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Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich (1342-1417) was a fourteenth century English mystic and the author of the Sixteen revelations of divine love.  Probably a Benedictine nun, she spent most of the years of her life as an anchoress (a nun living in seclusion and committed solely to prayer and meditation) at the Carrow Priory in Norwich.   In her thirtieth year, Julian became gravely ill and evidently had (to use the modern terminology) a near-death experience.  During a single day in May 1373 she experienced sixteen visions (or “shewings,” as she called them). 

Julian of Norwich

Julian contemplated these visions for twenty years, during which she reports that she gained a greater understanding of them, and then set to writing the above-mentioned tome.  In her own words (translated into modern English), “And from the time that [the vision] was shown, I desired often to know what our Lord's meaning was. And fifteen years and more afterward I was answered in my spiritual understanding, thus: ‘Would you know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Keep yourself therein and you shall know and understand more in the same. But you shall never know nor understand any other thing, forever.’  Thus I was taught that love was our Lord's meaning. And I saw quite clearly in this and in all, that before God made us, he loved us, which love was never slaked nor ever shall be. And in this love he has done all his work, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us. And in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had a beginning. But the love wherein he made us was in him with no beginning. And all this shall be seen in God without end …”

Dame Julian’s writings (along with those of such other late medieval female mystics as Saints Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila) on the purpose underlying God’s relationship with His creation have been a source of controversy for centuries and, in our own day, have contributed to a Christian theology of feminine attributes of God.  (Saint Teresa described God’s love for His creation in profoundly sexual terms, not that uncommon a practice in those years but one which occasionally and, perhaps, unnecessarily has scandalized some modern readers.)

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