Julian of Norwich

27 Apr

Memorial of Julian of Norwich

Image by Nick in exsilio via Flickr

Before I got to Julian of Norwich, I read a series of Middle English poems that were included in the book, I think, for the purpose of letting the reader see a variety of different types of writings from the period of the 1100s to the 1400s. I read a really short one, Fowls in the Frith, about spring; a love poem called Alison about a brown-haired, black-eyed girl, which was either a rarity back in the day or not generally considered attractive, and it seemed weird to me that most of the verses ended in “etc.”; another two short ones, My Lief Is Faren in Londe (my beloved has gone away, and she’ll always have my heart) and Western Wind (I miss my beloved and, ugh, it’s raining).

Other poems were the sexually suggestive I Have a Young Sister, where the sister sends the poet a cherry without a stone, a dove without bones, a briar without bark and bade him love his sweetheart without longing; The Cuckoo Song, which mentions different animal actions (bull leaps, buck farts — yes, farts: verteth) then tells the cuckoo to sing; Tell Me, Wight in the Broom, which is a woman talking to a critter asking what to do because she has such a rotten husband; I Am of Ireland, where the author appears to really love Ireland and hopes the reader will go there to dance with him; Sunset on Calvary, where the poet is pitying Mary having to watch her son die on the cross; I Sing of a Maiden, in which the poet uses a “triple pun” with the word “makelees,” which supposedly means spotless, matchless and mateless, all at once; Adam Lay Bound, which is thanking Adam for eating the apple because otherwise we’d have no Jesus or Mary; and The Corpus Christi Carol, which is about a fertility myth.

So, on to Julian of Norwich; wow, the woman actually locked herself inside a prison cell so she could become closer to God her whole life! She lived from 1342 to about 1416 and committed herself to God sometime before age 30. She locked herself in a prison cell that was added onto St. Julian’s Church where she could still see the sacrament taking place and could still offer spiritual counsel, but otherwise she did not interact with people. She was likely the first woman to write a book in English (go, Julian!), and it was about the visions she had as a young woman when she thought she was dying.

Julian of Norwich was an anchoress (a male anchoress is called an anchorite), and when one dedicated her/himself to becoming one, an actual burial, funeral-like ceremony took place, in which the cell was bricked in. The anchoress/anchorite never left the cell again. Julian served as spiritual counsel to many, including Margery Kempe, who is up next for me to read.


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