Julian of Norwich - She Saw the World in the Palm of Her Hand
An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To introduce Julian of Norwich and the visions that inspired her.
Preparation and materials
- Familiarize yourself with the life of Julian of Norwich. She was a medieval saint and mystic who lived in the cathedral city of Norwich from 1342 to c.1416.
- Prepare a focus table with a picture or poster showing the world from space (see the website given below for a source), a bowl of hazelnuts, a Bible and a candle (with matches).
- Collect some images from the Twelve Websites, also known as the Umilta Website (at: www.umilta.net/westmins.html#HazelNut and have the means to show them during the assembly. To illustrate the act of worship, find the image of an outstretched hand holding a hazelnut and olive branch on the palm, plus the world seen from space and examples of early manuscripts of Julian's book, Showing of Love. Yann Arthus-Bertrand's website (at: www.yannarthusbertrand2.org) is another source of stunning images of countries around the world taken from the air.
- We're going to travel back, way back, down the centuries. In fact, we need to go back more than 600 years.
Older children could be encouraged to count back through the centuries, 1900s, 1800s . . . until you reach the 1300s.
At this time, there were no cars, no electricity, no televisions and no computers.
- We are going to the city of Norwich. In a small room, next to St Julian's Church, lived a woman who was also named Julian, after the church. She was known to be very wise and people from the city would come to talk with her and ask her advice.
- Julian had been a nun for many years and spent her whole life in prayer, worshipping God. As she grew older, she decided that she wanted to live alone, away from the other nuns. She led a very simple life and spent most of her time writing a book.
Allow some time to explore with the children why Julian might have chosen to live on her own. What was it like to be alone for so much of the time? Do the children like to be alone?
- So why, today, all these years later, do we still remember Julian, the woman who lived alone in a small room next to St Julian's Church?
One of the reasons is the book that Julian was writing. It is still possible to go into a bookshop and buy her book, Showing of Love, today, 600 years later. In it she wrote down her ideas about God and described the time when she felt God came very close to her.
Show one or more of the images of the text of Julian's book, Showing of Love.
- These visions and dreams of God she had were so important to her that she spent the rest of her life thinking and writing about them. People still enjoy reading her book and it has become very famous because it is one of the earliest known books written by a woman. Julian's ideas were seen to be so important and so inspiring, she was made a saint by the Christian Church.
- I shall tell you now about one of Julian's most famous visions. She describes how she saw a small object, like a hazelnut, in her hand. It was like God was showing her the whole world in the palm of her hand.
Show the image of the outstretched hand with the hazelnut and olive branch on the palm.
As she looked at the small object in her hand, she said, 'God made it, God loves it and God looks after it.'
From this moment on, she believed that the most important thing in life is God's love for the world and all people.
Show the image of the world seen from space.
- Because of this vision and many others, Julian was certain that even when life is very difficult and terrible things happen, God's love is always there and God is in control. She often described God as being like a loving mother looking after her children.
Time for reflection
Light the candle on the focus table.
Let's listen to the words of Julian.
Read the following quote from Julian slowly and have a short period of silence afterwards.
All shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
Help us to remember that even the smallest things are part of your creation.
Be with us when we are with our friends and when we are alone.
Keep us safe in your love.
'A living song' (Come and Praise, 72)
'All the nations of the earth' (Come and Praise, 14)
'All things bright and beautiful' (Come and Praise, 3)
- Even though Julian lived at a time when there were no computers or telephones, she was able to keep in touch with other people around Europe via her writing. Historians think that Julian was one of a group of religious men and women called the Friends of God who read each other's books and supported each other - a sort of medieval Internet!
How do we support each other? How do we help each other to learn? How do we learn about new ideas?
- Place a hazelnut in your hand. From a distance, it just looks brown. Look closely, though, and see how much detail you can find in the markings on the shell. How easy is it to look but not see?