Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Written by Dame Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century anchoress or religious recluse, A Book of Showings (also known as Revelations of Divine Love) is the record of sixteen visions that came to Julian during a nearly fatal illness in May, 1373. While no original fourteenth century manuscripts survive, four later, complete copies still exist. One is shorter than the rest and may be based on Julian’s original record of her experience. The other three, from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, preserve a longer version that reflects Julian’s fifteen to twenty years of meditation on the visions; this is the version usually read today. The overall theme, as suggested by the alternate title, is the love of God shown in Creation, in Jesus Christ, and in the life of the believer. Although Julian is not the only female religious mystic of the Middle Ages, she is unique in style and in her exposition of the feminine aspects of God.

After a brief outline of the book, Julian explains how the visions came to her on May 8, 1373; she was thirty-one years old. She views the illness that brought her near death and the visions that came when everyone, including Julian herself, had given her up for dead as the answer to her prayers to understand Christ’s suffering on the cross, to suffer physically for God’s sake, and to experience sincere repentance, compassion, and a desire to know God.

The first twelve revelations deal with the...

(The entire section is 493 words.)