In May of 1373, at the age of thirty and a half, Julian was stricken by a severe illness and became convinced she was dying. Instead, she received extraordinary visions of Christ on the cross. She recovered fully to write her very personal account of the Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love that she received from the Lord. This is the first book known to have been written by a woman in the English language.
In both the Short and Long Texts of her book, Julian documented the intimate details of her visions and locutions for her contemporaries, her evencristens, as well as for us, more than six hundred years later. She insisted that "Our Lord wants us to know" about God's unconditional love, mercy, and grace; about the godly will at the very core of our being; about the lack of "wrath" in God. Julian also developed a dynamic theology of the Motherhood of God that speaks to both women and men in every age.
Although a contemporary of the English poets Geoffrey Chaucer and William Langland, Julian was, by her own account, unlettered; that is, she could not read or write Latin. And she could not study theology at Oxford or Cambridge, because in her medieval world women were not allowed to pursue higher education. Nevertheless, Julian taught herself to write Middle English with such consummate clarity, profound imagery, and rich vocabulary that she has been called "the first woman of English Letters." She also developed a mystical theology that was second to none during the fourteenth century, and which continues to break barriers in our own century.
In her first fifty years, Julian was a multi-faceted woman who lived and worked in the world. Then, during the last twenty-five years of her life, she chose to become an anchorite, enclosed in a small hermitage attached to the side of a church. It was during these years that she completed the Long Text of her Revelations, and became much revered as a wise counselor to all who sought her spiritual advice at her anchorage window. And today, Julian’s theology continues to be an inspiration to those who long to be embraced by the love of Jesus Christ.
The simple fact that Julian was a laywoman who dared to write mystical theology in English (despite repeated Church edicts issued against any layperson teaching or writing theology, or “making books” in the vernacular, under pain of excommunication or even death) sends a strong message of empowerment to women of faith all over the world who struggle for the right to speak. Thomas Merton called Julian “one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices” and "the greatest English theologian." Her timeless voice is one of prophetic hope and vision that we, in the twenty-first century, desperately need to hear. She is, indeed, a mystic for all seasons.
Christ’s words to Julian resonate across the ages, as reassuring and as imperative as they were in May of 1373, when she first heard them:
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and thou shalt see thyself that all manner of thing shall be well.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2017 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.