Julian of Norwich is becoming a wildly popular mystic. Yet she lived as a recluse in a forgotten corner of England in the 14th century. What has made her so compelling, that nearly every modern contemplative teacher speaks of her?
Here are 8 things you probably didn’t know about Julian!
1. Julian is not her real name!
She is known as Julian because her anchorage, or cell, was attached to the Norwich church of St. Julian’s.
2. Julian had a cat.
The anchoress’s rule of life, which Julian followed, allowed for pets. She would talk about her kitty often in her letters.
3. Julian has the most in-depth theology about the motherhood of God prior to the 20th century.
While others mentioned God as feminine, Julian called Jesus Mother, called the Father Mother, and the Holy Spirit too!
4. Julian was the first woman to write a book in the English language!
Prior to that, nearly everything in Europe was written in Latin. This is striking not only as a "first," but because of how dangerous it was. Since Protestants and “heretics” were writing in vernacular languages, those who did so were sometimes burnt at the stake. Julian’s open window was within smelling distance of the stakes in Norwich.
5. Julian survived the worst pandemic Europe has seen.
Sometimes it's helpful for us modern folks to gain perspective. The Black Plague wiped out nearly HALF of Europe! She knew what it meant to shelter in place.
6. Julian likely lost her husband and children to the Black Plague or the Hundred Years War.
It is unlikely she was a nun before becoming an anchoress, as her text has a glaring lack of imagery or mentions of the convent life. However, it is rife with mentions of motherhood, loss, and intimacy. And due to the combination of the plague and the war, the male population of England was decimated.
7. Julian was literally entombed in a cell.
The ritual for becoming an anchoress includes your own funeral service, in which you are ceremonially buried in the dirt before you are bricked into a room with no door for the rest of your life.
8. Julian was a spiritual director.
From her cell, she had one window that faced the church and one window that faced the street. There, villagers and pilgrims would seek her counsel about marital problems, prayer, and any number of desires.
Curious to learn more about this wildly popular woman? Join us for our Women Mystics School, where Matthew Fox will lead us in a live, 90-minute masterclass on Julian!
Kelly Deutsch specializes in audacity. Big dreams, fierce desires, restless hearts. When seekers are hungry for unspeakably more, she offers the space to explore contemplative depths and figure out where they fit in the vast spiritual landscape. She speaks and writes about divine intimacy, emotional intelligence, John of the Cross, trauma-informed spiritual practice, and neuropsychology. Kelly offers spiritual direction, coaching, contemplative cohorts, and retreats. She is the bestselling author of Spiritual Wanderlust: The Field Guide to Deep Desire. When she isn’t exploring the interior life, you might find her wandering under Oregonian skies or devouring red curry.