Monday, May 9, 2016

A pilgrimage to Norwich

My apologies to those who have tried to contact me over the last few days (there have been a few). I’ve been on pilgrimage to Norwich, and was able to stay off my laptop for the duration of my stay. I'm back in Basingstoke now, and catching up.

Norwich is a very special place, and I’d never been able to visit before. In ninth grade (year 8 for Brits), I competed in the National History Day Competition with a project on the building of Norwich Cathedral following the Norman Conquest. I won States, and competed at Nationals. Of course I didn’t win—I didn’t even place—but it was nonetheless a very significant moment in my development as a scholar. I have indeed ended up a (music) historian of early England; perhaps it’s surprising that I study early modern rather than medieval England! Norwich Cathedral was surprisingly important to me as a thirteen-year-old. I never thought at the time, though, that I’d ever actually see the church in person.

It’s impossible to have anything to do with religious life in Norwich and not come into contact with Lady Julian of Norwich, medieval anchoress and mystic. She lived in her cell in St. Julian’s Church, living the contemplative life, dispensing wisdom to her visitors, and writing her deeply theological reflections, Revelations of Divine Love. Some years ago, I read the Short Text of these Revelations, and afterward asked Julian if she would be my patron saint. At that point, I was in graduate school and pretty sure I’d be forming a career around English music. The idea of one day seeing Julian’s church was a remote possibility. I wasn’t able to make it two summers ago, when I spent three months engaged in pre-dissertation research, but wanted to make it a priority for this trip. When I noticed that on my first weekend in England was Lady Julian’s feast day, and that I didn’t yet have any obligations, and that the church was having a special festival, my pilgrimage began to coalesce, and within 24 hours I had made arrangements to go, and was even lucky (blessed) enough to secure the last open room in the guest house, run by a nun from the of the Community of All Hallow’s. (You'll notice that throughout this blog, I refrain from using names. Hopefully that doesn't bother any of my readers. It's a conscious choice in case any of the people I write about would prefer it this way.)

I arrived in Norwich on Friday afternoon. I had really excellent directions for the ten-minute walk from the train station to the guest house. Before I found the guest house, though, I found St. Julian's Church. (The church is, incidentally, named for a male St. Julian. Lady Julian was an anchoress there. Confusing, I know.) I walked slowly in, having the first of many speechless moments. I had a number of these moments over the course of the weekend. I'm choosing not to write about them here--I'm still processing, still reflecting, still pondering what the things I saw and heard and felt mean and will mean in my devotional life. So instead, I'll share some photographs, so you too can get just a small taste of Norwich:

St. Julian's Church was bombed in WWII, and has since been entirely rebuilt.

The whole church is this one small nave, a vesting room, and the Julian Shrine (photos below).

A view of the altar.

The vicar of St. Julian's Church commissioned this new icon of Lady Julian.
I found the Julian Centre, around the corner from the church, and then the next-door guest house. The sister is one of the most hospitable people I have ever met (and an amazing cook as well). She settled me into the St. Clare room, "a very special room" with a view of the church and garden.

Also, can I just say how wonderful it is that British rented rooms usually include a sink, and more importantly, a tea kettle?

Norwich Cathedral is a fifteen-minute walk north. I arrived in time for a look 'round the Cloisters and a scone with cream and jam in the Refectory before the last cathedral tour of the day. And then I even had time to sit in the Cloisters for a while and read a book before heading back to St. Julian's for evening prayer.

900-year-old Norman Cathedral

The Cloisters - the vaulted walkways that connected various parts of the monastery

The center of the Cloisters. There's a labyrinth in the grass, added in 2002 to celebrate Her Majesty's Jubilee.

The spire of the cathedral

Roof "bosses." The cathedral and cloisters contain over a thousand of these medieval sculptures.

The cathedral itself was setting up for a concert that evening.

This organ had a beautiful sound - I heard it for the Sunday service.

A view of the choir and the altar at the far end. The church only really uses this altar for weddings and special events now.

The lectern is a pelican (medieval people didn't actually know what pelicans really looked like). According to legend, the pelican feeds its young on its own blood from its breast, making it a perfect medieval symbol of Christ.

The bishop's seat is behind the altar. It's a bit precarious now, but even without a railing, the bishop does sometimes sit there.
This fourteenth-century reredos in one of the side chapels was flipped upside down and hidden in plain sight as a table in the seventeenth century, in order to escape the iconoclasm of the Civil War. It remained hidden as a table until well into the twentieth century!

The military chapel

Another beautiful side chapel

Remnants of paint like this are the reason for belief that the medieval cathedral was fully painted, but has since largely faded. How unlike the white stone today!

This memorial remembers a seventeenth-century organist whom I've never heard of, even though I'm a scholar of early modern English music. How many exceptional musicians aren't remembered in musicology today because they were performers rather than composers?
Osbert Parsley was a "singing man" who somehow, magically, remained a church singer under all four monarchs of the English Reformation.

The Julian Festival took place on Saturday. It didn't begin until the 11:00 Eucharist, so I strolled through town and enjoyed seeing the marketplace and the outsides of a number of old churches and medieval buildings. Norwich was a bustling medieval town, and a lot of those medieval facades endured to today (or have been restored), so there's always something interesting to look at. I didn't have time to see the museum in Norwich Castle--something for the next trip. The Julian Festival itself consisted of Eucharist, a lecture by a prominent scholar of Julian of Norwich, a picnic lunch in the garden, evening prayer, and a few events only for the Friends of Julian and the Companions of Julian (neither of which I am a member). It was a draining day for me, but it was really fantastic to be in the company of so many other people who have found wisdom and solace in the life and writings of this amazing woman. I also made friends with a Dutch PhD student writing her dissertation on Julian. She and I had great fun comparing our experiences in US and Swedish doctoral programs. Later in the early evening, I found time for solitary prayer in the Julian Shrine.

This small shrine was built on the exact spot where Julian's cell was - in rebuilding the church following its destruction in WWII, they found a piece of the foundation of her cell. This room is wildly historically inaccurate and larger than her cell would have been, yet it was still breathtaking to pray in the same spot she did.

On the right you can see the surviving piece of the foundation of Julian's cell

Finally, on Sunday I was able to attend Eucharist at both Julian's church and Norwich Cathedral. They couldn't have been much more different. The first was quiet and contemplative, perhaps ten people in the Julian Shrine. The second, at the cathedral, was exuberant and boisterous (I happened to sit behind all the Sunday School kids) and filled with music. The organ sounded marvelous and the congregation sang hymns lustily, if half a second behind the organ. The choir, men and boys, sang Mozart's Missa Brevis in F (not Mozart's best work, although I did like the fugue at the Hosanna) and Stanford's Coelos ascendit hodie (frankly, not Stanford's best work either, but always fun). I felt extremely welcomed in both churches and am starting to get the hang of the minor differences in liturgical wording between the Episcopal Church of America and the Church of England.

After one last meal provided by the sister, and a really eventful train trip home (serious issues on the tracks around London meant hours of delays and rerouting), I finally got back around 10 pm. Norwich was not a trip I'll easily forget. It's one thing to know a place through photographs, scholarship, or writing, and another to see it in person, touch the stones it's made of, kneel to pray there in the company of all who came before. On this trip, there were two such churches for me to encounter materially.

I went on pilgrimage to Norwich with a desire to see these places that have proven so important in my life, and with a half-formed question. I’ve come back with memories, photographs, icons, and an answer.

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