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Born: 1343
Died: ~1416
FEast: May 13th
Patron of:  solitary women, writers, solitude, cats 

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(St.) Julian
of Norwich

Bio

 

     Nothing of Julian's life is known other than what she wrote herself in her book. She also wrote anonymously, and so we do not even have her real name, calling her only by the church (St. Julian's), and city (Norwich, England), in which she was located.

We do know that Julian was an anchorite, which was someone who chose to live in a cell attached to the church, for all purposes "dead" to the outside world. They would only be brought food by attendants every so often and would have a small window into the Church by which they could see Masses. They often participated in sewing, writing, and counseling members of the town, but were never permitted to leave after the ceremony held for them that was much like a funeral.

Some believe that Julian was a very young widow who had lost her family to the plague that had recently killed half of the city's population, and that she turned to this life in her grief or last resort. Others believe she had chosen that life willingly from a young age to avoid the possibilities of unhappy or unequal marriage, death in childbirth, the plague itself, and a life of choices made for her, which was usually the only other option for women at the time. A third idea is that she had chosen to become an anchorite only after a near-death experience at 30.

We also know she was very well-educated to have been able to write as she does, so she must have made the conscious decision to leave society.

It is also a popular belief that she may have had a cat as her sole companion (aside from her attendants) because this is allowed according to the book of rules for anchorites that she followed.

Anchorites needed to have a rather large amount of money to be able to live as such, since churches would not take them on unless they'd be able to pay for themselves to be provided for. Sometimes they relied only on donations from outside sources, and we have a record of several donations given to Julian which prove her existence. Because of this though, we cannot determine whether she had much money or not. It was assumed so, since, when she was 30 years old, she contracted a very serious illness, and her mother was present. Anchorites would not have been granted the privilege of family visits if they were unable to pay.

Julian describes that everyone, including herself, thought that she would die from the illness. For three days she held on and struggled, and it was during that time that she had a series of 16 visions, which she recorded after she miraculously recovered. In about the 1390s, she revisited these visions and wrote about what they might mean in what became her book "Revelations of Divine Love".

Her book was likely unknown while she was still alive since there are no historical references to it, but a copy survived the years and became popular around 1670 when it became more widespread by an English priest.

In it, Julian describes an optimistic, compassionate, and joyful theology of a loving and forgiving Jesus who listens to her patiently. She also discusses the motherliness of Jesus and God, how they are mother as well as father. As creators, they are more like women giving birth, and have relationships with us more like mothers do with their children. She also discusses Jesus telling her that "All shall be well" because of his mercy.

Because of the recorded donations to Julian and several other clues, we can guess that by the time she passed away, she was well-known throughout Europe and had people visiting her from all over to ask for her advice and prayers.

Prayer

 

As someone who understands solitude, be with us in embracing ours. Our world can be so busy and noisy and full of other people. Help us find peace and quiet and learn to find the joy and inspiration it can bring. And, when we find ourselves alone without desiring to be, show us how to use the time and space and how to learn about ourselves without loneliness.

Amen.

Art Reflection

 

Julian's expression is the most important part of this piece - I wanted it to be both curious, serious, and intent. I imagine her reliving her visions and pondering for long hours what their meanings are and what has been revealed to her. She also holds her cat companion - modeled after my own cat,  tater Tot.

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