Juliana of Norwich: 13 May

Rev. Robert Brucciani

Nothing is known for certain about Juliana's actual name, family, or education, or of her life prior to her becoming an anchoress. Juliana was probably born around 1342. She may have been from a privileged family that lived in or near Norwich, which was then the second largest city in England.

When Juliana was 30 years old and living at home, she suffered a serious illness and was presumed to be near death. A priest came to administer the last rites on 8 May 1373. As part of the ritual, he held a crucifix in the air above the foot of her bed. Juliana reported that she was losing her sight and felt physically numb, but as she gazed on the crucifix she saw the figure of Jesus begin to bleed. Over the next few days, she had a series of 16 visions ("shewings") of Jesus Christ. They ended by the time she recovered from her illness on 13 May 1373.

Juliana wrote about her visions immediately after they had happened, in a version of the Revelations of Divine Love now known as the “Short Text.” It is believed to be the earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman.

Some time after her visions, she withdrew from the world to a life of permanent seclusion as an anchoress in a cell attached to St Julian's Church, Norwich from whence her names "Juliana (or Julian) of Norwich, Dame Julian or Mother Julian" most probably originate. It appears that despite her seclusion from the world, Juliana became a spiritual authority, counsellor and advisor to many visitors. (It is ever thus with contemplatives!)

Twenty to thirty years after the "shewings", Juliana wrote a theological exploration of the meaning of the visions. It is known as “The Long Text". None of the original manuscripts of either the Short Text or the Long Text have survived, but they were extensively copied. Juliana is regarded as one of the great mystics of the Middle ages.

Revelations of Divine Love deals with difficult theological questions such as the problem of evil, predestination, salvation, and hell. Christ’s Passion is revealed to her in all its intensity, yet through it, Juliana receives assurance of God’s infinite gentleness and mercy and his everlasting love for souls.

Juliana has not been formally beatified or canonised, but is popularly venerated as "Saint", "Blessed", or ""Mother" Juliana or Julian. Her feast day (by popular celebration) is on 13 May.

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