Julian of Norwich reviewed by artist

The American artist Brett Butler reviews ‘The Secret Testament of Julian’:

‘Several years ago, while watching a short film about Chinese special needs adoption, I was stirred by a quote from St. Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Vagaries notwithstanding, perhaps in my sixth decade, I clamour for simplicity, but this particular quotation moved me to investigate Julian’s life.

One may rightly suspect that personal details about 14th century anchoresses are in short supply, but what is known is compelling on several levels.

First, Julian wrote the first published work by a woman in English.

Secondly, her devotion was such that she actually asked God – prior to the four decades spent walled up in a tiny enclosure – for a near death experience that she might better understand His suffering on the cross.

The resulting work, Revelations of Divine Love is miraculous if only for the fact that it survived during a particularly cruel phase of persecution in the church. Too, the theme of God’s pervasive kindness is taken to extremes – and this reader is ever thankful.

Simon Parke has taken the shell of Julian’s world and filled it with rich imagery, compassion and even – though it hardly seems possible in the closet in which she elected to live – adventure and humour.

Saints are a most difficult subject matter to embrace: The quicksand of hyperbole always lurks, yet Parke describes all that must be abandoned to embrace this most personal of relationships – that between a human and her Creator.

I’m an artist who flies constantly between coasts, and this is how I read The Secret Testament of Julian of Norwich – on Kindle, between airports and fretting about very contemporary problems.

Still, I lingered over every word in this beautifully written book, all too aware that its subject was finally getting the biography she deserves. It’s like getting a love letter seven hundred years late – and right on time.

Postscript: To those who’ll correct me about the actual title of “saint” – Technically, I’m a Protestant and ignorant about the exact steps needed for canonization, but will say that – apart from Jesus Himself, of course – no other life has affected me as much as Julian’s. That may not be grounds for a miracle, but it feels like one from here.’

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