On a dame and a mystic

File:Julian of Norwich.jpg

Dame Julian of Norwich


In the Episcopal church-calendar, May 8 is the Feast Day for Dame Julian of Norwich, a town in England a bit north and a tad east of London.  She was born in 1342 and died “about” 1416.  As Wikipedia noted, she was an English anchoress regarded as an important early Christian mystic.   (That clunk you heard was a Southern Baptist having apoplexy over the word “mystic.”)

We don’t know much about Julian, and in fact the name “Julian” is pure guesswork:  “Her personal name is unknown and the name ‘Julian’ simply derives from the fact that her anchoress’s cell was built onto the wall of the church of St Julian in Norwich.”

An anchoress (the female version of an “anchorite”) is someone who has “retired from the world;” someone who, “for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society” in favor of an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, and “Communion-focused” life.  Anchorites are usually considered to be a type of religious hermit – seeking to live a solitary life devoted to God – and the “anchoritic life is one of the earliest forms of Christian monastic living.”

And as originally defined, mysticism “referred to the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative dimensions in early and medieval Christianity.”   (Talk about “original intent…”)  And consider this from the Book of Common Prayer, at page 339: “we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people.”

That’s a reminder that there should be two sides to any and every Christian church: a “corporate” or business to keep things running smoothly, but more important, a “mystical” side to help the individual church-goer achieve that long-awaited “union with the divine” (and with each other), but we digress. . .

One of the quotes from Dame Julian is this, about “our customary practice of prayer:”

“. . . how through our ignorance and inexperience . . . we spend so much time on petition. I saw that it is indeed more worthy of God and more truly pleasing to him that through his goodness we should pray with full confidence, and by his grace cling to him with real understanding and unshakeable love, than that we should go on making as many petitions as our souls are capable of.”

(See also the prayer of Rabia Basri, in the “Parable of the three suitors.”)

Anyway, when she was 30 years old Julian had a severe illness and was on her deathbed when she had visions of seeing Jesus.  From that experience she wrote her Revelations of Divine Love, as seen in the illustration above.  It had 25 chapters and was some 11,000 words long, and is thought to be the “earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman.”

For more information check the following sources:

Julian of Norwich – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Julian of Norwich – Wikiquote



Evelyn Underhill, seen above, could be said to have followed in “Dame Julian’s” footsteps.  Underhill (1875-1941), was “known for her numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, in particular Christian mysticism.”  (There’s that “clunk” again.)  Her books included:

  • The Mystic Way. A psychological study of Christian origins (1914). Online
  • Practical Mysticism. A Little Book for Normal People (1914);


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