Catholic Encyclopedia – Juliana of Norwich

Article

English mystic of the fourteenth century, author or recipient of the vision contained in the book known as the “Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love”.

The original form of her name appears to have been Julian. She was probably a Benedictine nun, living as a recluse in an anchorage of which traces still remain in the east part of the churchyard of Saint Julian in Norwich, which belonged to Carrow Priory.

According to her book, this revelation was “shewed” to her on 8 or 14 May (the readings differ), 1373, when she was thirty years and a half old. This would refer her birth to the end of 1342. Her statement, that “for twenty years after the time of this shewing, save three months, I had teaching inwardly”, proves that the book was not written before 1393. An early fifteenth-century manuscript, recently purchased for the British Museum from the Amherst Library, states that she “yet is on life, Anno Domini 1413″. It is probable that this is the manuscript cited by Francis Blomefield, the eigtheenth-century historian of Norfolk, and that a misreading of the date led to the statement that she was still living in 1442.

Attempts have been made to identify her with Lady Julian Lampet, the anchoress of Carrow, references concerning legacies to whom occur in documents from 1426 to 1478; but this is manifestly impossible. The newly-discovered manuscript differs considerably from the complete version hitherto known, of which it is a kind of condensation, lacking the beginning and the end. Only three, much later, manuscripts of the fuller text are known to exist. The earliest, in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris (from which the book was first edited by Serenus de Cressy in 1670), dates from the sixteenth century; the other two, both in the British Museum and not independent of each other, belong to the seventeenth. The better of the latter is evidently a copy of a much earlier original.

Whatever be their precise date, these “Revelations”, or “Shewings”, are the most perfect fruit of later medieval mysticism in England. Juliana described herself as a “simple creature unlettered” when she received them; but, in the years that intervened between the vision and the composition of the book, she evidently acquired some knowledge of theological phraseology, and her work appears to show the influence of Walter Hilton, as well as neo-Platonic analogies, the latter probably derived from the anonymous author of the “Divine Cloud of Unknowing”. There is one passage, concerning the place in Christ’s side for all mankind that shall be saved, which argues an acquaintance with the letters of Saint Catherine of Siena. The psychological insight with which she describes her condition, distinguishing the manner of her vision and recognizing when she has to deal with a mere delusion, is worthy of Saint Teresa. When seemingly at the point of death, in the bodily sickness for which she had prayed in order to renew her spiritual life, she passes into a trance while contemplating the crucifix, and has the vision of Christ’s suffering “in which all the shewings that follow be grounded and joined”.

The book is the record of twenty years’ meditation upon that one experience; for, “when the shewing, which is given for a time, is passed and hid, then faith keepeth it by grace of the Holy Ghost unto our lives end”. More than fifteen years later, she received “in ghostly understanding” the explanation, the key to all religious experience: “What? wouldest thou wit thy Lord’s meaning in this thing? Wit it well: Love was His meaning. Who sheweth it thee? Love. Wherefore sheweth He it thee? For love. Hold thee therein, thou shalt wit more in the same. But thou shalt never wit therein other without end.” With this illumination, the whole mystery of Redemption and the purpose of human life became clear to her, and even the possibility of sin and the existence of evil does not trouble her, but is made “a bliss by love”. This is the great deed, transcending our reason, that the Blessed Trinity shall do at the last day: “Thou shalt see thyself that all manner of thing shall be well.”

Like Saint Catherine, Juliana has little of the dualism of body and soul that is frequent in the mystics. God is in our “sensuality” as well as in our “substance”, and the body and the soul render mutual aid: “Either of them take help of other till we be brought up into stature, as kind worketh.” Knowledge of God and knowledge of self are inseparable: we may never come to the knowing of one without the knowing of the other. “God is more nearer to us than our own soul”, and “in falling and rising we are ever preciously kept in one love.” She lays special stress upon the “homeliness” and “courtesy” of God’s dealings with us, “for love maketh might and wisdom full meek to us.” With this we must correspond by a happy confidence; “failing of comfort” is the “most mischief” into which the soul can fall. In the Blessed Virgin the Lord would have all mankind see how they are loved. Throughout her revelation Juliana submits herself to the authority of the Church: “I yield me to our mother Holy Church, as a simple child oweth.”

MLA Citation

  • Edmund Gardner. “Julian of Norwich”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. Saints.SQPN.com. 16 April 2014. Web. 21 September 2014. <>