02 April 2024

Julian of Norwich and her
visions are remembered
in the small church with
her name and her cell

Saint Julian’s Church in Norwich, where Julian of Norwich lived as an anchorite (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

There is a popular saying that at one time Norwich had 52 churches – one for each week of the year, and 365 pubs – one for each day of the year. Saint Julian’s Church is one of the oldest churches in Norwich, and I visited it last week when I was visiting the cathedrals and churches of Norwich for the first time.

Saint Julian’s Church is best known because the anchorite Julian of Norwich lived in a cell attached to the church during the Middle Ages, at a tine when Norwich was prosperous and the second largest city in England.

I described the Stations of the Cross in the church, inspired by the writings of Julian of Norwich and completed by the artist by the artist Irene (Rene) Ogden (1919-2015), in a blog pasting on Good Friday (HERE).

The chancel and east end of Saint Julian’s Church on Saint Julian's Alley, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Julian’s has been described as a ‘crisp little church’ and I found it on Saint Julian's Alley, one of the alleys between Rouen Road and King Street. An early church on the site was destroyed in 1004 when the Vikings attacked Norwich. The mediaeval church was built in the 11th and 12th centuries.

The original dedication of the church is uncertain. It may have been dedicated to Julian the Hospitaller, but other sources suggest it was dedicated to a female saint, Juliana of Nicomedia. Alan Butler, chaplain to the Duke of Norfolk in the 18th century, suggested the church was dedicated to Saint Julian of Le Mans. But that idea was refuted in 1936 by Robert Flood of Norwich in 1936 in his short history of the church.

King Stephen put the church under the authority of Carrow Abbey, a Benedictine priory outside Norwich, in 1135. The prioress and nuns appointed the priest at Saint Julian’s, and maintained the church. The parish attached to the nearby church of Saint Edward King and Confessor was united with Saint Julian’s between 1269 and 1305.

Looking towards the west end of Saint Julian’s Church in Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

By the mid-14th century, Norwich had a population of about 25,000 and was second only in size to London. It was a wealthy city with a cathedral, five monasteries, a convent, and a greater number of parish churches than any city in mediaeval England other than London.

Trading links with the Low Countries and the Rhineland gave Norwich and the Norfolk region access to new religious ideas then prevalent in northern Europe. In the late Middle Ages, Norwich had a large number of hermits and anchorites compared with other English towns.

The mystic and anchorite or recluse known as Julian of Norwich (1342-1413) lived in a cell attached to Saint Julian’s Church, then in an industrial part of Norwich, close to the quays of the River Wensum. Her real name remains unknown and she is only known through her association with Saint Julian’s Church.

‘All shall we well’ … Julian of Norwich depicted in a window in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Julian of Norwich was born in late 1342 or early in 1343. It is possible that she took her name from Saint Julian’s Church, but Julian was a common girl’s name in the 14th century, and this may have been her actual name.

It is almost certain that Julian was not a nun but a lay person who chose a life of contemplation. Nor was she the first or only person to use the anchorite cell attached to Saint Julian’s Church: it was used before her time and again after her death.

When she entered her cell, the door connecting the cell with the church would have been sealed and Julian would have been cut off from the rest of the world. Anchorites could not leave their cells and were walled in, living a life dedicated to prayer and contemplation.

A small window allowed her to see the Mass, and perhaps another window allowed her to receive visitors.

Inside the south chapel or shrine of Julian of Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

A severe illness left Julian close to death on 8 May 1373. During the illness, she had 16 visions, and after her recovery she was moved to write down these memories. It has been suggested that the Benedictine Prioress of Carrow, Edith Wilton, provided Julian with her writing materials.

These writings took 20 years to complete, and are recorded in two stages, beginning with The Short Text. After taking time to meditate on her visions, Julian began to write a much longer, more detailed account, The Long Text, sometime after 1393.
Her visions became Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written by a woman in English and a spiritual classic even to this day.

Julian of Norwich is also known in modern literature for the phrase ‘all manner of things shall be well,’ quoted by TS Eliot’s Four Quartets.

The Romanesque door leading into the south chapel or shrine of Julian of Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Unlike many religious writers of her day, Julian did not write of a vengeful or judgmental God, but about God who has an all-enveloping love, like a tender mother or father. This message of Divine Love ran counter to many religious views then and since. The simple, clear way she expressed her ideas continues to resonate with readers today.

The visitors to Julian of Norwich included Margery Kempe (1373-1438) of Bishop’s Lynn, now King’s Lynn in Norfolk. She later wrote The Book of Margery Kempe, considered the first autobiography in English.

Julian of Norwich is commemorated at Norwich Cathedral with a statue on the west front and a pair of stained glass windows. One window in the Bauchon Chapel depicts her as a Benedictine nun, although it is unlikely she ever was a nun.

Another anchorite, Julian (or Juliana) Lampet, was moved into the same cell in 1428 and lived there for 50 years.

Julian of Norwich (left) depicted in a statue on the west front of Norwich Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

During the Tudor Reformation, the Benedictine priory at Carrow was dissolved and Julian’s hermitage or cell was torn down in the 1530s. No rector was appointed to Saint Julian’s for 45 years, until Gawin Browne was appointed in 1581.

After merchants ceased living in the area around Saint Julian’s Church, the church faced a period of slow decline, and it became dilapidated during the 18th century.

By 1827, when the church was drawn by the Norfolk artist James Sillett, most of the east window had been blocked up. Part of the chancel collapsed in 1845, the church was in a poor state of repair and it was no longer used for services.

Julian of Norwich (bottom right) depicted in a window in the Bauchon Chapel in Norwich Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Following the collapse of the east wall, an appeal was made for funds, and the church underwent a restoration. The priest’s door was blocked up, the mediaeval wall paintings and biblical texts were painted over or destroyed, the interior fixtures were removed, a vestry was built on the south side, the height of the tower was reduced, and a new east window was installed.

The thatching on the roof was replaced with tiles by 1860. The tower was in danger of collapsing by the beginning of the 20th century and was repaired in 1934.

Saint Julian’s Church suffered almost complete destruction during the Norwich Blitz in June 1942, when it received a direct hit. After World War II, funds were raised to rebuild the church, the only one of four churches destroyed in Norwich during the war that was rebuilt.

Saint Julian’s Church was rebuilt after World War II using the original materials (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

After World War II, the church was rebuilt using the original materials, so that it is essentially the same mediaeval church that has been reordered.

The church was redesigned by the architect AJ Chaplin, with a chapel built in place of the long-lost anchorite cell. The rebuilt church is a flint building with stone and brick dressings and a pantile roof. It is a small church, with a nave, single-bay chancel, and a round tower. The south chapel and sacristry and the single-storey porch were added in the 1950s. The church reopened in 1953.

Although the building dates largely from the 11th and 12th centuries, the remains of the original church include a number of Late Anglo-Saxon windows. Enough of the north wall has survived to preserve three Anglo-Saxon windows revealed during repairs, two of which are circular.

The round tower was not rebuilt to its former height, and is truncated at the level of the top of the nave. The south chapel and the sacristry were added during the 20th century. The single-storey porch was added when the church was rebuilt in the 1950s.

The north porch of Saint Julian’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Norman doorway connecting the nave to the chapel came from Saint Michael at Thorn, a church that like Saint Julian’s was destroyed by bombing in 1942. The Romanesque doorway has carved capitals that are worn with age, and from the nave it leads down a few steps into the hermitage, where there is a separate altar and a small shrine against the north wall.

The original 15th century font was lost in the bombing in 1942. The octagonal font now in the church dates from the 15th century and was brought from the now-redundant All Saints’ Church in the city centre in 1977. It has eight standing figures representing the Apostles, Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint George, and two other saints.

The organ dates from 1860. It was built by Henry Jones of London for a house in Abbess Roding in Essex. It was found in a warehouse in Chelmsford, where it was rebuilt, and it was installed in Saint Julian’s in 1966.

The church bell was made in 1450 by the bellfounder Richard Brayser, and was inscribed with the words Ave gracia Plena Dominus Tecum. One of the oldest bells in the city, it crashed to the ground and was badly damaged when the church was destroyed in 1942. After being repaired, it was returned to the church and rehung in 1992.

The Baptismal font in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

A gate that is normally unlocked during the day gives access to a quiet churchyard or small garden, with a bench carved with Julian’s words.

Some stonework, thought to be from the destroyed anchorite’s cell, was recovered from the churchyard in 1906.

Archaeological work to the east of the churchyard in 2014-2015 revealed mediaeval features, including graves. The work showed that Saint Julian’s churchyard originally extended eastwards up to King Street. However, the lost part of the churchyard had been developed and built over by the 17th century.

‘Our soul rests in God its true peace’ … a bench in the churchyard in Saint Julian’s Churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Julian’s is one of the churches of the Parish of Saint John the Baptist, Timberhill, with Saint Julian’s, Norwich, in the Diocese of Norwich. The Revd Richard Stanton, the interim Priest-in-Charge of the parish, was appointed Priest-in-Charge in January 2023.

Saint Julian’s Church is open every day for prayer, quiet visits and daily worship. There is a said Eucharist every Sunday at 9 am for 40 minutes, with a short address.

During the week, the Mass is celebrated at 10 am on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and at 5 pm on Friday, with the Rosary following the 10 am Monday Mass. Morning Prayer is said at 8:30 from Tuesday to Saturday, and Evening Prayer at 6 pm from Tuesday to Saturday.

The Julian Centre and All Hallows’ Guesthouse, beside Saint Julian’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Easter 2024:
3, 2 April 2024

The women at the empty tomb … the Resurrection depicted in the Foley window in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This has been a busy Easter, and I have been involved in readings and the choir in many services in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford. Throughout this week, my morning reflections include the daily Gospel reading, the prayer in the USPG prayer diary, and the prayers in the Collects and Post-Communion Prayer of the day.

Later this afternoon, I have yet another medical appointment and tests. But, before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

John 20: 11-18 (NRSVA):

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.’ 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Mary Magdalene at Easter … a sculpture by Mary Grant at the west door of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Tuesday 2 April 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Easter Day Reflection.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Dr Carlton John Turner, USPG Trustee.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (2 April 2024) invites us to pray:

Today let us pray for projects aimed at concrete change and transformation in our world.

The Collect:

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of Life,
who for our redemption gave your only–begotten Son
to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
have delivered us from the power of our enemy:
grant us so to die daily to sin,
that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The Risen Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene (1899), a window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne in Saint Mary’s Church, Julianstown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org