Many moons ago, in the exciting days of the Spiky Mike’s Parish Holidays, we went to visit Norwich Cathedral. Very lovely. But a few of us decided we wanted to see the church where Mother Julian spent her life as an anchoress so off we set.
I think the first surprise was how ordinary it all was. A little church with no fanfare, no hoohah, no flashing neon signs – just a little hazelnut of a church. There was a sign, if I remember correctly, which pointed you up the hill to a little shop selling one or two little Julian trinkets but nothing too showy. Very ‘umble, you know?
We wandered round the church and spotted the door which led through to where she was holed up for all these years. As we opened the door we noticed that there was a woman already in, on her knees praying, so we quietly slipped in and sat down. I think there was an icon in the corner or some sort of focus but I’m afraid my eyes kept coming back to the woman.
There was nothing particularly startling about her. Maybe in her 40s, a bit plump. But as she knelt her face was radiant, glowing from within, almost rapturous. Whatever she was praying she seemed to have achieved ultimate peace and grace. I have never, before or since, seen such love on someone’s face in prayer. See, even now, all these years later I can remember more about her face’s expression than about the icon corner of the shrine. And I don’t mind telling you I am still a little envious.
One of my favourite books about Julian is written by Ralph Milton who is part of an e-group to which I belong. It is an earthy story of Julian of Norwich called Julian’s Cell, passionate and moving, a work of historical fiction, which imagines what life was like for ‘Katherine’. Of course we do not know her real name – that old women thing again, not being important enough – as she is named after the church.
I wear a silver bracelet every day which says on it one of Jules’ sayings:
All shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well.