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st.Julian of Norwich

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  st.Julian of Norwich

Feast Day : May 13

 

 

Also known as: Julian; Juliana of Norwich

 

 

Little is known about the life of this Benedictine recluse, whose mystical revelations on the love of God, redemption, prayer, the Incarnation and divine consolation made her one of the most important writers of her day in England. She was born in 1342 or 1343; no records exist to show location, family, upbringing or education. She probably entered a religious order at a young age. At the time of her mystical experience, she was a solitary anchoress living in a cell adjoining the Church of St. Julian in Conisford, Norwich. The church was opposite an Augustinian friary that no longer exists. This church belonged to the Benedictines of Carrow, and so it is possible that she had spent some time as a Benedictine nun before embarking on the solitary life of an anchoress, but the evidence is insufficient. Evidence also is lacking of the date of her reclusion, whether before or after the revelations, and of the exact date of her death. Julian evidently was well-educated, for her writing rivals that of Chaucer, and she demonstrated an extensive knowledge of the Latin Vulgate Bible. She also seemed to be familiar with other Latin manuscripts circulated among the monasteries. Julian’s 16 revelations occurred during an apparent near-death experience. She left a detailed record of these revelations and a small amount of information about her life in her only book, Showings, also called Revelations of Divine Love. According to Julian, early in life she yearned to show her devotion to God through her own suffering. She desired three graces: to recollect the Passion, to have a bodily sickness, and to be given three wounds of contrition, compassion and “longing with my will for God.” She prayed ardently to God that in her 30th year, she would be stricken with a bodily sickness so severe it would seem mortal to her and all around her. She would be given the last rites and experience every kind of physical and spiritual pain, and assault by devils (believed to happen during dying). However, she asked that God not let her actually die. Rather, she would be miraculously saved at the last moment, purified through her suffering and thus better able to serve God in the rest of her life. On May 30, 1373, when she was halfway through her 30th year, Julian was stricken with a severe illness. She lay in bed suffering for three days and three nights. On the fourth night she was given last rites. She lingered on for another three days and nights. On the third night, she felt she truly was going to die, and was reluctant to do so. By daybreak, the lower portion of her body felt “dead.” She was propped up in bed with her mother, curate and parson present. The curate had brought a cross, which the parson placed so that Julian could gaze upon it in her last moments. By then her eyes were fixed in a stare and she could not speak. As she looked at the cross, her sight began to fail. The entire room became dark and full of devils—but a mysterious light shone upon the cross. Julian then felt her upper body die away. She lost control of her arms and had great difficulty breathing. Just as she felt herself on the point of death, all pain left her, and her revelations began. She shouted out, “Blessed be the Lord!” Julian was granted her desire to experience the Passion, which she did in vivid detail. She beheld the bleeding and dying Christ. She saw the crown of thorns upon the head of the crucified Jesus, and a shower of dark red pellets of blood running down from it like a summer rain, until the entire chamber was filled with blood. The 16 visions and their teachings sprang from Jesus crowned by thorns. They occurred as she followed the blood, which first rushed to hell, where she felt the devil clutching her throat, smelled his breath and saw his face and claws. The realm of the damned was dark with devils all around. Then the blood rushed upward to a high mountain cathedral (the heart), where Christ sat on a throne (coming to live in the heart). This cosmos was filled with light. Her visions took three forms: “bodily,” which probably meant perceived with the physical senses; “bodily and yet more spiritual,” which probably meant a combination of sensory and inner perception; and “spiritual,” which probably referred to an inner visioning seen with the spiritual eye only. The visions dealt with God’s creation of, and love for, humanity, how the relationship with God persists despite the shortcomings and sins of humanity, and how redemption is achieved through Christ. Julian perceived the feminine, nurturing side of God: “And so I saw that God rejoices that he is our Father, and God rejoices that he is our Mother, and God rejoices that he is our true spouse, and that our soul is his beloved wife.” Julian saw three properties of God, life, love and light: “in life is wonderful familiarity, in love is gentle courtesy, and in light is endless nature.” Some of her most penetrating insights deal with prayer. For Julian, the most sublime expression of the relationship between humanity and God is contemplative prayer, in which there is a complete surrender and trust. She said that prayer “one-eths,” or unites, the soul with God. What we pray for in “rightful prayer” springs not from us but from God: first he makes us to wish it, then he makes us to beseech it. Thus, how could we not obtain that for which we pray? In other words, God motivates us to pray for that which he wishes to manifest in the world. The fruit and end of all prayer is to be “united and like to the Lord in all things.” The prayer of thanksgiving enables the power of the Lord’s word to enter the soul and enliven the heart. Two versions of her book exist: a short text, usually called Showings, which sets forth the fundamentals of her experience, and a long text, usually called Revelations of Divine Love, which evidently was written much later, for it has more detail, allegories and insights. It is evident that Julian reached a full understanding of her experience by 1388. She continued to receive “inward instructions” about its meaning. She was led to move deeper into her religious life, from contemplation to solitude within her cell. In her writings, she does not present her revelations systematically; images and ideas recur and lead to one another in a way that has its own inner order. She interprets all her images in terms of the Scriptures and Christian theology. Certain themes are typically hers: Though she acknowledges the insignificance of everything else compared to God (“all that is made” is shown to her like “a little thing, the size of a hazelnut”), yet she also maintains, with Genesis, the goodness of all He has made. His works “are wholly good,” and all that is made “exists . . . because God loves it.” Julian’s revelations are shamanic in nature, involving such hallmarks as the “initiatory” illness, descent to the underworld, exposure to horror and suffering, and spiritual rebirth. After her experience, people from all over were drawn to her, though she confined herself to a cell. She had a great reputation as a healer and counselor. Margery Kempe, who was born in 1373, the year of the revelations, recorded her visit to Julian in about 1403 for spiritual counsel. Julian, however, did not confide her revelations to Kempe. Her handwritten manuscript received scant circulation prior to the mid-17th century. It was her own intent that this be so. She recognized her revelations as of “exalted divinity and wisdom,” and prayed that they would come into the hands only of those who desired to be the faithful lovers of God, dedicated to the virtuous life and wholesome understanding of the depths of the mystery of God. The long text was rescued from obscurity by the Augustine Baker school of exiled English Benedictine monks in France and the Netherlands. The lack of biographical data on Julian has prevented her beatification; nonetheless, she is called Blessed

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