A 14th Century mystic who spent a lifetime of prayer in isolation has never been “more relevant”, according to a historian and TV presenter.
Dr Janina Ramirez said since self-isolating because of coronavirus symptoms, she had come to have a new understanding of Mother Julian of Norwich.
Mother Julian wrote the first surviving book by a woman in English.
Dr Ramirez said Julian managed to find “calm” in a chaotic world.
Julian, who lived from 1342 to 1416, was an anchorite or hermit, which meant she lived in religious seclusion, in her case in a small cell linked to St Julian’s church in Norwich.
Following a series of visions of Christ, she wrote the book Revelations of Divine Love, which led her to be called “the greatest English theologian”.
Dr Ramirez, author of Julian of Norwich: A Very Brief History, said: “Julian was living in the wake of the Black Death, and around her repeated plagues were re-decimating an already depleted population.
“I think she was self-isolating. The other anchorites would have understood that by removing themselves from life this would not only give them a chance of preserving their own life but also of finding calm and quiet and focus in a chaotic world.
“I have never felt she was more relevant.”
Julian’s “kindness” and positive vision shone through her writings, said Dr Ramirez.
Dr Ramirez has had symptoms suggesting she has coronavirus, including a fever, and has been self-isolating but like many patients in the UK has not been tested. She said she wanted to let people know about her illness to “share my experience, the mood swings, and the emotions”.
“It is a journey many of us will take, and I want to show positivity comes out the other side,” she said.
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Bishop of Norwich, the Right Reverend Graham Usher, said when the coronavirus restrictions began, he found himself “going back to the writings of Mother Julian of Norwich”.
“In the midst of all of that, she was self-isolating in her cell with the noise of the street going on round about her,” the bishop said.
“She was able to discern God saying: ‘All shall be well, all shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.’ In another writing, she said: ‘You will not be overcome.’
“I think we need to hang on to the hope we find in Jesus Christ and hold on to the love and sense of service – building a society together and building kindness,” he added.
Cambridge University academic Prof Barry Windeatt, who edited the Oxford edition of Julian’s book Revelations of Divine Love, said her life as an anchorite, which would have seen her sealed up in a room in the church for a lifetime of prayer, was “rather drastic” compared with the self-isolation people have been undergoing because of coronavirus.
He said it would give people the space to think.
“People are not used to stopping still in modern life… anchorites were expected to be more contemplative,” he said.
Father Richard Stanton, the parish priest of St John the Baptist Timberhill with St Julian’s church, said: “The restrictions that are being put on us all at the moment remind us of the importance of stability and hope and place that were part of the tradition of monastic life.”
“In one sense Julian would have been alone but she had a purpose and the memorial in the church quotes her as saying to God: ‘Thou art enough to me’.”
St Julian’s Church, which was rebuilt after being completely destroyed when it was bombed during World War Two, and Mother Julian’s cell remain open all day for prayer.
This timely article from the BBC in England reminds us of the absolute relevance of the 14th century English Mystic, Mother Julian of Norwich, to the desperate situation facing our world of today in this 21st century of the Christian era.
Julian was an Anchorite – a person set apart from her local Community of nuns, whose consecrated life was devoted to prayer and intercession for the world in which she lived. Her monastic isolation in her small cell may be compared to the comparative isolation that most of us are suffering today, as a response to the dangers of infection from COVID 19. Mother Julian lived in the wake of the Black Death, which was only one of the disastrous plagues that were rife in Europe in the Middle Ages. She, therefore, was quite aware of the real benefits, as well as the disadvantages of her isolation.
The author of this most recent book about the Life of St.Julian,
What many of us in the Church are beginning to now realize, is that God used the isolation of Mother Julian from her Community of Nuns to enable her to communicate in writing of her own situation; wherein she found comfort in her Faith to help herself – and the others with whom she was able to communicate from her cell – so that they would grow to understand the degree of comfort that she, herself, experienced during her own trials and difficulties in isolation.
Mother Julian’s encounters of God in her visions – of which she wrote quite extensively – assured her of the comforting presence of Christ within the circumstances of her solitary confinement.
This, surely, is something we could learn for ourselves, as we too are subject to the confinement of our homes (albeit with more facilities for care that she was able to experience). Thank God for Mother Julian of Norwich.
Mother Julian, in her writing, said this: “ALL SHALL BE WELL. ALL SHALL BE WELL.
ALL MANNER OF THINGS SHALL BE WELL” (Thanks be to God!)
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
(Having once spent time in Norwich to attend the priestly ordination of a dear friend, whose parish included the Shrine of Julian of Norwich, I was able to experience the atmosphere of this holy place on a few precious occasions. The feeling of her sanctity was palpable).