19 May 2013
the entrance to Lady Julian's Cell
Julian was an ANCHORESS. It is fairly certain that she was not a nun. An anchoress was a person called to a solitary life, but one that was not cut-off from the world, but one anchored in it. Her life was one of prayer, contemplation and counselling, a life highly thought of by people of the time. Her home was a small room, or cell, attached to the Church of S. Julian, Bishop of Le Mans, just off one of the main streets of Norwich. She probably took her name Julian from the Saint of the Church. There was a 'Rule of Life' associated with this order drawn up in the 13th century, which stated that the cell should have 3 windows that opened; one into the Church, so she could hear Mass and receive the Blessed Sacrament; one to communicate with her servant, who would have lived close at hand and would have been responsible for the chores; one to give advice to those who sought it. The life of an anchoress, although not common during the Middle Ages, was not a novelty. Many of the churches in Norwich at the time had cells where an anchoress could live. It is thought that anchoresses had lived in Julian's cell before and after her.
During the Reformation when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and destroyed many of our country's magnificent Abbeys such as Carrow in Norwich, the cell attached to S. Julian's was also pulled down, and nothing remained. The little Church of S. Julian continued. In Victorian times, the area around S. Julian's was a warren of small streets and artisan housing going down to the river: the population of the area was considerable and able to support the many churches round and about. During the Second World War in 1942 Norwich suffered one of its few air raids and the church of S. Julian was bombed to the ground, only the high altar, reredos carved in Oberamagau and the Tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament survived. Because of the plethora of churches in the city, there was no real need to rebuild this little church of S. Julian. But by now more and more people had come to read The Lady Julian's Revelations and been drawn closer to the Lord Jesus by them, that Fr Paul Raybould, the Rector at the time, encouraged by the Community of All Hallows at Ditchingham, decided that the church should be rebuilt. Excavations were made and ancient foundations were found on the south side of the church alongside the sanctuary - these were thought to be the foundations of the cell. So the church was rebuilt in traditional style incorporating much of the old building, and a chapel was built on the site of the cell. The church was re-dedicated to Bishop Julian of Le Mans in 1953 mainly to act as a Shrine Church for The Lady Julian of Norwich.
We have just completed a major redecoration and refurbishment of the Shrine and Cell. All the walls have had their plaster repaired and have been repainted: there are new carpets in the Cell and in the Sanctuary of the Church: the old cork-tile floor has been stripped and re-sealed: the worm-eaten pews have been removed and new attractive and comfortable chairs have replaced them, allowing different seating configurations within the Church. All of this work has been funded, as indeed is the daily running of the Shrine Church and Cell, by the Parochial Church Council of S. John the Baptist, Timberhill. We hope that the many visitors and pilgrims who come from all over the world to meditate, contemplate and pray in this holy and spiritual place, where Julian of Norwich wrote down those Revelations or Showings all those centuries ago, may now do so in a more appropriate environment and with a little more comfort. We hope they will all receive in return the blessings of drawing closer to the Lord Jesus, and coming to know and understand more and more the greatness of his unconditional love.
There is a small Convent next to the church run by the Community of All Hallows where pilgrims can stay.
Requests for accommodation should be made to:
The Sister in Charge
All Hallows House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1QT
Telephone 01603 624738