Loyola University Chicago

Catholic Studies


Julian of Norwich: Mystic, Anchoress, and Theologian

Featured Intellectual -Julian of Norwich
c. 1416

“But for I am a woman should I therefore live that I should not tell you the goodness of God?” –Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love


Though we do not know her actual name, Lady Julian of Norwich is known by St. Julian’s church in Norwich, England where she spent most of her life as an anchoress. Considered a great mystic and teacher, Julian’s primary contribution to the Catholic Intellectual Heritage was her Shewings/Showings later translated as Revelations of Divine Love. These reflections are based on her series of sixteen visions of Christ Jesus on May 8, 1373. These writings are thought to be the earliest surviving book written in English by a woman.

 In the Short Text and Long Text of Revelations of Divine Love, Julian meditates on the “fittingness” of sin to bring people to a self-knowledge of the need of God in their lives. She also focuses strongly on the love and omnibenevolence of God. Most characteristic of her mystical theology is her likening of divine love to motherly love. Julian famously spoke of Jesus as a wise mother and counselled others to approach Christ as a child would approach his/her mother. Today, Julian and her writings continue to have an effect on those studying Christian mystical theology. The church celebrates her feast on the 13th of May.


On a Theme from Julian’s Chapter XX

by Denise Levertov

Six hours outstretched in the sun, yes,
hot wood, the nails, blood trickling
into the eyes, yes—
but the thieves on their neighbor crosses
survived till after the soldiers
had come to fracture their legs, or longer.
Why single out the agony? What’s
a mere six hours?
Torture then, torture now,
the same, the pain’s the same,
immemorial branding iron,
electric prod.
Hasn’t a child
dazed in the hospital ward they reserve
for the most abused, known worse?
The air we’re breathing,
these very clouds, ephemeral billows
languid upon the sky’s
moody ocean, we share
with women and men who’ve held out
days and weeks on the rack—
and in the ancient dust of the world
what particles
of the long tormented,
what ashes.

But Julian’s lucid spirit leapt
to the difference:
perceived why no awe could measure
that brief day’s endless length,
why among all the tortured
One only is “King of Grief.”

The oneing, she saw, the oneing
with the Godhead 
opened Him utterly
to the pain of all minds, all bodies
—sands of the sea, of the desert—
from first beginning
to last day. The great wonder is
that the human cells of His flesh and bone
didn’t explode
when utmost Imagination rose
in that flood of knowledge. Unique
in agony, Infinite strength, Incarnate,
empowered Him to endure
inside of history,
through those hours when he took to Himself
the sum total of anguish and drank
even the lees of that cup:

within the mesh of the web, Himself
woven within it, yet seeing it,
seeing it whole. 
Every sorrow and desolation

He saw, and sorrowed in kinship.



Julian Centre http://juliancentre.org/about/about-julian-of-norwich.html

Julian of Norwich, Showings, Paulist Press 1978

Poetry: https://thevalueofsparrows.com/2013/03/15/poetry-on-a-theme-from-julians-chapter-xx-by-denise-levertov/