On this day: Julian of Norwich

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day, in "the year of our Lord 1373", "these revelations were shown to a simple unlettered creature".

On May 13, Julian of Norwich, aged 30, "began receiving visions--what she later called 'sixteen showings'--that revealed to her the reality of the love of God. When she wrote those down, they became the first English-language book every written by a woman".

-- Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography, by Amy Frykholm, Paraclete Press, 2010, Back Cover.

"Thomas Merton once wrote: 'Julian is without doubt one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices. She gets greater and greater in my eyes as I grow older and whereas in the old days I used to be crazy about St. John of the Cross, I would not exchange him now for Julian if you gave me the world and the Indies and all the Spanish mystics rolled up in one bundle. I think that Julian of Norwich is with Newman the greatest English theologian."

-- The Complete Julian of Norwich, by Father John-Julian, OJN, Paraclete Press, 2009.

"When we consider what happened during her life in England, the parallels with our own time present themselves with awesome clarity. She saw the assassination of a king and an archbishop; she saw the nation-wide rioting of the Peasants' Rebellion (and the harsh suppression of that movement--especially by her own military bishop Henry le Despenser of Norwich). In her lifetime, she lived through at least three sieges of the massive Pestilence that struck East Anglia and killed over half of the population. She saw the beginning of what came to be called the Hundred Years War between England and France. She saw the firm rock of the papacy come crashing down . . . . She watched the continuing degeneration of the monasteries . . . . the results of the moral collapse of the Franciscan movement . . . the rise of England's first heretics in the persons of Oxford's John Wycliff and his later Lollard followers. (And, if my tentative identification of her has any accuracy, she even saw the murder of her own young husband.)" Page 5.

For a description of Julian's anchorhold, see page 38. Search term: domestic habits. For Julian's teachings on God as Mother, see page 406. Search term: Mother.

In a comment on Julian's vision of a little thing the size of a hazel nut, Fr. John-Julian says:

"Certainly the most popular of all Julian's images, and shown in several iconic portrayals of her. 'The size of a hazel nut' was, in fact, a term used in cooking (and still in use in Europe): 'Take a bit of butter the size of a hazel nut . . .' (or a walnut or a pecan). What is emphasized is its diminutiveness. (An interesting note: When the Globe Theater was rebuilt on its original site in London in the twentieth century, excavators found thousands and thousands of hazel nut shells at the site of the ancient theater: apparently the hazel nut had been like our modern popcorn)." Page 76.

Fr. John-Julian's book is wonderful. Notice the Customer Reviews on the Amazon page, including the enthusiastic one by Anne Rice.

For much more on Julian of Norwich, click here for Julia Bolton Holloway's web site. Scroll down an inch to see the portion of Julian's manuscript where she says: "And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut , lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, 'What may this be?' And it was answered generally thus,'It is all that is made.' I marvelled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nought for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God."

Click here for Holloway's "Julian and Judaism", just one of hundreds of fascinating entries on the web site. See, e.g., the bibliography, and Professor Holloway's vita.

Click here for images of Julian of Norwich.

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