There is no sure way of knowing what Julian actually experienced, except by her own testimony. And there is no way of explaining how the vision “happened” in psychological or scientific terms. Even if we could, there is no guarantee that such an explanation would be able to convince anyone. Julian herself does not know how it happened. She simply describes what she “saw,” vision by vision, revelation by revelation, as she experienced it. The very simplicity of her account renders it remarkably credible. In these timeless moments, she was utterly unself-conscious.
At first, the vision brings Julian great joy:
And in the same shewing, suddenly the trinity filled my heart most full of joy. And so I understood it shall be in heaven without end, to all who shall come there. For the trinity is God, God is the trinity. The trinity is our maker, the trinity is our keeper, the trinity is our everlasting lover, the trinity is our endless joy and our bliss, by our lord Jesus Christ and in our lord Jesus Christ. And this was shewed in the first sight and in all [the other Revelations]. For where Jesus appears the blessed trinity is understood, as to my sight.
In subsequent Revelations, however, Julian sees more and more physical details of the shame and brutality of Christ’s sufferings, including aspects of the scourging and the crowning with thorns that had happened prior to the actual crucifixion. You can only appreciate what Julian saw if you read her detailed description for yourselves, slowly and meditatively. It is by far the most vivid and most graphic account of Christ’s passion in all of mystical literature.
Death by Crucifixion
I researched Death By Crucifixion exhaustively before I wrote about it in Julian’s Gospel. Few people know what was really involved in the process of crucifixion. As I did my research, I was struck anew by how scientifically specific Julian’s observations were. Of course, Julian was not a physician, not even in the medieval sense. However, it is well worth noting that her visionary account describes many of the very same aspects of death by crucifixion that twentieth century forensic scientists have articulated.
Given Julian’s complete lack of medical knowledge, the detailed accuracy of her description of the deterioration of Christ’s face and body on the cross lends enormous credence to her account. How else but through a bodily sight of the passion (and Julian’s own extraordinary ability to observe and recall everything she saw) could she have recorded such details, not to be scientifically documented for another six hundred years?
This experience became so intense that Julian could not completely describe the many impressions it had on her. She simply attested that she saw this sight of the passion bodily, sorrowfully, and obscurely, not with the exultant joy she first had in seeing Christ come to life before her eyes. Julian confessed she was at a loss to say what it was actually like to watch Christ die. She could write only that: The shewing of Christ’s pains filled me full of pains.
In her lifetime, Julian had watched many loved ones perish in the successive waves of the Great Pestilence that eventually killed half the population of all Europe. She thought she knew what the death process was like. She admits that seeing Christ crucified surpassed the pain of all other deaths she had ever witnessed. Here I felt truthfully that I loved Christ so much above myself that there was no pain that might be suffered like to that sorrow that I had to see him in pain.
We might do well to meditate on Julian’s Revelations during the coming days and weeks of Lent. Julian is a most loving and compassionate guide to what the Savior suffered as he hung on the cross. And only she has written of the great joy Christ had in suffering for all humankind: "It is a joy, a bliss, an endless liking to me that ever I suffered my passion for thee . . . And if I might suffer more, I would suffer more.”
To invite Julian to become your companion throughout this Lent would be to discover aspects of Christ’s “mind” during his passion that might utterly astound you.