Blessed Julian of Norwich Feast Day — “All is Well”
May 13 is the unofficial Feast Day of Julian of Norwich, the English mystic and saint of the Middle Ages. We cannot be sure of her birth and dates but she lived approximately from 1342-1416. Her lifespan and location were situated in times of great distress in England. Three waves of the Black Death had swept over England and Norwich was particularly hard hit as it was a commercial center, especially of the wool-textile trade with the Netherlands, which brought with it the bacteria from the Continent. Julian was an anchoress at the church of St. Julian. We have a historical record of people visiting her for advice and prayers. We do not know why she was not canonized by the Catholic Church. One reason is likely that she left behind relatively few writings. Another is likely because her writings contained teachings that would have been considered controversial by some scholars. Teachings about Christ as mother and that God sees our sins as a way for us to learn about ourselves would have offended or worried many clerics of her day.
In 1373 we read that Julian had 16 visions in which she was saw and heard revelations related to God, creation, evil, sin, salvation, and the human person. She recorded these revelations at the time and then some 20 years later produced a longer version, called the Long Text, in which she integrated the many thoughts communicated to her by Christ about the meaning of the 16 visions and locutions.
Julian is optimistic in a time of when people questioned the goodness of life and how God regarded them. She recorded that Christ said to her that “All will be well and all is well.” She explains how all can and will be well. Julian also recounts wonderfully warm images of us and Christ who holds us tenderly and celebrates us as his “crown.”
Another reason to celebrate this great saint is that she is believed to be the first woman to write a book in the English language. She is also a pioneer, with Chaucer, in creating literature in Middle English. After many years of Norman control of England, the French and their language were driven out. The English language had degenerated into a language of the lower classes with a very poor vocabulary. Julian is responsible for creating many new and very useful words to articulate her scholarly theological presentations and to give colorful descriptions of what she saw in the visions.
Julian’s texts, which she referred to as the “shewings” (Showings in contemporary libraries), are very inspiring and provide satisfying answers to many questions which Christians have.
Image of Stained Glass Window borrowed from Satucket Lectionary entry for the Feast of Julian of Norwich