Friday, 6 April 2012

The Norwich Passion

This glorious golden Crucifixion scene is part of a reredos in Norwich Cathedral, depicting five scenes from the death and resurrection of Christ. It was painted some time around 1380-1400 by an anonymous Norwich artist, and given to the cathedral by Bishop Henry le Despenser. When this was being painted, Julian of Norwich was living in her anchorite's cell in the same city, contemplating the death of Christ and wishing to be "filled with thought and feeling of His blessed passion, for I wished that His pains were my pains, with compassion and afterwards longing to God."

Here's the whole reredos:

I looked with bodily vision [Julian says] into the face of the crucifix hung before me, in which I saw a part of Christ's Passion: contempt, foul spitting, buffeting, and many long-drawn pains, more than I can tell; and his colour often changed.

The fair skin was deeply broken into the tender flesh, through the vicious blows delivered all over the lovely body. The hot blood ran out so plentifully that neither skin nor wounds could be seen, but everything seemed to be blood.

Suddenly, as I looked at the same cross, he changed to an appearance of joy. The change in his blessed countenance changed mine, and I was as glad and joyful as I could possibly be. And then cheerfully our Lord suggested to my mind: 'Where is now any instant of your pain or of your grief?' And I was very joyful. I understood that we are now on his cross with him in our pains, and in our sufferings we are dying, and with his help and his grace we willingly endure on that same cross until the last moment of life. Suddenly he will change his appearance for us, and we shall be with him in heaven.

Then our good Lord put a question to me: "Are you well satisfied that I suffered for you?" I said: "Yes, good Lord, all my thanks to you; yes, good Lord, blessed may you be." Then Jesus our good Lord said: "If you are satisfied, I am satisfied. It is a joy, a bliss, an endless delight to me that ever I suffered my Passion for you; and if I could suffer more, I would suffer more."

I took some of the translations of Julian's words from this excellent article: The Passion in Julian of Norwich.

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