The Secret Testament of Julian by Simon Parke
Little is known of Julian of Norwich. She lived from around 1342 – 1416, she was for many years an anchoress in a cell attached to St Julian’s church, Norwich, and she wrote her ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, depicting her series of visions received while she was close to death at the age of 30. The book had a resurgence in the twentieth century, and Mother Julian is now known as a mystic and as the first woman to write in English. Her phrase “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” is very familiar to us today.
In this novel, Simon Parke fills out her life in a credible way. We see her before her Revelations, married and with a child. We see her take the decision to become an anchoress, leaving the world to remain in a cell attached to the church where she could spend time in prayer and contemplation of her visions, which she wished to record.
This is a hugely enjoyable novel which really brings to life the 1400s. I knew Julian lived in a cell for much of her adult life, but hadn’t realised that she may well have been bricked into it. There was no door – just windows, through which food could be passed in and waste out, she could see into the church, and she could receive visitors come for her counsel. The description of her being walled in, and the realisation she is totally dependent on others, without whose help she would starve, is quite chilling.
The author vividly brings to life the 15th century, with all its horrors of disease, hardships, inequality, intolerance and fear. He gives a voice to Julian and makes her real. The novel shows her as a woman living in her time, in a cell close enough to the city to know what was going on, including brutal executions. Part of her legacy is that she lived at such a time yet constantly refers to God in terms of love and tells us that “all shall be well.”
The book is well worth reading for an understanding of the woman behind the Revelations, and the times in which she lived. It is well written and introduces us to some memorable characters.
Reviewed by Jenny Monds, Manager, Sarum College Bookshop
The Secret Testament of Julian is just £10.50 until 30 September 2018 (RRP £11.99). Available from our online shop + £2.50 postage, or mail order by phoning 01722 326899 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.