JULIAN OF NORWICH The Book of Margery Kempe chapter 18

Julian of Norwich (1342-{1416-1423}), referred to as Dame Julian by Margery Kempe, was an anchoress attached to the church of St. Julian and St. Edward in Norwich. An anchoress in medieval times was a woman who separated herself from society in order to devote her life to penance and prayer in solitude. Anchoress are similar to hermits, but their location was invariably within populated communities, not the desert or forest location of the traditional hermit. These women could be members of religious orders but they also could be solitary individuals who chose to live an ascetic life marked by permanent enclosure in a building or part of a building (an anchorage or anchorhold) attached to a religious foundation. The highly popular guide for the female anchorite, the 13th-century Ancrene Wisse, outlined a liturgical day with a series of prayers, some in the vernacular, more simple than that of the Benedictine rule, and gave many rules for conduct. Chief among them was scrupulous observation of chastity and limited contact with the outside world. Their male counterparts are known as anchorites.

Little is known of Julian's background. When she was extremely sick, she described receiving a vision after contemplating the cross for an extended period of time. The vision was of Christ’s own suffering. She recovered from her illness and began twenty years of meditation on this vision. Her book the Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, that detailed the nature of her spiritual revelations is the result of this time. She compared God’s love for humans to that between a mother and child. According to Julian, it is impossible to understand the self without first seeking to understand God. She was very influential in the 15th century, and visited by Margery Kempe. Modern scholarship has identified her as an important medieval mystic.

SOURCES See anchorite's cell attached to the south choir of All Saints Church, King's Lynn (KL38b). See Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works, trans. Anne Savage and Nicholas Watson. Paulist Press: Mahwah, NJ, 1991; "Anchorages" in Roberta Gilchrist. Gender and Material Culture: The Archeology of Medieval Women ( Routledge: London, 1994 [paper 1997]), 177-181; Julian of Norwich, Showings, trans. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh, pref. Jean Leclercq ( Paulist Press: Mahwah, NJ); Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, trans. Clifton Wolters ( Penguin Books: New York, 1966).

Excerpts from the Revelations of Divine Love: Julian of Norwich: Reflections on Selected Texts by Austin Cooper, O.M.I. (Twenty-Third Publications, Mystic, CT, 1986), 14, 102.

And at once I saw the red blood trickling down from under the garland, hot, fresh, and plentiful, just as it did at the time of his passion when the crown of thorns was pressed on to the blessed head of God-and-Man, who suffered for me. And I had a strong, deep conviction that it was he himself and none other that showed me this vision.

At the same moment the Trinity filled me full of heartfelt joy, and I knew that all eternity was like this for those who attain heaven. For this Trinity is God, and God the Trinity; the Trinity is our Maker and Keeper, our eternal Lover, joy and bliss—all through our Lord Jesus Christ. This was shown me in the first revelation, and, indeed, in them all; for where Jesus is spoken of, the blessed Trinity is always to be understood as I see it (Chapter 4).

So Jesus Christ who sets good against evil is our real Mother. We owe our being to him—and this is the essence of motherhood! --and all the delightful, loving protection which ever follows. God is as really our Mother as he is our Father…

The human mother will suckle her child with her own milk, but our beloved Mother, Jesus, feeds us with himself, and with the most tender courtesy does it by means of the Blessed Sacrament, the precious food of all true life (Chapters 59, 60).

back to the top