Get Started

Julian Of Norwich By Rachel Forton

Welcome to this retreat with Blessed Julian of Norwich!


Julian was (as some scholars believe) a wife and mother who likely lost her husband and at least one child to the plague in medieval England. She is the first known woman to write a book in English, titled “Revelations of Divine Love” and commonly called “The Showings.” She lived through the Black Plague, which decimated half the population of Europe through three waves of increasingly deadly viruses, and she never knew a world without war, even living through the Papal Schism during which two and, at one point, three men claimed the papacy. After her visions which she received at age 30, she spent 20 years living in an anchorage attached to a church, contemplating the meaning of the visions. The second (and longer) version of her writing is the fruit of all her reflection and is called the most “optimistic theology” of any mystic.

Julian’s visions began when she suffered a life-threatening illness at the age of 30. A priest was called by her friends to administer last rites. She was completely bedridden, and just as she thought death was imminent, the priest arrived. At this point she had lost all feeling in her body. He put a crucifix in front of her and instructed her to gaze at it for comfort. Julian forced her eyes to gaze at it and began to lose sight. Everything around her grew dim, save for the crucifix which was now covered in light. And then suddenly, “all my pain vanished, and I was whole again. In fact, I felt better than I ever had before…” Jesus on the crucifix “came to life” before her eyes and she experienced the presence of the Trinity and was overcome with joy. The visions that followed filled her heart with humility, empathy for humankind - all of whom suffer, and a deep longing and desire for “oneing” or union with God.

After receiving her visions, Julian became an anchoress at age 31, meaning that she lived in a small room adjacent to the St Julian Church in Norwich, England. Anchoresses were to live simply in plain clothes and to remain in their dwellings except for an occasional walk through a walled garden, only when no one could see them. Julian’s dwelling would have had three windows – one leading into the church so she could watch Mass and receive the Eucharist, one opening into an inner room for a companion to bring her clothes and food, and a third window to the roadway, so she could give counsel to anyone passing by who stopped to talk with her. She would have spent her days saying the Liturgy of the Hours, mending church linens, and reading and writing, but most of all spending time in meditation and prayer. You will see that she had much to contemplate following the 16 visions she received during her illness.

The religious climate of the time emphasized the wrath of God, and humanity began to see itself as “at war with nature.” They had virtually no scientific understanding of what caused the plague, how illness passed from one to the next. They felt it was punishment for their wrongdoing. Sin was seemingly the truest thing about humanity. Julian saw the opposite in her visions.

Now that you know a bit about her context, you are ready to encounter the loving and merciful God of Julian’s visions portrayed in these retreat talks.