An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Julian of Norwich

(c. 1342-c. 1413). English female mystic and anchoress. Almost nothing is known about Julian's life, not even her real name. As was the custom of anchoresses and anchorites in the fourteenth century, she took the name Julian from the name of the church where she lived in a cell. The Norwich church was named for St. Julian, probably named after Pope Julian (337-352). The information we have about her is in her writing, The Revelations of Divine Love, also known as the Book of Showings. In this volume she explains that she was thirty years old when at the end of a grave illness she received fourteen revelations or “showings.” Later two other visions followed. In her fifties, Lady or Dame Julian wrote about the meaning of these showings. She described her struggles with sin as well as sin's effect on humanity and on personal relationship with God. The theme of her writings is the great love and compassion of God. She refers to God the Creator as father and mother and refers to the second person of the Trinity as mother. In the Revelations, Julian presents a vision of God in the feminine maternal role. She says God is mother, not simply like a mother. Julian has been called the first English woman of letters and the first English theologian to write in English. She reflects Christian optimism which is not dominated by sin and the Fall. Her spirituality is animated by grace and love. Julian is commemorated in the Episcopal calendar of the church year on May 8.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.