Julian of Norwich was a mystic, visionary, and the first female English author. Growing up during the plague and 100 years’ war, her early life is shrouded in mystery. It may even be likely that she had a family of her own, but lost them to battle and disease.

 

Julian spent the second half of her life as an anchoress in a cell at St. Julian’s Church in Norwich. She was allowed to have a cat to keep the rats at bay, and this is why her icons are usually depicted with one. She had three windows in her room; one looking out onto the street where she gave counsel to visitors seeking her advice; one peering into the church so she could partake in services; and one that her caretaker passed meals through and tended to her human needs. The original church was destroyed in WWII but has since been rebuilt and you can visit there today.

While lying on her death bed at age 30, Julian had 16 visions from God that she wrote about in her book Revelations of Divine Love. A priest came to issue last rights and held a crucifix above the bed, her body became numb and she then received her visions and subsequently lost her sickness. At the time the book was written, it was considered the work of a mad woman and quickly dispelled. She had “radical” visions of God’s love that were drastically different than the fear-based medieval Catholicism most people were raised on. In one of her visions, God handed Julian a hazelnut;


“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so, have all things their beginning by the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”


While Julian of Norwich has never been formally beautified or canonized, she is still popularly venerated today.