By Tim Lambert
Her Early Life
Julian of Norwich 1342-1416 was a great Christian mystic and writer of the Middle Ages but little is known about her. It is a myth that women were unimportant in the Middle Ages. Some women like Julian certainly did have influence. However, we know very little about her life. Julian (also known as Juliana) was probably born in Norwich. She certainly spent most of her life there.
At that time Norwich was one of England’s largest and most important towns. It was a centre of the wool trade although during Julian’s lifetime the population was devastated by the plague. In the 14th century, Norwich had a population of about 10,000, which made it a big town by Medieval standards.
Julian described herself modestly as ‘a simple creature, unlettered’. However, she probably did have some education and some knowledge of theology. Julian was in her 70s when she died, which was unusual for that time.
Julian the Mystic
During an illness in 1373, Julian of Norwich had a series of profound visions, which she later wrote about. Julian also devoted the rest of her life to prayer. Julian was an anchoress. In the Middle Ages, an anchorite or anchoress was a person who devoted himself or herself to solitary prayer. (The word has nothing to do with anchors on ships, it comes from the Greek word anachoreo, which means to withdraw).
Julian lived in a room or cell attached to the Church of St Julian in Norwich. Her cell had 3 windows, one opened onto the church so she could receive communion. One enabled her to speak to her assistant. The third allowed ordinary people to seek her spiritual advice or ask for her prayers.
Julian is famous for her book Revelations of Divine Love. Julian had an optimistic faith. She is best known for her saying ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’ and she said ‘Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of his willingness’. Julian also said ‘God showed me something as small as a hazelnut in the palm of my hand’ She wondered what it was and God told her ‘It is all that is made’.
Julian also wrote about the ‘motherhood’ of God. She said ‘As truly as God is our father so truly God is our mother’. Julian also said ‘Between God and the soul there is no between’. Today Julian of Norwich is remembered as a Christian mystic.