Saint of the Day – 13 May – Blessed Julian of Norwich (c 1342-c 1416) (aged 73–74) Anchorite, Mystic, Writer, Ascetic, Spiritual director – also known as Dame Julian or Mother Julian – born late 1342 and died after 1416) was the greatest of all the English anchorites of the Middle Ages. She wrote the earliest surviving book in the English language to be written by a woman, Revelations of Divine Love.
It was popular in the 14th century for a number of English men and women to withdraw from the world as hermits, they were known as anchorites. Their hermitage, was a small room attached to a local church. Each room had two windows. One through the church wall permitting the anchorite to receive communion. Through the second window, the anchorite received food brought to him or her by village people. Thus they at all times had the window of their heart open to Christ and open to the world.
As a young woman, Julian, who was born about 1342, became an anchorite at the Church of St Edmund and St Julian in Norwich. When she was 30 Julian suffered from a severe illness. Whilst apparently on her deathbed, Julian had a series of intense visions of Jesus Christ, which ended by the time she recovered from her illness on 13 May 1373. Julian wrote about her visions immediately after they had happened (although the text may not have been finished for some years), entitled Revelations of Divine Love. 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. This work seems to have gone through many revisions before it was finished, perhaps in the first or even second decade of the fifteenth century. Until her death in about 1416, Julian stayed in her simple room. Like most anchorites, she prayed, fasted, did penance, studied, sewed clothing for the poor and advised the village people.
In her book, she described her 16 visions of Jesus. As she wrote this book about God’s great compassion for us, Julian developed a special vocabulary. She called the Creator, our mother and our father. She called Jesus the Redeemer, our brother. Revelations is a celebrated work in Catholicism because of the clarity and depth of Julian’s visions of God. Julian of Norwich is now recognised as one of England’s most important mystics.
Julian of Norwich lived in a time of turmoil but her theology was optimistic and spoke 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 everyone and wanted to save them all. Popular theology, magnified by catastrophic contemporary events such as the Black Death and a series of peasant revolts, asserted that God punished the wicked . Julian suggested a more merciful theology, she believed that behind the reality of hell is a greater mystery of God’s love. In modern times, she has been classified as a proto-universalist, although she did not claim more than hope, that all might be saved.
At the time of Julian’s death, people from all over Europe travelled to her room, or cell, to ask her advice. Everyone recognised that she was close to God. The Church never formally declared her a saint but through the ages, people have called her “Blessed.”
“If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown – that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.”
Julian of Norwich