Introduction To Julian Of Norwich
Julian of Norwich is recognized as one of England's most important mystics.
Let's jump back in time to meet this remarkable woman.
A baby girl was born ln England in 1342. Because little was recorded for average folks during that time in history, we don't even know her given birth name.
Julian's name is taken from the Church of St. Julian in Norwich where she lived as an anchoress for most of her life.
Life In The 14th Century
Julian lived in England in the 14th century during the turbulent Middle Ages, a time fraught with plague, famine and war.
- In 1337, England and France started the Hundred Year's War for supremacy over Europe.
- In 1347, the Black Death swept across all of Europe, including England, and wiped out nearly 40% to 50% of the entire population.
- In 1399, Richard II became the new King of England.
A Book In English Written By A Woman
Many people write books today. They plop themselves down in front of a computer and start typing away. Books pop out with hardcovers and as paperbacks or, now-a-days, in a digital format. There is a plethora of books written in English.
But, how would you go about writing a book in the 14th century?
Julian of Norwich managed to do just that.
Her text is believed to be the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman. Known as Revelations of Divine Love, it's a combination of The Short Text and The Long Text and consists of 86 chapters and about 63,500 words.
During this time in English history, laywomen were usually not educated. They didn't read, much less write anything, and they certainly didn't write in the spoken language of the day. Written documents of the Church were predominatly in Latin.
Equally astonishing, it's possible that in the beginning, Julian taught herself to read and write in both Latin and English.
Life As An Anchoress
An anchorite, or anchoress (female), is "one who retires from the world."
A person withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic life. They would have a permanent enclosure in a cell attached to church.
This goes beyond the tiny-house phenomena of today. These cells (called an anchorhold) were often no more than 12 to 15 ft square and once the anchorite entered the minuscule space, the only way they could leave would be upon their death. They were attended by a maid who would bring them food and dispose of their bodily waste by means of a chamber pot.
The anchoritic life became widespread during the early and high Middle Ages and a large number of them were in England.
In the post Locked up forever in the wall of a church, we read:
Anchorites would spend their days in prayer, viewing the altar, hearing Mass and receiving the Eucharist through a small, shuttered window in their cell. They would also provide spiritual advice and counsel to visitors through the window.
Julian of Norwich became an anchoress around the age of 30, after the loss of her family and following a severe illness wherein she experienced spiritual visions.
Her writings created a lasting impression on Christian spirituality. Her mystic expression continues to touch people's lives, even 600 years later.
God Is Love And Love Is God
The prominent theme in Julian's writings was her experience that God is Love.
That she could write of a loving God was no small feat in this rough time of history. As a young child, Julian witnessed the death of numerous villagers and members of her natal family. Later, she would lose her own two children and her husband to the plague.
Even the Church tended to view God as a stern and implacable task master. God was easily displeased and only accessed through the intermediary person of a priest. God was viewed as being aloof as he sat on high peering down on us.
To say God is Love, given her personal circumstances as well as the prevailing thought of her time is noteworthy. For Julian, God expressed in spirit as both our mother and father and she spoke of experiencing a deep and profound love, personally, without the need of an intermediary. She wrote of God's love in terms of joy and compassion.
For part of the time she resided in her cell, Julian had a cat as a companion and is often depicted in drawings with her feline friend.
In the Anglican and Lutheran churches, Julian's Feast Day is celebrated on May 8.
The Roman Catholic Church honors her on May 13.
And all of us can celebrate her life any day.