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  • Writer's pictureGranny Bonnet

St. Julian of Norwich

David Holgate's carving of St. Julian on Norwich Cathedral.

Some years ago, Granny went to a wedding ceremony held in the little church of St. Julian that sits off King Street in Norwich. It was not licensed for weddings and special permission had to be applied for from the Bishop. This was granted on the grounds that the bridegroom lived in King Street itself.

St. Julian's is a very intimate place, steeped in history and visited by many from all around the world, drawn to it by stories of the mystic who spent most of her life there, walled into her tiny cell.

Julian 1342-1416 was probably born in Norwich though there is scant knowledge of her life before becoming an anchorite. One of the most important towns in the country, Norwich's population when she was growing up, was decimated by plague when a quarter of the population perished, and it struck twice more. An illness of her own took Julian close to death during which on 16th May, 1373, she had a series of 16 religious visions which prompted her to withdraw from society in order to devote the rest of her life to solitary contemplation and prayer, during which she wrote two accounts of her experiences.

Julian lived in a room or cell attached to the church. It had three windows, one which opened onto the church so she could receive communion, one that enabled her to speak to her maid, and a third that allowed ordinary people to seek her spiritual advice or ask for her prayers.

Although Julian described herself as 'a simple creature, unlettered', it is thought she must have had some personal wealth and education with a knowledge of theology, as she went on to write the earliest surviving example of a book in the English language to have been written by a woman.

'Revelations of Divine Love spans the most profound mysteries of the Christian faith—such as the problems of predestination, the foreknowledge of God, and the existence of evil. The clarity and depth of her perception, the precision and accuracy of her theological presentation, and the sincerity and beauty of her expression reveal a mind and personality of exceptional strength and charm. Never beatified, Julian is honoured on the unofficial feast day of May 13.'

Almost completely destroyed by enemy bombing in 1942, the church was rebuilt ten years later and a modern chapel dedicated to her memory was constructed on the foundations of what was assumed to be her cell.

As we partook of the intimate wedding ceremony, we did not have to travel far to learn of St. Julian's famed anchoress and her views on love, so apt on that day, so count ourselves rather privileged to attend a marriage in this very special place.

Present day St. Julian's Church, Norwich.

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