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At the Foot of the Cross with Julian of Norwich, by Emma Pennington

09 October 2020

Anne Spalding praises an illustrated guide to the mystic’s insights

PEOPLE who have read only excerpts from Julian’s writings which focus on God’s love can be taken aback by the Revelations as a whole because of Julian’s intense attention to Christ on the cross. Pennington looks at exactly this, giving the context of medieval writing in general and the expectations of anchoresses and mystics around Julian’s time, and providing colour plates to illustrate some aspects still visible in churches today. Chapters include “The Crown of Thorns”, “Great Droplets of Blood”, and “The Face of Jesus”, and each has a discussion on the text in the light of scripture and of medieval life.

Julian’s intention, and Pennington’s, is to give a devotional invitation; so, after the overview in part one, each chapter ends with a meditation, Going Deeper, then questions to ponder or discuss, and finally words for the journey from scripture.

This is not a book to skim-read. The medieval mind-set is a long way from a 21st-century outlook; so there is plenty of material to engage with and think through. Pennington is able to paint a rich picture of this difference. Also, Julian’s own focus on detail — for example, the texture of the blood, or the colour of the dying face of Christ — mean that readers of At the Foot of the Cross must think and feel their response to these things, too.

But it is worth the effort of reading thoughtfully. Julian’s revelations came as part of her experience of illness and expectation of dying. And, through her revelations and reflection on Christ’s Passion, Julian found that Christ’s death was relevant for her circumstances. In our world, still filled with suffering and pain, Pennington’s book can help us to grasp, through Julian’s insights, something of how Jesus’s death on the cross can speak to our situation, too.


Dr Anne Spalding is a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, and lives in Suffolk.


At the Foot of the Cross with Julian of Norwich
Emma Pennington
BRF £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9

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