: PN
THE JULIAN PRAYER
Most Holy Lord
the ground of our beseeching
who through your servant JULIAN
revealed the wonder of your love grant that as we are created in your nature and restored by your grace
our wills may be so made one with yours that we may come to see you face to face and gaze on you for ever