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‘All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’ – Julian of Norwich
Norwich has an incredible history of trailblazing women who have influenced and continue to positively impact the world we live in today – from the nineteenth-century author Anna Sewell, who is responsible for bringing the timeless classic Black Beauty to our bookshelves, to prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, journalist and social justice campaigner Harriet Martineau, and BAFTA award-winning actress and activist Olivia Coleman.
Julian of Norwich, also called Mother Julian or Juliana, (born 1342, probably Norwich, Norfolk, Eng.—died after 1416) is one of Norwich’s most iconic women – there’s a reason you’ll find murals and statues of Julian dotted around the city! A celebrated mystic, her book Revelations of Divine Love (or Showings) was the first book written by a woman to be published in the English language and is generally considered one of the most remarkable documents of medieval religious experience. You can order a copy of the book from one of Norwich’s eclectic bookshops: The Book Hive, Jarrold Books, Tombland Books, Dormouse Books, Waterstones – Castle Street.
Julian spent the latter part of her life in isolation at St. Julian’s Church in the south of the city, tucked away from other people – a lifestyle we have all become accustomed to in the past year. It was from her cell in the church that Julian earned her stripes as one of the English language’s greatest theological thinkers and offered advice to the people of Norwich. One of her regular visitors was Margery Kempe (c.1373 – c.1438), who is widely considered to have written the first autobiography in the English language, The Book of Margery Kempe – another remarkable woman in Norfolk’s long literary heritage. You can read about how Julian is even more relevant to us now in a self-isolating world in this interview with Dr Janina Ramirez, a historian, TV presenter and author of Julian of Norwich: A Very Brief History.
Restrictions allowing, you can visit the Grade I listed parish church and shrine – just a five minute walk from historic Dragon Hall, home to the National Centre for Writing – and find out more about the Anchoress’ life from one of the friendly volunteers. Live further away? You can learn more about Julian of Norwich here.
Fast forward several centuries and Julian’s famous words continue to inspire Norwich’s local community – her message of hope ‘All Shall be Well’ illuminated shop fronts in Bridewell Alley as part of Love Light Norwich 2020 and you can spot a printed version in the window of Hudson Architects near the Norwich Lanes – as well as writers and thinkers across the world. This Spring, Edinburgh-based writer Vahni Capildeo began a creative project inspired by Julian’s work: to walk each day along the Scottish coastline thinking about Julian of Norwich and responding to her writings as part of the UNESCO City of Literature Virtual Writers in Residency programme organised by the National Centre for Writing. You can find out more about the project and read Vahni’s creative meditations here.
The National Centre for Writing is selling a limited run of Julian of Norwich A5 ‘All Shall be Well’ prints, hand-made by Print to the People, a local community printmaking studio in Norwich. Prints are £10 each and each order includes a free copy of the National Centre for Writing’s Walking Norwich: the Real and Imagined City chapbook – featuring literary walks around the city created by top writers including twice Booker-nominated Jon McGregor (If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, Reservoir 13), Man Booker-nominated Sarah Hall (The Electric Michelangelo), celebrated Norwich-based author Ashley Hickson-Lovence (The 392) and many more. There are different postage options available for overseas orders.
By purchasing one of the prints, you will also be donating towards Escalator, a National Centre for Writing project that supports writers at the beginning of their careers in the East of England, whose voices are underrepresented on UK bookshelves. Your donation will help participants access vital mentoring, training, guidance and networking opportunities. You can find out more about the project here.