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JUNE 2024

Revd Helen Writes …


  If you could meet just one famous person from the past, who would it be? For me it would be Dame Julian of Norwich. She lived her very quiet life over six hundred years ago and for centuries she became almost forgotten. Yet today, Julian is known and loved by millions because of her book. She was the author of the first known book written by a woman in English. And it has become a spiritual classic and a guide to many in the way of faith, hope and love.


  We know little of her early life. We don’t know what her name was. In later life she was referred to as Dame Julian but she probably took the name of the saint to whom her church was dedicated. We do however know a great deal about the circumstances of the age in which she lived. England was in a sorry state; ravaged by two waves of the Black Death, it was a time of aggression, insecurity and turmoil. And while she says nothing about contemporary events, they must have affected her life. Indeed the state of the country at that time also makes it more remarkable that she is best known for that glorious assurance that ‘all shall be well’.


  By her own words she was born in 1342. We don’t know what Julian was doing in her first 30 years. She could have been a nun but it’s more likely that she was married and perhaps lost her husband and family during the Black Death. When Julian was 30 she fell seriously ill and everyone thought she was going to die. She thought so too and she describes her experiences vividly. The scene she describes sounds more like a household than a nunnery. In her illness her bedside was crowded with friends and the description mentions laughter. Her mother was also there and they sent for ‘the parson, my curate’, a phrase suggesting either a chaplain to a private household or the parish priest. Later she mentions another conversation with a cleric at her bedside, again involving laughter. On her sickbed Julian says she wants to warn those around her to “love God more and leave earthly vanity”. At the end of her book she says, ‘God wants us always to be strong in our love and as peaceful and restful as he is towards us and he wants us to be for ourselves and for our fellow-Christians, what he is for us.’


  At the height of her illness Julian was granted an amazing vision of Christ on the cross and she meditated on this for the next 20 or so years. Then she wrote her book. At some point in the years between her illness and her book she became an anchoress, which meant choosing to spend her life in a small room attached to the church. She had 3 windows in her cell. One opened into the church so that she could receive communion and join in all the services. One provided access to her attendant who delivered food and books and removed waste. And the third window provided her hundreds of visitors with the means to talk to Julian asking for her advice and prayers.


  Julian of Norwich soon gained a reputation of being wise, kind, practical and approachable, and she was noted for her joyful outlook on life. Not just the local villagers brought their worries to Julian, but also important people and people from far and wide came seeking her advice and her comfort.


  And there Julian stayed, living her solitary life of devotion, meditating on her vision, offering her wise counsel and her prayers to those who sought them, and writing her book. As the centuries passed she was almost forgotten. But, largely in the twentieth century, Julian was rediscovered. Perhaps because her world was so like ours today; A time of aggression, insecurity and turmoil, devastated by the covid pandemic. Julian believed that what she had been shown was meant for all her fellow-Christians and not just for her. And this is amply borne out by the worldwide influence of her book today. After long and deep contemplation Julian can tell us of God’s grace, his endless and profound love that we don’t deserve, and that we don’t have to deserve. And that boundless and everlasting love is at the heart of Julian’s glad cry; “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”


With love and prayers

Helen Kempster

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