She became the heart of an author’s academic research but when Claire Gilbert was diagnosed with cancer, the 14th century mystic and anchoress became more than just an object of study. 

Mrs Gilbert, who grew up in London and is the director of Westminster Abbey Institute, is an expert on ethics, spirituality, medicine, ecology, and Julian of Norwich.  

And when she was faced with her own morality, it was the latter who became a spiritual companion through two and half years of gruelling treatment. 

As the treatment drew to a close, Mrs Gilbert heard what she described as a call to tell Julian’s story in the first person. The result of this homage became a fictional autobiography entitled I, Julian. 

Eastern Daily Press: Author Claire Gilbert is coming to NorwichAuthor Claire Gilbert is coming to Norwich (Image: Hodder & Stoughton)

Mrs Gilbert said: “The book was a response to a call from deep within me to tell the inner story of Julian of Norwich in a way that would make sense to a 21st century audience. 

“It felt very like praying.”   

Now the author will be discussing her vision of Julian’s life with Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons. 

Mr Irons is also a fellow Julian of Norwich enthusiast and has previously read TS Eliot – who valued her highly – for a BBC Radio Four series. 

“To be guided down the path into the mind of this 14th century mystic was for me a real adventure into the extraordinary nature of the soul,” he said. 

“An immensely readable and nourishing experience which I wish for everyone.” 

Eastern Daily Press: I, Julian book coverI, Julian book cover (Image: Hodder & Stoughton)

The event is part of the city-wide Julian 650 festival, led by the Julian of Norwich Partnership and celebrating the 650th anniversary of Julian of Norwich experiencing her famous visions from God – known as shewings – in May 1373.   

Julian (1342-c.1416) spent her whole life in Norwich and lived as an anchoress in a cell attached to St Julian’s Church in the city.  

Her book, Revelations of Divine Love, led to her being credited as the first known female writer in the English language, but despite this little is known about her life.  

There are, however, various representations of Julian of Norwich at Norwich Cathedral, including a stone statue of her next to the cathedral’s Great West Door and stained-glass portraits in the cathedral’s Bauchon Chapel and St Saviour’s Chapel. 

Eastern Daily Press: Jeremy IronsJeremy Irons (Image: Sven Baenziger)

Julian of Norwich: mother, mystic, radical, chaired by the Dean of Norwich, will take place at Norwich Cathedral in the Weston Room on Sunday, May 14 at 2pm.  

The event will include readings from I, Julian and from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. The book will be available to buy on the day with the opportunity to have copies signed. 

Following the event, there will be a special Evensong service dedicated to Julian of Norwich at 3.30pm at Norwich Cathedral. All are welcome to attend the service.  

Eastern Daily Press: Julian of Norwich depicted in stained glass at Norwich CathedralJulian of Norwich depicted in stained glass at Norwich Cathedral (Image: Bill Smith / Norwich Cathedral)

Among commemorative events being organised by the Friends of Julian of Norwich is a writing competition, in association with the EDP, with people aged between four and 18 invited to enter a piece of prose or poetry of up to 500 words, on the theme of 'divine love'. 

The winner will receive £100, the runner-up £50, and any honourable mentions £30. There will also be other prizes from independent bookshop Bookbugs and Dragon Tales.  

  • The deadline is this weekend. Visit or email for more information. 
  • Tickets for Julian of Norwich: mother, mystic, radical at Norwich Cathedral cost £8 plus booking fee. Visit to book and for more information.