Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich
The church of SS Andrew and Mary - St Julian of Norwich - geograph.org.uk - 1547398.jpg
Julian of Norwich, as depicted in the church of Ss Andrew and Mary, Langham, Norfolk
Anchoress, Mystic
Born c. (1342-11-08)8 November 1342
Norfolk
Died c. 1416 (aged 73–74)
Norwich
Venerated in Anglican Communion
Lutheran Church
Major shrine Church of St Julian, Norwich
Feast 8 May or 13 May
Major works Revelations of Divine Love

Julian of Norwich (c. 8 November 1342 – c. 1416) was an English anchoress and an important Christian mystic and theologian. Her Revelations of Divine Love, written around 1395, is the first book in the English language known to have been written by a woman. Julian was also known as a spiritual authority within her community, where she also served as a counsellor and advisor. [1] She is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches. The Roman Catholic Church has not declared her to be a saint or given her the title Blessed. Accordingly, she does not appear in the Roman Martyrology, nor is she included in the calendar of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. [2] [3]

Personal life

Very little is known about Julian's life. Even her name is uncertain; the name 'Julian' is generally thought to have been derived from the Church of St Julian in Norwich, to which her anchorite's cell was joined. [4] 'Julian' was, however, a common name among women in the Middle Ages and could possibly have belonged to the anchoress as well as to the church. [4]

Julian's writings indicate that she was probably born around 1342 and died around 1416. [5] [6] She may have been from a privileged family residing in or near Norwich, at the time the second largest city in England. At least one source considered it likely that she received her early education with the Benedictine nuns at nearby Carrow. [7]

Plague epidemics were rampant during the 14th century and, according to some scholars, Julian may have become an anchoress unmarried or, having lost her family in the plague, as a widow. [8] Becoming an anchoress may have served as a way to quarantine her from the rest of the population. There is scholarly debate as to whether Julian was a nun in a nearby convent or a laywoman. [8]

Image of the original Church of St Julian, Norwich

When she was 30 and living at home, Julian suffered from a serious illness. Since she was presumed to be near death, her curate came to administer the last rites of the Catholic Church on 8 May 1373. As part of the ritual, he held a crucifix in the air above the foot of her bed. Julian reported that she was losing her sight and felt physically numb, but as she gazed on the crucifix she saw the figure of Jesus begin to bleed. Over the next several hours, she had a series of sixteen visions of Jesus Christ, which ended by the time she recovered from her illness on 13 May 1373. [9] [10] Julian wrote about her visions immediately after they had happened (although the text may not have been finished for some years), in a version of the Revelations of Divine Love now known as the Short Text; this narrative of 25 chapters is about 11,000 words long. [11] [12]

Twenty to thirty years later, perhaps in the early 1390s, Julian began to write a theological exploration of the meaning of the visions, known as The Long Text, which consists of 86 chapters and about 63,500 words. [13] This work seems to have gone through many revisions before it was finished, perhaps in the 1410s or even the 1420s. [11]

The English mystic Margery Kempe, who was the author of the first known autobiography written in England, mentioned going to Norwich to speak with her in around 1414. [14]

Adam Easton's Defense of St Birgitta, Alfonso of Jaen's Epistola Solitarii, and William Flete's Remedies against Temptations, are all referred to in Julian's text. [15]