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Julian of Norwich

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Julian of Norwich
Born November 8, 1342(1342-11-08)
Died c. 1416
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church,
Anglican Communion,
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Major shrine Church of St Julian in Norwich
Feast May 13 (Roman Catholic),
May 8 (Anglican, Lutheran)

Julian of Norwich (c. November 8, 1342 – c. 1416) is thought of as one of the greatest English mystics. Little is known of her life aside from her writings. In fact, it is not even known exactly when she died. She was last known to be alive in 1416 when she was 73 years old [1]. Even her name is uncertain, the name "Julian" coming from the Church of St Julian in Norwich, where she was an anchoress (a type of hermit living in a cell attached to the church, engaged in contemplative prayer). At the age of 30, suffering from a severe illness and believing she was on her deathbed, Julian had a series of intense visions of Jesus Christ. (They ended by the time she overcame her illness on May 13, 1373.[2]) She recorded these visions soon after having them, and then again twenty years later. The first version, called The Short Text, is more of a narration of her visions. The Long Text was written twenty years after the visions, and contains more theological commentary on the meaning of the visions [3]. These visions are the source of her major work, called Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love (circa 1393). This is believed to be the first book written by a woman in the English language.[4] Julian became well known throughout England as a spiritual authority: Margery Kempe mentions going to Norwich to speak with Julian.[5]

History of Revelations

Scholars know that the long version of Revelation of Love was finished by 1413 because it was so noted in the introduction to her book. However, there is no mention of Julian or her book until the mid-seventeenth century when it appeared in two small exile houses of English Benedictine nuns [6]. Three of the nuns living there quote Julian in their own writing. It is believed these nuns had a preserved manuscript of Revelations in the Long Text [6].The first printed version Revelations was available to the public in 1670, and was edited by Benedictine Serenus Cressy, but it was still not that well known until the twentieth century. Cressy's edition was reprinted in 1843, 1864, and again in 1902. However, it was Grace Warrack's 1901 version of the book with its "sympathetic informed introduction" which introduced most early twentieth-century readers to Julian [7].. After this, Julian's name spread rapidly as she became a topic in many lectures and writings. In 1979 an annotated text of Julian's work was published, and after this her book really took off. As a result Julian is now recognized as one of England's most important mystics [8].


Norwich Cathedral Facade

A statue of St. Julian (in white) appears on the front of Norwich Cathedral, along with a statue of St. Benedict.

Although she lived in a time of turmoil, Julian's theology was optimistic, speaking of God's love in terms of joy and compassion as opposed to law and duty. For Julian, suffering was not a punishment that God inflicted, as was the common understanding. She believed that God loved and wanted to save everyone. Popular theology magnified by current events including the Black Death and a series of peasant revolts assumed that God was punishing the wicked. In response, Julian suggested a far more merciful theology, which some say leaned towards universal salvation. Because she believed that behind the reality of hell is yet a greater mystery of God's love, she has also been referred to in modern times as a proto-universalist, though she herself never actually claimed more than hope that all might be saved. Even though her views were not typical, local authorities did not challenge either her theology or her authority to make such religious claims because of her status as an anchoress. However, the lack of mention of her work during her period may simply indicate that religious authorities did not count her worthy of refuting, since she did not have much power as a woman.

Julian's philosophy on theology was unique in three aspects: her view of sin, her belief that God is all love and no wrath, and her view of Christ as mother.

Julian believed that sin was necessary in life because it brings one to self-knowledge, which leads to acceptance of the role of God in one’s life [9]. Julian taught that humans sin because they are ignorant or naive, not because they are evil, which was the common reason given by the church for sin during the Middle Ages [10].. Julian believed that in order to learn, we must fail, and in order to fail, we must sin. The pain that is caused by sin is an earthly reminder of the pain of the passion of Christ. Therefore, as one suffers like Christ did, they will become closer to Him by experiencing similar suffering.

Similarly, Julian saw no wrath in God. She believed wrath only existed in humans, but that God forgives us for this. She writes, “For I saw no wrath except on man’s side, and he forgives that in us, for wrath is nothing else but a perversity and an opposition to peace and to love” [11]. Julian believed that it was inaccurate to speak of God granting forgiveness for sins because forgiving would mean that committing the sin was wrong. Julian preached that sin should be seen as a part of the learning process of life, not malice that should be forgiven. Julian writes in Revelations of Divine Love that God sees us as perfect and waits for the day when humans' souls mature so that evil and sin will no longer hinder one’s life [12].

Lastly, Julian’s theology was controversial in regard to her belief as God as mother. In her fourteenth revelation, she writes of the Trinity in domestic terms and compares Jesus to a mother who is wise, loving, and merciful. (See Jesus as Mother by Carolyn Walker Bynum.) Julian’s revelation revealed that God is our mother as much as He is our father. She believed that the maternal aspect of Christ was literal, not metaphoric; Christ is not like a mother, He is literally the mother [13]. Julian believed that the mother’s role was the truest of all jobs on earth. She emphasized this by explaining how that bond between child and mother is the only earthly relationship that comes close to the relationship one can have with Jesus [14]. She also connects God with motherhood in terms of 1) "the foundation of our nature's creation, 2) "the taking of our nature, where the motherhood of grace begins" and 3) "the motherhood at work" and speaks metaphorically of Jesus in connection with conception, nursing, labor, and upbringing.

The saying, "…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well", which Julian claimed to be said to her from God, reflects this theology. It is also one of the most individually famous lines in all of Catholic theological writing, and certainly one of the most well-known phrases of the literature of her era. It, along with "the ground of our beseeching" from the 14th Revelation, also appears in "Little Gidding," the fourth of the Four Quartets poems by T.S. Eliot:

Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us—a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.


  • Showing of Love, ed. Sister Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P., and Julia Bolton Holloway. Florence: SISMEL, 2001.
  • The Writings of Julian of Norwich, ed. Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins. Brepols, 2006.
  • Revelations of Divine Love

See also

St Julian's, Norwich

Church of St Julian, Norwich

Love's Trinity: A Companion to Julian of Norwich. Long text translated by John-Julian, OJN, with a commentary by Frederick S. Roden, AOJN. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009.


  1. Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, page 130. Boydell Press, 1992.
  2. ""Julian of Norwich"". Encyclopedia Britannica Profiles. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  3. Jantzen, G. Julian of Norwich : Mystic and Theologian, pages 4-5. Paulist Press, 1988.
  4. Julian of Norwich. Paulist Press. 1978. 
  5. "The Book of Margery Kempe, Book I, Part I". The Book of Margery Kempe. TEAMS Middle English Texts. 1996. Retrieved 2007-08-19. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Crampton. The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, page 17. Western Michigan University, 1993.
  7. Crampton. The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, page 18. Western Michigan University, 1993.
  8. Pelphrey, B. "Christ Our Mother: Julian of Norwich," page 14. Michael Glazier Inc., 1989
  9. Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, page 143. Boydell Press, 1992.
  10. Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, page 144. Boydell Press, 1992.
  11. Julian, Revelations of Divine Love, page 45. D.S. Brewer, 1998.
  12. Julian, Revelations of Divine Love, page 50. D.S. Brewer, 1998.
  13. Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, page 152. Boydell Press, 1992.
  14. Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, page 155. Boydell Press, 1992.


Further reading

  • McAvoy, L. H., ed., A Companion to Julian of Norwich. Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2008.
  • Petroff, E. .Body and soul : essays on medieval women and mysticism. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0195084543 ISBN 0195084551 (pbk.)
  • Watt, D., Medieval Women's Writing. Cambridge, Polity, 2007.
  • Dutton, Elisabeth. A Revelation of Love. (Introduced, Edited & Modernized). Rowman & Littlfield, 2008.

External links

no:Julian av Norwichru:Джулиана из Нориджа sv:Julian av Norwich tl:Juliana ng Norwich

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