St. or Dame Julian of Norwich was born around 1342 in England. She’s a beloved mystic who experienced powerful visions of God, anchoress and pastoral counselor of St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, contemplative, and author of SIXTEEN REVELATIONS OF DIVINE LOVE — the first book written in the English language by a woman. She’s celebrated as a saint in the Anglican (including Episcopal), and Lutheran Churches on May 8. Due to popular devotion, she is honored as Blessed in the Roman Catholic Church on May 13. These feast days are the probable dates of her visions in 1373. She died some time after 1416.

Aside from her written meditations, little is known of Julian. That much historians agree upon. Not much agreeing goes on after that. For one, some historians surmise that Julian took the name or was named for the church in which she became anchoress. The patron saint of St. Julian’s Church in Norwich is St. Julien of le Mans. It’s  unlikely she would take the name of a French male saint. In fact, it was a common practice for parishioners to rename their church in honor of their anchorites instead of the other way around. Further, Julian or Juliana was a common female name in medieval England. So it’s likely that her name and the name of the church were the same due to coincidence.

Or perhaps, according to my theory of the connection between saints and those that have the same name, she chose that church for her last home because she had the same name. BUZZ! Totally Made up Conjecture Alert!! I’d like to believe this, but there’s no proof.

Another tidbit I’d love to believe is that Julian had a cat. There is absolutely no proof of her having a cat. However, there’s proof in the anchorite’s handbook, ANCRENE WISSE, that a cat was the only pet allowed to an anchorite AND there were a lot of rats around in medieval England, so a cat would be considered a necessity. Therefore, she probably had a cat.

You can see how this goes. My version of Julian’s life story is a cross-referenced compilation of gleanings from historical sources and her own writing. Inaccurate as it might be, I hope you find her life and lessons as inspirational as I do.

Julian was born in 1342. To put it in a time frame, she lived about 100 years after St. Francis of Assisi and 220 years before Shakespeare. It was the medieval age. Middle English was developing from the commoners’ street language to the national language in order to separate from French and Latin influences. She was probably born to a devout family of medium social standing and income dedicated to helping the church aid those in need.

When she was six years old, the Black Death or Pestilence struck. Black rats infested with infected fleas came to England aboard ships. When the rats died, the fleas jumped to humans and carried with them Bubonic, Pneumonic, and Septicemial Plague. This first plague lasted three years and killed more than half of Norwich’s population. Julian and her mother were among those that survived with immunity.

When it was over, people in Norwich slowly began to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Julian and her mother attended church, helped with the poor, and prayed. Some time in her early teens, Julian prayed for three gifts including sickness:

In this sickness, I desired to have all kinds of pains, bodily and spiritual, that I would have if I were to die with all the fear and temptations of the fiend – except the outpassing of the soul. – Chapter 2 of her Revelations

She requested also to be with Jesus like some of the Apostles and Blessed Mother Mary when He suffered and died on the Cross. Finally, she asked for three wounds — bodily sight, spiritual sight, and words formed in her understanding. In other words, vision, insight, and comprehension.

When she prayed for these gifts, she always added:

Lord, thou knowest what I wish – if it be Thy will that I have it, grant it to me, and if it be not Thy will, Good Lord, be not displeased, for I want nothing except what thou wilt. — Chapter 2

After a while she forgot about these wishes. She may have married and bore a child or two during her late teens as was the norm for her day.

In 1362 when Julian was 19 years old, the second plague struck killing mostly those who were not immune from previous exposure – the children.

Due to all the references to motherhood in her Revelations, historians believe that Julian did have children and that they died. Whether or not she was a mother, she was heartbroken at the immense loss nonetheless. She and her mother did all they could for her church family. They nursed the sick, kept vigil, and prayed. Even so, people whom she loved dearly ended up with other bodies in a

bloated heap of stinking mire. — Chapter 64

Julian entered a time of great despair:

. . . when I had a great longing and desire of God’s gift to be delivered of this world and of this life. For oft time I beheld the woe that is here and the wellness and blessed being that is there. — Chapter 64

When the second plague ended, and people again began to rebuild their lives, Julian remained terribly sad and confused. In her lifetime, the Church taught that suffering was caused by sin. The topic of many sermons was that someone in town was sinful and caused the plague that killed the children. People roamed the streets beating themselves as a form of penitence for the whole town. Although Julian continued her good works for her parish family for the next 10 years, she floundered in a state of anguish unable to understand how the God she so loved could punish the innocent for the sinful acts of others.

A new life and understanding began for her when she became ill in early May of 1373. Two days after she received last rites as she was staring up toward heaven, the curate of her church shoved a crucifix in her face. With all her effort, she lowered her eyes to look at it. Jesus looked back. He moved, He talked, He bled, He suffered, He died, and He loved.

During these amazing visions, Julian saw with her eyes, she heard His words, and she understood. Along with her visions, she was given the gift of memory. The visions did not fade for her. It’s believed she dictated the short version of her Revelations to a scribe soon after her recovery. She then spent the next 20 years or so, contemplating, praying, and studying (perhaps with an Augustinian friar) so that she could write the longer version herself and include deeper explanations of each sighting for her “even Christians” (fellow Christians, neighbors, and friends).

She used images from her daily life to help explain her visions:

Also in this revelation He showed a little thing, the size of a hazel nut in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: “What can this be?”

And it was generally answered thus: “It is all that is made.”

In this little thing, I saw three characteristics, the first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it, and the third is that God helps it. — Chapter 5

In medieval England people referred to the size of the hazel nut in cooking as in “Add a bit of rock salt the size of a hazel nut.”

So all of creation is the size of a hazel nut in the palm of God’s hand and

He has made us only for Himself and restored us by His blessed Passion and ever keeps us in His blessed love. — Chapter 5

She was granted a vision, insight, and understanding of the Trinity deeper than words can show. And from that she showed us, her “dearworthy even Christians,” how to pray:

And we pray to Him by His sweet Mother’s love who bore Him, but all the help we have from her is His goodness.

And in the same way, all the help that we have from special saints and all the blessed company of Heaven – the dearworthy love and endless friendship that we have from them – is from His goodness.

Wherefore it pleases Him that we seek Him and worship Him by intermediaries, understanding and recognizing that He is the goodness of all. — Chapter 6

Go ahead and pray for intercession from the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints whom love us remembering that it’s God from which all goodness comes.

For the goodness of God is the highest prayer, and it comes down to the lowest part of our need. It vitalizes our soul and brings it to life and makes it grown in grace and virtue. Therefore, we can with His grace and His help remain in spiritual contemplation, with everlasting wonder at this high surpassing, inestimable love which Almighty God has for us of His goodness. –Chapter 6

It’s okay to pray without words in wonder of God and His love for us.

For all things, the beholding, and the loving of the Creator makes the soul seem less in its own sight, and most fills it with reverent fear and true humility, with an abundance of love for its fellow Christians. — Chapter 6

Let God’s love fill you up and overflow out to others.

In chapter 8 we get to something that troubled Julian. I almost left this part out because it troubles me as well, but what I like about it is that Julian admitted her inability to understand God:

He created everything for love and by the same love everything is protected and shall be without end; God is everything that is good, as I see it, and the goodness that everything has, it is He. If something is good, that thing is God.

God loves all, goodness in all, even sin. — Chapter 8

Julian explained that God allows sin and suffering to occur because it’s ultimately good. She cannot understand this paradox — if God is so powerful and loves us so much, why doesn’t he stop sin or bad stuff before it happens?

But she consented to trust God,

“And I wished no longer to wonder at this, but I looked to our Lord for what He wished to show.” – Chapter 8

In Chapter 13 she learned that “God scorns the fiend” and that sin has no power.

In Chapter 14 she wrote,

God wants us to know that He protects us equally surely in woe as in well.

God is with us at all times, in good and bad.

Further, in Chapter 17 as she saw and felt Jesus’s Passion on the Cross, she humbly regretted ever having prayed for this experience:

How can any pain be more to me than to see Him who is all my life, all my bliss, all my joy, suffer?

In Chapter 20 she turned to Mary at the Cross:

Inasmuch as Our Lady grieved for His pains, just so much He suffered grief for her sorrow.

God is always with us in our woe. He suffers for us and with us.

In Chapter 21 she witnessed:

At the moment of death, He changed His blessed Countenance. The changing of His blessed countenance changed mine, and I was glad and as merry as possible.

Julian was given an experience of the Joy that is the immediate result of the Passion – the transformation from human suffering and pain to bliss and glory.

Later, she asked God again, if sin (and bad stuff) is from God and God is all Goodness, why does He allow it? His answer implied that it will all make sense to us someday:

Sin is inevitable,

but all shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of all things shall be well. — Chapter 27

Julian did not understand, but through faith, she accepted.

There is something about this concept that has resonated with folks throughout the ages. It’s been quoted and paraphrased as often as lines from Shakespeare; and sometimes, like Shakespearean quotes, to the point of forgetting the original source. Yet, it’s a concept that loses nothing in repetition, misquotes, or reworkings. My favorite is its use in the movie Shakespeare in Love:

“Don’t worry. It’ll all turn out well.”

“How will it?”

“I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”

It took over 20 years for Julian to understand her visions to the point when she was ready to write the second more comprehensive version of her Revelations. She didn’t have the time she needed to write as the running of her own home was labor intensive and the good works she did with her church were an integral part of her life and not something she could chose not to do.

It’s likely that she met with the women of the church for prayer group, and they discussed her visions as well as how each of them tried to balance their busy home lives and parish caretaking with their desire to lead more prayerful lives. They helped Julian see that the best way for her to complete her writing in safety (at the time it was illegal to write religious texts in English) was to become an anchoress. (Her beloved mother, who was with her during her illness and visions, had passed.) Julian petitioned the bishop, and he granted her permission.

There is a written record of four bequests made to support Julian in her life as the anchoress of St. Julian’s Church. But the real support came from her friends and parishioners. They brought her food and other necessities, and she prayed for and counseled them.

She lived in a room with three windows – one opened to a servant’s room though which food, necessities, and the chamber pot were passed; one small opening into the church so that she could listen to the services and receive Communion; and one veiled opening out to a small porch with a chair so that she could listen to, pray with, and counsel parishioners, townspeople, and travelers. (Including Margery Kempe whose description of their visit in her own book placed Julian in time and place thereby proving her existence. I LOVE when saintly lives interact like this.)

When she completed her Revelations written with homemade ink on goatskin parchment bound with wood and covered in leather, she passed it through the window into the hands of a scribe or a nun from the nearby convent. There are four copies remaining, the most comprehensive text seems to have been copied quickly for someone’s personal use. Translations remain in print and are read throughout the world today.

She died some time after 1416 and was buried in an unmarked grave as was the way of anchorites and anchoresses.

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. – Collect, Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints

For More Info:


THE COMPLETE JULIAN OF NORWICH by Fr. John-Julian, OJN, contains the entire Revelations with annotations and other biographical and historical information.

A CONTEMPLATIVE BIOGRAPHY: JULIAN OF NORWICH by Amy Frykholm, an imaginative biography based on extensive historical study. Her Selected Bibliography contains many intriguing titles.


THE DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis is a science fiction time travel novel that delves deep into the Plague. It’s a great story and explains everything you’ve never thought to ask about the Black Death.

JULIAN’S CAT: AN IMAGINARY HISTORY OF A CAT OF DESTINY by Mary E. Little – a picture book published in 1989. It’s out of print but available used or hopeful at your local library.


Confession: In order to meet my deadline and run my home as needed, I didn’t finish reading Julian’s work. And as there is so much more that I didn’t even touch upon, none of us can go wrong with further study of St. Julian of Norwich and her Revelations. She offers us a path to peace and faithful understanding, with or without her dearworthy cat.

In honor of the hazelnut-sized creation that God holds in the palm of His hand, I offer this bread made with ingredients that would have been available in England during the Late Middle Ages:


¾ cup Grape-Nuts (barley/wheat nugget) Cereal

1 ¼ cups buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice

¾ cup honey

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons melted butter

½ cup whole wheat flour

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 apple, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)

½ cup hazelnuts, halved

Combine cereal and buttermilk in a small bowl. Let soak for ½ hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine salt, baking soda, and spices. Add honey, egg, vanilla, and buttermilk mixture. Stir thoroughly with large spoon.

Mix in melted butter. Gradually add whole wheat and all-purpose flour. Combine.

Add apple and hazelnuts. Stir.

Pour batter into a greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Bake at 375 degrees F for about one hour.

Insert toothpick in the middle of the loaf. It’s done when toothpick comes out clean or with only a few crumbs. Allow to cool a bit before serving.

(Originally posted on 6/5/2012 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger.)

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