Translated by Barry Windeatt
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
This story is about a profound and radical thinker, Julian of Norwich. She understands the divine redeeming of mankind from sin as a manifestation of Christ as mother of all humanity, whom Jesus will bring through salvation to new birth and new life. Julian comes to see the importance that there should be sin in this world, et the joy of humanity’s redemption far outweighs the harm in mankind’s fall. At some point in her life Julian became an anchoress in Norwich. An anchoress was a female recluse who lived permanently confined in a small cell usually built against the wall of a church. The intending anchoress would have undergone some probationary testing before receiving approval to be enclosed, and assurance would also be required about sufficient arrangements for her continuing material support. Upon enclosure she would have taken solemn vows of obedience and chastity. The life of an anchoress was regarded as the loving death of one who was as if dead to the world. The anchoress lived in a cramped and comfortless confinement that had no ornament except a crucifix, and wholly dependent on others for all her needs of sustenance and sanitation. The anchoress’s cell has a window into the Church. She may receive Communion 15 times a year. The anchoress’s day is occupied with the recitation of a round of prayers which begin with her waking moments and only cease with prayers said just before going to sleep. She would get up about 3:30 and pray for 5 hours. The Anchoress was expected to keep silent as much as possible.
The anchoress makes herself a recluse from the world in order to be free for God, and in her cell she inhabits a liminal space between the world and the next, yet the life of an anchoress was not without paradoxes. By the later Middle Age, as reclusive become more of an urban than rural phenomenon, the anchoress found herself immured at the very heart of the community she had left behind. Her exclusion dependent as this made her on the practical and material support of others must often have been symbolic and conditional rather than absolute. The anchoress supported the community through her prayers, her spiritual council and should provide as example of holiness, although engagement with the world left behind outside the anchor hold is regulated so firmly and in such detail as to suggest that much could go wrong. Anything made by the anchoress can be sold to help meet her needs and for anchoresses to support themselves by their labor was regarded as her work. Julian wanted the reader to focus on the revelations and not on their recipient.
“I pray to almighty God that this book come only into the hands of those who wish to be his faithful lovers, and to those who are willing to submit themselves to the faith of Holy Church and obey the sound understanding and teaching of men of virtuous life, mature years, and profound learning; for this revelation is deep theology and great wisdom, and so it should not remain with anyone who is in the thrall to sin and to the devil. And beware that you do not select one thing according to your inclination and preference and overlook another; for that is what heretics are like. But take each thing along with everything else, and truly understand that everything is in accord with Holy Scripture and grounded in the same, and that Jesus, our true love, light and truth will reveal this wisdom concerning Himself to all pure souls who ask for it humbly and perseveringly[i1] .
It is a great book for reflection to deepen one’s spirituality.