I can’t quite remember when I first learned about Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic, anchoress, and the first woman to write a book in English. Her writings, theology, and legacy have been important touchstones for me for many years. One of the first pieces I composed after arriving at Luther was a choral setting of one of her most famous writings, where God reveals the vastness of creation in the form of a hazelnut.
Next fall, as part of my sabbatical project, I will return to Julian’s writings and create a theater piece for solo soprano, dancer, and electronics based on her work. In preparation for this project, I have begun rereading Julian’s “Revelations of Divine Love,” and recently, I visited Julian’s church in Norwich, where she lived as an anchoress for at least the last half of her life.
As I told a number of people I met during my visit, I wasn’t quite sure why I traveled to Norwich, or what I hoped to learn. I suppose I simply had a desire to see the place where she lived, and that, perhaps, some idea, image, or sound would come my way and aid in my creative process. Mostly, what I learned is that Julian’s church is quite small, very plain, and these days, surrounded by homes and business. In some ways, it feels like a typical “neighborhood” church—it blends in with its surroundings and doesn’t really call attention to itself. And yet, Julian’s church is a place of pilgrimage, attracting hundreds of visitors every year.
Mostly, what I learned in Norwich is that Julian’s writings have engendered a devoted following, and that many people, from both Christian and non-Christian backgrounds, find wisdom and guidance in her words. The small group of volunteers who maintain The Julian Centre, a study and resource center next to the church, showed me a hospitality and kindness that Julian would have made Julian smile.
Take a listen to the two sound files: the first is the choral setting mentioned earlier, the second is an audio postcard from Norwich, featuring some gently processed recordings of change ringing bells I made while in walking past St Giles on the Hill church.