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Little is known of the woman now called Julian of Norwich before she became an anchoressa woman called to a contemplative life closed away from other people, a woman called to a contemplative life closed away from other people. As part of her renunciation of her worldly life, she gave up her birth name and adopted the name Julian from the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England. Julian of Norwich lived in a small room, typical of anchorites and anchoresses, called a cell attached to the church. Unlike many anchoresses, who often had not taken religious orders, Julian may have been a Benedictine nun before beginning her reclusive life.
St. Julian’s Church, Norwich.
An anchoress’s cell typically had a window that opened into the church proper, allowing the recluse to listen to and participate in worship services. Another window would open into a small room where a servant, who took care of her worldly needs, lived, and a third window opened to the outside to allow the anchoress to converse with people who sought her spiritual guidance.
Lady Julian’s cell and the window opening into the church.
According to her own account, when Julian was thirty years old, she suffered a nearly fatal illness. As she recovered she experienced a series of visions. Deciding to become an anchoress, over the next several years she wrote two versions of her Showings of Love.
Julian of Norwich(click to see video)
“Revelations of Divine Love.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Calvin College. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/julian/revelations.html
Although her work bears various titles, Julian chose the word showinga word used in the Middle Ages to describe a manifestation, a revelation, a dream, or a vision, usually of a religious nature, a word used in the Middle Ages to describe a manifestation, a revelation, a dream, or a vision, usually of a religious nature. Her work encompasses her descriptions and explanations of the spiritual insight gained through a series of spiritual visions and visitations she experienced during her severe illness.
In contrast to the teachings of the medieval church and to commonly held beliefs of the Middle Ages, Julian’s writings emphasize the love and compassion of Christ; unlike most people of that era, Julian did not consider illness or suffering a punishment from God but a means of becoming close to God. Rather than emphasizing the fear of damnation in the next world, Julian hoped that all people would be saved from Hell and would receive the blessing of eternal life with God. Also, Julian metaphorically referred to God as both Father and Mother, in opposition to the medieval Church’s paternalistic view of God as Father.
In one of her more well-known passages, Julian describes holding a hazelnut in the palm of her hand and realizing three things from the experience: 1. that God made it; 2. that God loves it; 3. that God keeps it. Perhaps the most recognized quotation from her work is her saying, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
The British Library provides a digitized view of a medieval manuscript which includes Julian’s work.