In the last third of the fourteenth century, when Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower were writing poetry in English in London and Piers Plowman and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight were being produced in the west of England, the “first English woman of letters” was composing a book in prose in Norwich, East Anglia. Julian of Norwich is one of the best known of the fourteenth century English mystics. The small number of extant manuscripts of the Book of Showings (her account of her mystical visions) suggests that she was probably not well known outside East Anglia. Her work has enjoyed a resurgence of scholarly and popular interest since the six-hundredth anniversary of the “showings.”
Julian (also as Juliana) of Norwich’s Book of Showings relates the details of visions she had and her attempts to interpret their meaning. Modern critics widely recognized her book as a spiritual masterpiece. Aside from the meager information found in church records, a few wills, and Margery Kempe’s autobiography, most of what is known of Julian is from her own accounts. As a part of contemplative prayer, she had prayed for sickness, for a vision of the passion of Christ, and for three wounds. She did become ill, suffering paralysis and blindness just before the onset of the sixteen showings. The visions, she reports, occurred on May 13, 1373, when she was thirty and one-half years old.
The Book of Showings (entitled Revelations of Divine Love in some modernizations) is written in the East Midland dialect of Middle English. A number of devotional writers in the Middle Ages sought mystical experience of God. Julian achieved the prized vision that many others could only point to. She did not intend to teach any kind of methodology for the gradual drawing near of humans to God, but rather only to record her own experience for others. The visions began at a time in her illness when Julian could not speak, had lost feeling in the...
(The entire section is 807 words.)