On May 8, the church celebrates the Feast of Dame Julian of Norwich, a 15th-century English anchoress, mystic, and writer.
Born sometime around 1342, during the years of the second plague pandemic or Black Death, little is known about Julian’s early life, even her name. When she became an anchoress (a woman who withdraws from secular life for religious purposes), she took the name “Julian” because her cell was built onto the wall of the church of St. Julian in Norwich. The church is believed to have been named, originally, for either St. Julian the Hospitaller or St. Julian of Le Mans.
At the age of 30, Julian suffered a grave illness, and on what appeared to be her deathbed, she experienced a series of visions of Christ, or “showings.” When she recovered, she wrote a book about these visions, Revelations of Divine Love, which has also become known as the Short Text. This remains the earliest known book written in English by a woman. Several decades later, she began work on a second book, further exploring the meanings of her visions, which is known as the Long Text.
As an anchoress, Julian lived a solitary life, never leaving her cell. Her meals were brought to her, and she kept a small garden inside a high wall. Aside from listening through a curtained window to those who came to seek her counsel, she lived in complete isolation – although popular belief is that she kept a cat, and in art, she is often depicted with her cat.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”— Revelations of Divine Love.
Collect for Julian of Norwich
Lord God, in your compassion you granted to the Lady Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Holy Women, Holy Men, p. 363).