Julian of Norwich was an English anchoress. She wrote about her visions of God with clarity and depth, in a book called “Revelations of Divine Love.”
Julian was probably born around 1342. She may have been from a privileged family that lived in or near Norwich. In those days, Norwich was the second largest city in England.
When Julian was 30 years old and living at home, she suffered a serious illness and was presumed to be near death. Her curate came to administer the last rites of the Catholic Church on May 8, 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 16 visions of Jesus Christ. They ended by the time she recovered from her illness on May 13, 1373.
Julian wrote about her visions immediately after they had happened, in a version of the “Revelations of Divine Love” now known as the “Short Text.” It is believed to be the earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman.
Twenty to thirty years later, perhaps in the early 1390s, Julian wrote a theological exploration of the meaning of the visions. It is known as “The Long Text.”
At some point in her life, Julian became an anchoress. An anchoress is someone who has retired from the world so as to live a life that is intensely focused on prayer and asceticism. And possibly the Eucharist. Unlike hermits, anchoresses take a vow to live in a fixed location. Their home is often a small cell attached to a church.
Julian was also known as a spiritual authority within her community where she also served as a counselor and advisor.
The writings of Julian are optimistic. She speaks of God in terms of joy and compassion, not wrath. She feels certain that she is loved by God and protected by his Providence. She likens divine love to motherly love, as did the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 49:15. Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, these may forget, yet I will not forget you!
Julian died around 1416.
The Memorial of Julian of Norwich is observed each year on May 13 in the Roman Catholic tradition, and on May 8 in the Anglican and Lutheran traditions.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.