We know little of the facts of Julian's life. She lived practically her whole life in the English city of Norwich, an important centre for commerce that also had a vibrant religious life. During her lifetime, the city suffered the devastating effects of the Black Death of 1348–50; the Peasants' Revolt, which affected large parts of England in 1381; and the suppression of the Lollards.
Julian became a recluse and lived in a cell attached to the Church of St Julian and St Edward in Conisford, Norwich. She may have taken the name Julian from the church. The cell or “anchorage” was frequently a suite of rooms, and like many others Julian had a servant to attend to her needs. Julian was visited by many in search of spiritual counsel and help. The church itself belonged to the Benedictine's, but there is no evidence that Julian was a nun. Almost all our information about Dame Julian comes from the little she says of herself in her writings.
At the age of 30 she suffered a serious illness, and indeed received the last rites. The priest then gave her a crucifix on which to look and find comfort while she waited for death. The following day, 8 May 1373, she received 15 revelations or visions, followed by one further one on the evening of the next day.
Julian recovered from the illness, and soon after this wrote about her experience. She wrote a longer account, 20 years later which she called “The Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love”, it is this work for which she is best known. The product of years of reflection on her revelations, it is considered one of the most important and inspiring books of that time. The revelations are chiefly concerned with the passion of Christ and with the holy Trinity. Although she says that the revelations were shown to her, “a simple and uneducated creature”, her book reveals a woman of keen intellect, common sense and compassion. It reveals the depth of her spiritual awareness.
In a number of ways Julian seems very modern; she was one of the first female theologians. She has been noted for her tenderness and naturalness in writing about our approach to God. Julian shows her keen perception of the power of divine love over evil. Her strong convictions in the victory of God’s love led to her famous saying, “Sin is inevitable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
BORN: c. 8 November 1342, Norfolk
DIED: c. 1430 (aged 87–88) Norwich