All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. They are fairly powerful words of hope that come across about 650 years since they were first written. They were written by the first woman to publish a book in the English language - Julian of Norwich. Norwich is a favourite city of mine. Located at the junction of the Yare and Wensum rivers it was once a busy port and even today coastal shipping still makes its way up to unload at Carrow wharves. In medieval times it was the centre of one of the richest parts of England, wealth based on wool. Powerful families lived and prospered in Norfolk, two of them being the Howards and Boleyns, who both contributed wives to Henry VIII. An imposing city surrounded on three sides by a wall and the fourth side by the rivers. Dominated by the Castle and the Cathedral, both dating back to the first thirty years after to Norman Conquest. Next to the cathedral is the Adam and Eve pub, which predates the cathedral. Within the city walls prior to Henry VIII and the reformation there were fifty-two churches, forty-one of which still remain, and over three hundred and fifty pubs. It was said of Norwich that you could attend a different church every Sunday and a different pub every day of the year. Down on the river flats was the little thatched church of St Julian - it is still there and it is still thatched. Next to it was a small cell, the home of an anchoress - a female hermit, who took her name from that of the church. We now call her Julian of Norwich. Mother Julian was not the simple person she claims. She was well educated, could read Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and corresponded with scholars across Europe. She clearly came from a wealthy family, as she was able to maintain two maidservants. In her early thirties she became ill and nearly died. Whilst near death she had a number of visions - we would probably call them hallucinations - which she took as divine revelations. When she recovered she recorded these, and then many years later wrote a further book in which she reflected on their meaning. Modern scholars describe her as a mystic, but there were quite a few around at that time - Hildergard of Bingen, Marjorie of Lyn, amongst others. Running through her writings is the constant refrain - all shall be well - a message of hope. Last time in Norwich we sought out the thatched church of St Julian and her reconstructed cell. Very simple, very powerful. Her message that all shall be well has been picked up by many other writers, including TS Eliot. It is up there on the pinboard that contains all the family photo's from when the kids were tiny to now they are approaching middle age themselves. All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Sailor 3/9/2010
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