Julian of Norwich was many things. Poorly documented, to begin with. Being born female in England in the mid-14th century, virtually nothing of her early life is known. History doesn’t record whether she was married or had children, or if she was a nun. Her given name – which was not actually Julian – is also unknown.
What is known is that at age 30, Julian became so sick that a curate was called to administer last rites. Instead of dying, she experienced a series of visions, recovered, and went on to become a respected Christian mystic, anchorite, and most likely the first woman to publish a book in English, The Revelations of Divine Love.
Anchorites, in case you didn’t know (and I didn’t, until very recently) were people who chose to live in tiny cells, usually built onto the outside walls of churches. This was a primarily English phenomenon that existed from the 1100’s through the early 1500’s. The majority of anchorites were women. The name Julian of Norwich was derived from the church where Julian’s cell was built, the Church of St Julian in Norwich, England.
To be an anchorite, in addition to living in a cell attached to a church, you had to have enough money to be self-supporting, meaning that a servant (your servant) brought you food and other necessities. There were vows and rules. And, generally speaking, once you went in, you were never to come back out. Some 780 people are known to have taken up this life, until 1539, when Henry VIII put an end to it.
As an anchorite, Julian was sufficiently well known to warrant a visit from Margery Kempe, another Christian mystic who, in about 1413, sought Julian out for guidance before beginning her own spiritual quest, a quest that would include a pilgrimage to the holy land. Coincidentally (or not) Kempe is the author of the first published autobiography in the English language, The Book of Margery Kempe, originally published around 1500.
Sadly, the Church of St Julian in Norwich was all but destroyed by bombing during WWII, but was restored as a shrine to Julian in the 1950s.
(Posted today as my Day 10 entry in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge)