Revelations of Divine Love (1994)
(After Julian of Norwich)
Anne Boyd (b.1946)
In 1975 I composed a work for unaccompanied voices, As I Crossed a Bridge of
Dreams, inspìred by the notebooks left by a devout Buddhist, Lady Sarashina
who lived in Japan in the 1lth century. The Buddha visited her in dreams, several
of which she recounts and upon which she sets great store for her salvation.
When searching for a suitable text for this work I was attracted as well to
writings by anõther woman who lived in medieval times, Julian of Norwich:
Julian lived in England in the fourteenth century and her Revelations of Divine
Love records sixteen revelations, or shewings experienced in the extremely early
morning and the late evening of the 8th May, 1373. My composition of a
musical work based upon Juiian's experiences had to wait a further eighteen
years until 1993 when a commission from The Song Company provided the
opportunity I needed. Both works are essentially concerned with meditation and
relate to the deep purpose of my music which is to link Christian Love with
Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love belongs to the long tradition of
Christian mysticism and it is this mystical quality which I try to capture in my
setting of three of her revelations: the first is a vision of Christ's blood flowing
down his face from under the crown of thorns at the time of his crucifixion.
Perceived as though she is herself among those watching at the foot of the cross,
this is the central and most powerful image of Julian's text. She perceives the
flowing of Christ's blood not with horror but with joy and profound gratitude as
being the most important source for spiritual nourishment, purification and
renewal. For this reason, the section which follows in my composition sets
Christ's own words at the Last Supper, the gifts of bread and wine become his
body and blood, the basis of the Christian Eucharist.
The second revelation I have selected is Julian's encounter with the devil in the
form of a lean young man of ghastly red appearance who seizes her by the throat;
although badly frightened by the experience her faith completely protects her.
Julian's voice is usually heard in the mezzo soprano. The section which follows
in the musical work juxtaposes the childlike imagery associated with Julian's
devilish encounter with a setting of the biblical account of Satan's tempting of
Christ in the wilderness. The Devil is portrayed by the Tenor, Christ by the Bass
Baritone while the narration is given by the three women's voices together.
The final section of the musical work transposes the marvellous visions of the
prophet John from the book of Revelation with Julian's own discovery of Christ
seated in her own soul, in the very centre of her heart. In this section Julian's
words are heard in all three women's voice parts while for John the Prophet the
three men's voices combine, moving in much slower rhythmic values.
Throughout Julian's experiences she repeatedly cries out "Benedicite Domine"
("Bless ye O Lord") and it is these words which are used as a refrain and as a
framing device. The work also retums repeatedly to a softly hummed chord
which symbolises the three-in-one-ness of God and which functions as an
invocation; a meditative trance-like state should be maintained throughout.
Structurally the work is based upon a set of secret numbers which determine
proportions at key points and which also generate the note-row used whenever
the Devil appears.
Essentially then my Revelations of Divine Love can be perceived as a set of
panels pórtraying the great Chrlstian themes of sacrifice, temptation and
redemption viewed as a set of revelations experienced by the remarkable Mother
Julian as well as through Biblical accounts of episodes in christ's own life,
framed by the recurrence of materials whose purpose is not only to link the
various sections together into a continuous whole but to invoke a state of
prayerful meditation in performers and audience alike'