Little is known of the early life of the mystic and spiritual writer whom later generations have known as Dame Julian, except for the probable date of her birth (1354). Her own writings in the Revelations of Divine Love are concerned only with her visions, or “showings”, that she experienced when she was thirty years old.
On the seventh day of a grave illness, after she had already received the last rites, she was suddenly freed from all pain. She then had fifteen (or sixteen) visions of the Passion of Christ which brought her great peace and joy. “From that time I desired oftentimes to learn what was our Lord’s meaning,” she wrote, “and fifteen years after I was answered in ghostly [spiritual] understanding: ‘Wouldst thou learn the Lord’s meaning in this thing? Learn it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it thee? Love. What showed he thee? Love. Wherefore showed it he? For Love. Hold thee therein and thou shalt learn and know more in the same.’ Thus it was I learned that Love was our Lord’s meaning.”
Julian had long desired three gifts from God: “the mind of his passion, bodily sickness in youth, and three wounds – of contrition, of compassion, of will-full longing toward God.” Her illness brought her the first two wounds, which then passed from her mind. The third, “will-full longing” (divinely inspired longing), never left her.
She became an anchoress at Norwich soon after her recovery from illness, living in a small dwelling attached to the Church of St Julian (by which name she became known to later generations). Even in her lifetime, she was famed as a mystic and spiritual counselor and was visited frequently by clerics and lay persons, including the famous mystic Margery Kempe. Kempe says of Julian: “This anchoress was expert in knowledge of our Lord and could give good counsel. I spent much time with her talking of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Lady Julian’s book, Revelations of Divine Love, is a tender and beautiful exposition of God’s eternal and all-embracing love, showing how his charity toward humanity is exhibited in the Passion of our Lord. Again and again she referred to Christ as “our courteous Lord”. Many have found strength in the words the Lord had given her: “I can make all things well; I will make all things well; I shall make all things well; and thou canst see for thyself that all manner of things shall be well.”
adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
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.
The propers for the commemoration of Dame Julian of Norwich are published on the Lectionary Page website.