A Julian of Norwich Pilgrimage or My Days as an Industrial Spy

A Julian of Norwich pilgrimage may not seem to have much to do with suspicions that I was an industrial spy (spoiler alert: I’m not!).  My innocent journey to trace Julian’s life took on comic dimensions when I was a graduate student many years ago.

I took a pilgrimage to the reconstructed anchorite cell of the compassionate visionary author Julian of Norwich in December 1989.  It was a chilly winter’s day in Norwich, England.

View of Norwich Cathedral
View of Norwich Cathedral

My parents were living in England for the year.  We took this little trip for fun and stayed at the Maid’s Head Hotel where Queen Elizabeth I stayed.

A lovely hotel!
A lovely hotel!

I had to use a step stool to climb into the bed.

The Norfolk Broads are at the back door of the hotel. My husband and I traveled on the Broads twice. But that's another story!
The Norfolk Broads are at the back door of the hotel. My husband and I traveled on the Broads twice. But that’s another story!

One afternoon, my parents took a nap and I decided to explore and find the church Julian of Norwich was associated with. I wore my oversized horn-rimmed glasses, a blue beret, and long pea coat.  On my back I wore my pink backpack.  I looked pretty innocent.  I was pretty innocent!

A view of Julian's church
A view of Julian’s church

Here’s the name of the street the church is on with Norwich Cathedral in the background through the trees.

St Julian's Alley in Norwich
St Julian’s Alley in Norwich

And I saw people’s pleas to God for help through prayer.

Poignant requests for help in the current church
Poignant requests for help in the current church

The church had a reconstruction of Julian’s cell.

A crucifix in the imagined cell she lived in.
A crucifix in the imagined cell she lived in.
Candlesticks would have been a luxury in Julian's time.
Candlesticks would have been a luxury in Julian’s time.

An anchorite like Julian would have looked out into the church through a squint.  Here is one from Christine of Carpenter’s cell in Shere.  She escaped from her cell. Read documents about her abandoning her cell and her return here. Note that one letter mentions how she might be excommunicated! ChristineCarpenter

Note the cruciform shape.
Note the cruciform shape.

I always find it sad to read about the destruction from World War II.  The church was bombed in 1942. Read more about the German’s Baedeker Blitz. This article, as well as this one, tells more about the bombing.

Note the details of the church being bombed.
Note the details of the church being bombed.

20th-century images of Julian at the Cathedral in Norwich.

I started walking with my dad’s old ordnance survey map towards what was said to be abbey ruins.  I had heard that Julian might have been in an abbey before she became an anchorite.  I walked down the street about a mile, and finally got to a parking lot for a company.  I just crossed the parking lot unto the grounds.

I came to the parking lot of this building.
I came to the parking lot of this building.  It turns out it is an updated version of the original building belonging to the Boleyn family!

It didn’t look like abbey ruins!  Suddenly, a security guard ran out and asked how I got here.  In my American accent, I innocently and honestly said I just crossed the parking lot.  He told me to stop and he went to make some calls.  Finally, a man came out. Turns out he was the company historian and the company was Colman’s Mustard Factory. They must have thought I was an industrial spy!  But I only wanted to see part of Julian’s past. My name cleared, the nice historian told me only about 12 nuns a year visit to see it.  He gave me lots of written material and then a personal tour.

But there they were!
Ruins in the winter light.

And here were more ruins.

Towards the altar.
Towards the altar.

There is not much left.  Mr. Colman had paid 25,000 pounds to have archeologists work on the site.  His financials advisors disapproved, but he did a great service to history! Thank you, Mr. Colman!

Note the dressed stone stair.
Note the dressed stone stair.

Now you can take a tour of the Colman’s Mustard Museum.  Read more about Colman’s history here.

It was a cold, late December day in Norwich which is a fabulous small city with lots of heritage.

The light is greying.
The light is greying.

This wall has been reconstructed.

The sidewalk to the right is new.
The sidewalk to the right is new.

This wall is made of flint.

If you peak through the arch, you can see the Colman's factory refectory for workers today!
If you peak through the arch, you can see the Colman’s factory refectory for workers today!

And, given my interest back then, I should have known in 1990 that I’d write a book on excrement in the Middle Ages one day!

Where the privies had been. See the lush, green grass?
Where the privies had been. See the lush, green grass?

All good pilgrimages must come to an end.  My parents loved my story.  I hope you liked it too!


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