I was introduced to one of the great treasures of English medieval spirituality (sadly neglected by most Catholics) the Revelations of Divine Love by the anchoress and mystic Julian of Norwich when I took a course in the fourteenth century mystics at Blackfriars in Oxford. Fr Simon Tugwell OP was the brilliantly witty and erudite lecturer.
The Lady Juliana was born about 1342, and when she was thirty years old, she became gravely ill and was expected to die. Then, on the seventh day, the medical crisis passed, and she had a series of fifteen visions, or “showings,” in which she was led to contemplate the Passion of Christ. These brought her great peace and joy. She became an anchoress, living in a small hut near to the church in Norwich, where she devoted the rest of her life to prayer and contemplation of the meaning of her visions. The results of her meditations she wrote in a book called Revelations of Divine Love.
Her book is a tender meditation on God’s eternal and all-embracing love, as expressed to us in the Passion of Christ. She describes seeing God holding a tiny thing in his hand, like a small brown nut, which seemed so fragile and insignificant that she wondered why it did not crumble before her eyes. She understood that the thing was the entire created universe, which is as nothing compared to its Creator, and she was told, “God made it, God loves it, God keeps it.”
She was concerned that sometimes when we are faced wiith a difficult moral decision, it seems that no matter which way we decide, we will have acted from motives that are less then completely pure, so that neither decision is defensible. She finally wrote: “It is enough to be sure of the deed. Our courteous Lord will deign to redeem the motive.”
A matter that greatly troubled her was the fate of those who through no fault of their own had never heard the Gospel. She never received a direct answer to her questions about them, except to be told that whatever God does is done in Love, and therefore “that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Her book is considered to be one of the first books written in English by a woman and her writings were a great influence on T.S.Eliot and she is quoted in Little Gidding–the last of his Four Quartets. If you’re looking for some good spiritual reading try Mother Julian and Eliot’s masterpiece.
The cell of the anchoress Julian of Norwich
The church of St Julian in Norwich was bombed during the second world war. When they began to rebuild it they discovered the foundations of the anchoresses’ cell which had been destroyed at Henry VIII’s revolution. The cell was re-built along with the church and it has become a pilgrimage site for those who have been touched by the life and writings of this obscure, but dear saint.