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Julian of Norwich


"Just because I am a woman, must I therefore believe that I must not tell you about the goodness of God, when I saw at the same time both his goodness and his wish that it should be known?"
- Julian of Norwich
"Revelations of Divine Love (Short Text)", 1413

There is no question that 'Julian of Norwich' existed historically, but very little is truly known about her - except that which is contained in her own writings.

There are several historical and legal documents that show an anchoress, who is believed to be Julian, living attached to the Church of St. Julian in Conisford at Norwich, England.  This church is still in existence, but her anchor-hold is said to have been destroyed by fighting in World War II.  By far the most important historical document that places Julian in this anchor-hold is Margery Kempe's Book which specifies that she sought spiritual direction and guidance from Julian in her anchor-hold.

Contemporary writers and biographers have sifted through her writing and the varied documents which point to her and have made some observations about what her life must have been like - although details are still quite impossible.

Although throughout her writing she notes her 'ignorance' or 'lewdness' - her writing tells a different story.  Additionally there is no external evidence of schooling or education. Colledge and Walsh note that it is quite probable that she entered the religious life at a young age and that it was within this environment that she received her educaiton. ("Introduction" Showings, 1978)

There is evidence that the writing of the Short Text of Showings is written by her as a way to record what she experienced.  At a later point in time she returned to her writing and wrote, with much editing what we call today the Long Text.  These writings differ from each other significantly - with elements appearing in the Long Text that bear no representation whatsoever in the Short Text.

Her writing is considered among the most difficult writing coming out of the medieval mystics tradition, and therefore the writing may not have been 'welcomed' enthusiatically during her lifetime.  However, following much scholarly study of the few copies of this writing, she is contemporarily considered among the best writers of Christian spirituality.

Her book Showings recounts her visionary and mystical experiences and begins with her discussion of her prayer seeking three graces - a "recollection of Christ's Passion," bodily sickness, and three wounds (to represent the wound that Christ himself suffered.)  These visionary experiences began when she was thirty and a half years old.

It is significant that she notes,

"Everything that I say about myself I mean to apply to all my fellow Christians, for I am taught that this is what our Lord intends in this spiritual revelation." ("Short Text" Showings, Ch. VI.) 

For she did not undertake this writing or retelling of her own experiences for her own sake, but so that they indeed would be known and experienced by others within the church.

Throughout her writing she speaks to the true and full love  and goodness of God and often times this is expressed in a Trinitarian format.  This focus on a Trinitarian theology within her experiences is quite significant, for it is here that she speaks of the Trinity as God the Father, God the Mother, and God the Lord.  The image of God as Mother is noted to have a deep wisdom "in which we are enclosed." ("Long Text", Showings, Ch. 54.)

Of additional interest is her discussion of three properties of God which she notes she experienced in her visions through touch, sight and feeling - especially in her twelfth vision. 

The properties are these: life, love and light. In life is wonderful familiarity, in love is gentle courtest, and in light is endless nature.

These three properties were seen in one goodness, to which goodness my reason wanted to be united and to cleave with all my powers.  I contemplated with reverent fear, greatly marvelling at the sight and the feeling of the sweet harmony, that our reason is in God, understanding that this is the highest gift that we have received, and its foundation is in nature.(Long Text, Showings, Ch. 83)

The last chapter of the long text sums up quite succinctly Julian's writings and much her life (of what we know about it),

And from the time that it was revealed, I desired many times to know in what was our Lord's meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end. (Long Text, Showings, Ch. 86)



For a biographical timeline click here.
For excepts from her writings click here.

Experience the mystery...

Created by Kimberly S. Conway (c) 2004.
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