Thursday, 5 February 2009

Julian of Norwich & Her Cat

I live in a seaside town, approximately 45 minutes away from the city of Norwich, in eastern England. I went to school and university in Norwich, but at the time, I didn't really appreciate the culture (apart from bars and nightclubs!) and heritage of one of the oldest cities in England.

I decided to read a bit about Norwich and its history recently, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear about Julian of Norwich and her cat. Julian of Norwich was a 14th century English mystic and anchoress who, in 1373, voluntarily confined herself to a cell, or "anchorhold". In that cell, in the sole company of her beloved cat with whom she is most often depicted, she devoted herself to prayer and contemplation for the needs of the Church, the citizens of Norwich, and for the whole world.

Julian was born in England in 1342 during the time of The Black Death. The plague led to bad social conditions and oppression of the poor. There was a shortage of labour, high taxes and bad harvests. Unrest in England led to the Peasants Revolt in 1381. Religious persecution was also rampant and many people were put to their death because of their religious beliefs.

An "Anchoress" was a person called to a solitary life, but one that was not cut-off from the world, but one anchored in it. She anchored the Light of God at that spot on the earth amidst the darkness of life around her. Her life was one of prayer and contemplation; a life highly thought of by people of the time. Julian never left her cell. She had a servant who brought her meals and she kept a small garden with high wall that insulated her from the ordinary life of the time. She listened through a curtained window to those passersby who needed counsel.

The only other living soul who entered her space was her cat. She was allowed a cat for purely practical reasons; To keep the rat population at bay. Unbeknownst to the outside world however, she had a close relationship with her beloved cat. They would sit for hours in Julian's garden in contemplation and prayer. Julian and her cat together anchored the Light during one of the darkest periods of history.

As a cat lover, I can surmise that it was her own animal companion that provided the blessings of tangible love and tactile comfort throughout the years spent in prayer and contemplation. I know how much Jet comforts me and seems to understand what I'm thinking and feeling.


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