Julian of Norwich

views updated May 08 2018


JULIAN OF NORWICH (13421416?), known as Lady Julian, Dame Julian, and Mother Julian, was an English mystic and Christian theologian. Julian lived in the century in which Europe was ravaged by the Black Death, and England and France were torn by the Hundred Years War. Against a background of war, plague, social turmoil, and religious unrest she shared in a flowering of English mysticism along with Walter Hilton, Richard Rolle, Margery Kempe, and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing.

Highly literatedespite a polite disclaimer in her book Revelations [or Showings ] of Divine Love and demonstrating a knowledge of the Vulgate rare for a layperson of her day, she was the first woman to compose a literary work in English. Although scholars have traced many general theological influences in Julian's book, specific influences are hard to identify, so thoroughly assimilated are they into a theology that is at once deeply traditional and highly original. She was probably familiar with the writings of William of Saint-Thierry (d. 1148) and Meister Eckhart (d. around 1327), but the only two writers whom she mentions by name are Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 500) and Gregory I (d. 604), from whose Life of Saint Benedict she quotes.

Little is known about Julian's life. In May 1373, when Julian was thirty years old, she became severely ill. At what seemed the point of death, she revived and received what she described as fifteen "showings of God's love"; on the following day she had a sixteenth such experience. Her mother, her parish priest, and possibly others were with her at these times. Some time later Julian wrote a description of these showings that is now referred to as the "short text" or "short version." Twenty years later, after profound meditation, she felt she had come to a fuller understanding of the showings, and she wrote a much longer version, concluding: "So I was taught that love is our Lord's meaning. And I saw very certainly in this and in everything that before God made us he loved us, which love was never abated and never will be" (Colledge and Walsh, Showings, p. 342).

At some time in her life Julian became an anchoress, living in a cell attached to the church of Saint Julian in King Street. It was probably from this saint that she took the name by which she is known.

The all-encompassing theme of Julian's Revelations is the compassionate love of God as universally manifested throughout the process of creation and as focused in the passion of Jesus, whose delight was to suffer for his beloved humankind. One aspect of Christ stressed by Julian is his "motherhood." Many earlier writers, including Anselm, had written of Christ's motherhood, but Julian wrote more extensively on this theme.

Julian's theology is eschatologically orientated. The resolution of the problem of evil (a problem over which she agonizes at length) will come through a "great deed ordained by our Lord God from without beginning, treasured and hidden in his blessed breast, known only to himself, through which deed he will make all things well" (Colledge and Walsh, Showings, pp. 232233). This aspect of Julian's theology proved particularly interesting to T. S. Eliot, who quotes from her book and alludes to her thought in his mystical poem Four Quartets.

The enduring contemporary interest in Julian was expressed in an ecumenical celebration in Norwich in May 1973, the six-hundredth anniversary of her Revelations. Her influence continues at the Julian shrine in Norwich, where prayer and spiritual counsel continue in a chapel built where her cell once stood.


Basic information on Julian herself and on the six-hundredth-anniversary ecumenical celebration of Revelations is conveniently given in Julian and Her Norwich: Commemorative Essays and Handbook to the Exhibition "Revelations of Divine Love," edited by Frank D. Sayer (Norwich, U.K., 1973). This book includes a useful bibliography of Julian publications prior to 1973: five manuscripts, twenty-six printed editions (in German, French, and Italian as well as English), and fifty-six books and articles about Julian and her thought. For works published since 1973, the Fourteenth-Century English Mystics Newsletter (Iowa City), published quarterly since 1974, is indispensable. Renamed Mystics Quarterly in 1984, this journal contains articles, book reviews, descriptions of scholarly studies in progress, and bibliographies of the many books and articles on Julian, including a Swedish translation and two French translations of Revelations. Among the post-1973 works, one of the most significant is the definitive edition of the original text prepared by Edmund Colledge and James Walsh, Juliana, anchoret, 13431443: A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, 2 vols. (Toronto, 1978). From this critical text Colledge and Walsh have made a modern translation, Julian of Norwich: Showings, "The Classics of Western Spirituality," vol. 1 (New York, 1978). Another significant English translation published since 1973 is Revelations of Divine Love by Juliana of Norwich, translated with a particularly good introduction by M. L. Del Mastro (Garden City, N.Y., 1977). The chaplain of the Julian shrine in Norwich, England, Robert Llewelyn, has written With Pity, Not with Blame: Reflections on the Writings of Julian of Norwich and on The Cloud of Unknowing (London, 1982). Many Julian publications are available at the shrine. In addition, the Norwich Public Library has a sizable collection of printed material on Julian.

Barbara Bishop (1987)

Julian of Norwich

views updated Jun 08 2018


Anchoress, author of Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love; b. 1342; d. probably between 1416 and 1423. Her anchorhold was attached to the church of SS. Julian and Edward at Conisford, Norwich. That she was still enclosed there in 1416 is attested by a bequest to "Julian, Recluse at Norwich" in the will of Lady Suffolk of that date. A bequest in 1423 to a male anchorite, occupying this same anchorhold, indicates the terminus ad quem for Julian's death date. The various editions of Butler's Lives of the Saints list her as "Blessed" under the date of May 13, and some Benedictine calendars [e.g., Corona Sanctorum Anni Benedictini (Ramsgate 1947)] give her the title of "Saint." There is no reputable historical evidence that there was any persistent cultus to her, even of a local nature; her reputation for holiness seems to be based entirely on her Revelations, if one excludes the brief reference to her by Margery kempe of Lynn, who described her as an expert in giving good counsel. It is not known whether Julian was her proper name, or whether she adopted it after her enclosure at St. Julian's Church. It is unlikely that she was ever a member of the Benedictine community at Carrow Abbey, which is located near Norwich.

Apart from bequests in two other wills dated 1404 and 1416, which also refer to her as the anchoress of St. Julian's, all that is known of her she tells herself in her book of Revelations: "These revelations were shewed to a simple unlearned creature living in this mortal flesh in the year of our Lord 1373, on the 13th day of May. And when I was 30 years old and a half, God sent me a bodily sickness ." She goes on to say that she was thoroughly and completely cured of her illness; and that the figure of Christ on the cross became alive before her eyes. This was the first revelation or "shewing"; 14 others followed on the same day, six concerned with Our Lord's passion, the remaining eight with other spiritual truths, and the last with the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in the soul. The allegation that her sickness was a form of nervous hysteria, and the inference that the revelations were due to a diseased or disordered imagination, has been satisfactorily refuted by Paul Molinari, SJ.

Julian has left two separate accounts of her revelations: a shorter version, probably written soon after her experience, and a longer narrative, the result of more than 15 years of prayer and meditation on the shewings, during which time she received more light on them. Both versions are written in the first person and follow the chronological order of the shewings. The tone of her narrative is informal and conversational: it is a record of personal experience rather than a theological treatise. The purpose and content of the Revelations concern the knowledge of God and of ourselves: what we are by Him, in nature and in grace; what we are in our sinfulness and weakness. The knowledge of God granted to Julian was of His love: it is courteous, homely, intensely personal. To explain its intimate nature she has recourse to the unusual image, not to be found in any of the Fathers except St. Anselm, of the mother and the child.

In her development of the doctrine of the Mystical Body, man's incorporation into Christ, she may have owed something in expression to her contemporary Walter hilton, an Augustinian canon; even the psychology she uses to expose the human relationship to the Father in Christ is a simplified Augustinianism (there were Austin Friars at Norwich). But if one looks for the real source of her theology of incorporation into Christ it can be found nowhere else than in St. Paul, just as for her teaching on the mystery of the divine indwelling one must go back to St. John. The account of her Revelations is regularly punctuated by concern with the problem of sin and damnation, which appeared to her to conflict with divine love and goodness, and the assurance that all shall be well. The various formulations and solutions to this problem impart a highly artistic structure to her book, which falls into four sections (ch. 127; 2843; 4465; 6686).

Although she says repeatedly that her revelations were granted for the profit of all her fellow Christians, her audience is effectively reduced to those who "deliberately choose God in this life for love." She is particularly concerned for the "little and the simplethose who for love hate sin and dispose themselves to do God's will." The title of the first printed edition of the shorter version of her Revelations, "Comfortable Words for Christ's Lovers," is extraordinarily apt. Like Julian's own homely language, it gives no immediate clue to the profundity and wealth that is embodied in her mystical doctrine.

Bibliography: Editions. julian of norwich, The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, ed. g. r. crampton (Kalamazoo, Mich.1994); The Revelation of Divine Love in Sixteen Showings Made to Dame Julian of Norwich, tr. m. l. del mastro (Liguori, Mo.1994); Revelations of Divine Love (Short Text and Long Text), tr. e. spearing, intro. and notes a. c. spearing (Harmondsworth, Eng.1998); Revelations of Divine Love, Translated from British Library Additional Manuscript 37790; The Motherhood of God: An Excerpt, Translated from British Library Manuscript Sloane 2477, intro., interpretive essay, and bibliography f. beer (Rochester, N.Y.1998). Studies. p. molinari, Julian of Norwich: The Teaching of a 14th-Century Mystic (London 1958). d. knowles, The English Mystical Tradition (New York 1961) 119137. f. c. bauerschmidt, Julian of Norwich and the Mystical Body Politic of Christ (Notre Dame, Ind. 1999). s. j. mcentire, ed., Julian of Norwich: A Book of Essays (New York 1998). j. m. nuth, Wisdom's Daughter: The Theology of Julian of Norwich (New York 1991). b. pelphrey, Julian of Norwich: Christ, Our Mother (Wilmington, Del.1989). g. m. jantzen, Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian (New York 1988).

[j. walsh]

Julian of Norwich

views updated May 21 2018

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich (1342-c 1416) was the most important English mystic of the 14th century. Her spirituality is strongly Trinitarian and basically Neoplatonic.

In her Revelations of Divine Love Julian relates that in May 1373, when she was 30 years old, she suffered a serious illness. After she had been administered extreme unction, she received 16 revelations within the span of a few hours. When she wrote her Revelations, she was a recluse at Norwich, supported by the Benedictine convent of Carrow. Anchorite seclusion was a rather common form of life in 14th-century England among Christians with high spiritual aspirations. A woman of little formal education— she calls herself "unlettered"—Julian writes in a beautifully simple style and shows a solid grasp of traditional theology.

Julian's revelations, a mixture of imaginary and intellectual visions, bear all the characteristics of true mysticism. According to her, her visions came in fulfillment of three petitions of her youth: to have in mind the Passion of Christ, to have a critical bodily sickness at 30 years of age, and to receive the wounds of "true contrition," "genuine compassion," and "sincere longing for God." The revelations consist mostly of visions of the crucified Christ occasioned by the sight of a crucifix which the priest had left at her bedside. But through the Passion, Julian is led to intellectual visions of the Trinity and of the universe as it exists in God. Thus she is confronted by the teachings of sin and damnation, which she finds hard to reconcile with God's grace in Christ. Nevertheless the accepts the traditional Church doctrine of the existence of an eternal rejection. Yet on the sinfulness of those who will be saved she hedges: "In every soul to be saved is a godly will that has never consented to sin, in the past or in the future. Just as there is an animal will in our lower nature that does not will what is good, so there is a godly will in our higher part, which by its basic goodness never wills what is evil, but only what is good." Obviously she finds herself unable to accept that divine goodness could ever allow the elect to be truly sinful. Her fundamental outlook is optimistic. The Lord tells her: "All shall be well," and "You will see for yourself that all manner of thing shall be well."

Little is known of Julian's later years, not even the date of her death. She is last referred to as a living person in a will dated 1416. Apparently even during her life she enjoyed a certain renown, for people came from afar to see and consult her.

Further Reading

There are two versions of the Revelations, one much longer than the other. It is not known whether the short one is merely an excerpt from the older one or whether it is the first authentic report on which Julian elaborated in the longer version. A critical edition is being prepared by Sister Anna Maria Reynolds and James Walsh. Meanwhile, a modernized edition of the short version is A Shewing of God's Love (1958) by Anna Maria Reynolds. Several modern translations of the longer version, under the title Revelations of Divine Love, are by Roger Hudleston (1927), James Walsh (1961), Anchoret Juliana (1966), and Clifton Wolters (1966). Important studies of Julian are Paul Molinari, Julian of Norwich: The Teaching of a 14th Century English Mystic (1958), and James Walsh, ed., Pre-Reformation English Spirituality (1966). □

Julian of Norwich

views updated Jun 11 2018

Julian of Norwich (1342–c.1416). Anchoress and mystic. Probably educated by Benedictine nuns, her claim that she was ‘unlettered’ probably means that she knew no Latin. After nearly dying (1373) she had a series of sixteen religious experiences, ‘shewings’, and decided to become a recluse and spiritual counsellor in an anchorage attached to St Julian's church, from which she took her name. Twenty years later, she wrote The Revelations of Divine Love, meditations on her ‘shewings’, the first book known to have been written by a woman in English. She describes God as all-loving, despite contemporary suffering. Her saying ‘All shall be well’, and her vision of all creation in ‘a little thing, the size of a hazel-nut, lying in the palm of my hand … for God loves it’ are well known. A positive thinker in an age of suffering, uncertainty, and change, her meditations are attractive in the early 21st cent.

Revd Dr William M. Marshall

Julian of Norwich

views updated May 18 2018

Julian of Norwich (c.1342–after 1413). English mystic. Little is known of her life, except that she probably lived as an anchoress close to St Julian's church in Norwich. On 8 or 13 May 1373, while she was suffering from a severe heart attack, she had a series of fifteen visions relating to the Passion of Christ, followed the next day by a final vision. This she recorded in the shorter text of her Showings. More than fifteen years later she had a further revelation, after which she recorded a longer version in which she develops more deeply their significance. From her come the familiar words of consequent trust, ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’. She also laid great stress on the motherly nature and love of God: ‘God is really our Mother as he is Father’ (cf. FEMINIST THEOLOGY).

Julian of Norwich

views updated May 14 2018

Julian of Norwich (c.1342–c.1413), English mystic. She is said to have lived as a recluse outside St Julian's Church, Norwich. She is chiefly associated with the Revelations of Divine Love (c.1393), a description of a series of visions she had in which she depicts the Holy Trinity as Father, Mother, and Lord.

About this article

Julian of Norwich

All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic