Mystic inspires romance and book

Derek James meets a couple who were brought together through a shared love of Julian of Norwich.

A mystic who wrote her world-famous revelations of divine love in Norwich more than 600 years ago can still inspire a modern-day love story.

Jean and Richard Herschel met through a shared love of Julian of Norwich.

Richard, a widowed American priest, was travelling back to the States from a trip to Norway when he made a de-tour to Norwich to see the shrine of the 13th century visionary.

Walking through a nearby churchyard he met fellow Julian enthusiast Jean Flowerdew.

For 11 years their love of Julian blossomed into their own romance, by letter across the Atlantic, before Richard moved to Norwich and, 13 years ago, the couple married.

Jean and Richard now live on King Street, alongside the churchyard where they first met and just metres from the cell where Julian of Norwich composed her great work, more than six centuries ago.

Most Read

Five years ago Jean, now 73, wrote a children's book, based around the life of Julian of Norwich.

In it a young girl from 21st century Norwich is pitched back into the 14th century, where she gets caught up in the tumult of the peasants' revolt, and meets the holy woman who lives in a church, writing down the details of her visions, praying and counselling visitors.

Jean said she had fallen in love with Julian of Norwich about 30 years ago, after becoming a Christian and developing an interest in contemplative prayer.

She was born and brought up in Norwich, and can trace her family back to the Norfolk of 1450 – less than 40 years after Julian of Norwich was still living in the city.

But she admitted she had not heard of the famous medieval mystic until she was in her 40s.

'I had lived in Norwich all my life and never heard actually heard of Julian of Norwich!' said Jean.

However, she soon made up for lost time and spent several years as the administrator of Norwich's Julian Centre, based in the shrine where the anchoress lived, and has also written a book of meditations on the work of Julian.

This year she lead a silent retreat for Julian enthusiasts in the United States.

Jean, who has four children, 10 grandchildren and three great grandchildren, said she was inspired to write by her love of Julian, her love of history and her love of Norwich.

Her book, The Anchoress, also explores environmental themes. 'I have always had a passion for caring for the environment,' said Jean.

'And Julian has a vision of the world as a small thing, the size of a hazelnut, which God created and loved and cared for.

'We all have a responsibility to care for God's creation and for each other.'

She was keen to bring the revered theologian, and first woman to write a book in English, to the attention of a younger audience.

It took a year to write, was well received by her family, and then the manuscript lay on her bedroom shelf for five years.

It was only when she heard a chance remark, from someone wishing there was a book about Julian of Norwich for children, that she began thinking about publishing her story.

It has already won praise from Sister Elizabeth Ruth Obbard and Sheila Upjohn, two writers and theologians specialising in the life and work of Julian of Norwich.

The Anchoress, written under Jean's maiden name, Jean Flowerdew, is illustrated by her sister, Glenys Hanton, of Buxton, near Aylsham. Jean also enjoys painting miniatures, which have been exhibited in art galleries.

The Anchoress is published by The Friends of Julian of Norwich and and is on sale at local bookshops including Jarrold and Norwich's Christian Resource Centre on Redwell Street, and at the Julian Centre.