by Father Richard Sorfleet
The BBC recently reported on the erection of a 'helter-skelter' slide inside Norwich [UK] cathedral to attract visitors. Amusements are nothing new with Rochester cathedral having been at one time turned into a mini-putt golf course. Yet Norwich's fame as a religious center of English Christianity does not need to rely on seaside distractions as one of the most famous of female medieval mystic writers Julian of Norwich lived there as an anchoress in the late 14th and early 15th C.
Almost nothing is known about Julian's life (c. 1342-c. 1413) not even her real name. As was the custom of anchorites, 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 (337-352).
What information we have about her is in her writing, The Revelations of Divine Love In this volume of which there are two versions -long and short, 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, 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, one of the masterpieces of Middle English literature and with proof as authored by a woman, 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 theologian to write in English. She reflects Christian optimism which is not dominated by sin and the Fall which was the more common theme of medieval and Reformation theology. Her spirituality is animated by grace and love.
Julian is commemorated on May 8th.
Most holy God, the ground of our beseeching,
who through your servant Julian
revealed the wonders of your love:
grant that as we are created in your nature and restored by your grace,
our wills may be so made one with yours
that we may come to see you face to face
and gaze on you for ever;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
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