Julian of NORWICH (1342 – 1413)

Julian of Norwich https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/132363676530962527/

She lives as a recluse in a cell adjacent to St. Julian’s Church in Conisford, Norwich, the capital of Norfolk, England. Norwich is a powerful and prosperous city, which in the 14th century is second only to London, because of its collocation on the “wool route” linking Yorkshire to the Flanders. On Friday, May 13th (others say May 8th) 1373, she receives 16 Revelations about the Passion of Christ and the Trinity that she bequeathed to us in English in Revelations of Divine Love. This text is a meditation halfway between a spiritual autobiography and a theological treatise. It took to her 20 years to write, rewrite and refine it, without even mentioning her own name, in the concern that the revelations are for the benefit of all brothers and sisters in the faith.
During her life she had asked for three graces: a grave illness to be able to detach herself from all earthly attachment, a bodily vision of the suffering Christ to better sense her passion and three spiritual “wounds”: the true repentant of her sins, the cum-passion with Christ, the desire “with good will” of God ” (Della Croce, p. 57).
It is precisely in the most acute phase of the illness that she receives the “revelations” on which she will even bring her discernment, thus reassuring us of their non-pathological nature. At the centre of her message is the mercy of God, from which the optimism that emerges from its spiritual edifice: All will be well (Ch 27, Revelations) is the message that seems to characterize it at best and that is so often recalled in the book of Revelations. Julienne’s mysticism is fundamentally Christocentric. Through this relation of Love (“Christ is for this woman the great lover always ready to sacrifice himself” joyously “for the redemption of the world”, writes Domenico Pezzini) she accesses the Trinitarian vision. This allows her to overcome the spiritual climate of his time of the “man in pain” to access the light of the resurrection because in the passion of Jesus shines the immense love of God who penetrates the whole universe and who pushes back, destroys and mocks the forces of evil. And in the end “all will be well”, as she is used to say.
According to her, we are creatures that need to be reassured by the maternity of God that does not deprive us of the milk of supernatural life. The realization of the motherhood of God entrusted to the Son, the second figure of the Trinity, is one of her most original affirmations in harmony with some contemporary theological currents. “The dear and kind word Mother is so sweet and good that it can not really be said of anyone and by anyone except through him and to him who is the true Mother of life and everything” (ch. .60, Revelations). But this should not be understood as a claim of maternity against paternity, rather a more rich and balanced vision of God. “And just as in His courtesy God forgets our sins as long as we repent of them, so He also wants us to forget our sins and worries. For God wants us to be always confident in love and peaceful and quiet, as He is to us”. The discovery of a God so familiar opens us to confidence and joy, feelings of which her book overflows.
A great mistress of discernment, balanced and lucid, she combines affective piety with a robust theological basis. We speak of her today as of a possible “doctor of the Church” besides a woman having for the style of her prose an important place in the English literature. We will also find in her a genial woman and, taking up the beautiful image of P. Renaudin, a smiling face that gives the world its inner joy.
His mission is to save us and his glory is to do it and his will is that we know it: he wants us to love him gently and to trust him in a sweet and strong way at the same time. And this he revealed by these kind words “I keep you with absolute protection” (ch. 61, Revelations)

Della Croce Giovanna, I Mistici del Nord, Ed.Studium, Roma, 1981
Giuliana  Di  Norwich, Libro delle rivelazioni, Ancora, Milano, 2003

Was Julian of Norwich a beguine ?

The focus of this text is neither about her visions as seen in Revelations of Divine Love, nor a discussion about her “imago Dei”. More concretely, I would rather present and debate my conviction (never heard before) that Julian should be considered a beguine, an anchoress beguine.

Although the experience of the beguinal life is above all communal, there have always also been inmates or hermits, just as Julian chose to live. The best known is Marie d’Oignies (1177-1213). After more than 12 years of caring for lepers with her husband in Nivelles, she retired in 1207 to Oignies where she lived as a recluse in a cell adjoining the church of the Priory of Canons. Around her, even though she was a recluse, the first historically recorded beguinal community was formed.

I would like to explain why Julian should be considered a beguine.

The first typical feature of choosing to be a beguine was dedicating oneself to a life of deep spirituality outside a religious institution, monastic or clerical. Seeking perfection while maintaining a secular status allowed Julian a path of personal freedom,  and freedom to choose confessors and / or a spiritual father. This could also mean choosing a female guide, through a particularly intense friendship, like the one that united Julienne de Cornillon (1193-1258) with her older friend, also a recluse, Eve de Saint-Martin (1190-1265) to whom Julienne apparently also made her confession,(https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%88ve_de_Saint-Martin).

An important theological element, very widespread in the beguinal world, is the absolutely tender, merciful, God-loving face, which never allows us to think of an angry God, because His goodness is such that He does not know anger or indignation, but only tenderness and compassion. It is that omnipotence of Love beyond all limits that in 1235 led Alydis of Cambrai to the stake for having affirmed that the power of Love could also bring Lucifer back from hell. “The measure of love is to love without measure” wrote Saint Bernard of Clervaux, one of the authors most read by the beguines. And Love overcomes the law and norms.

Finally, another trait of the typically beguinal spirituality present in Julian that I would like to recall is “the spiritual senses”, as a way of acceding to a vision, a way to overcome intellectual understanding and perceive the invisible. The beguine Mechthild of Magdeburg (1208/10 – 1282) is another great interpreter. Julian often used the term “touching” to describe them.

We have little information on the beguinal movement in Great Britain, but we do know that there were also beguines in Norwich ((Kim Nataraja WCCM, Insegnamenti settimanali del 17 settembre 2017 – Anno 5 n. 23), which is very plausible given that Norwich, the capital of Norfolk, was a rich and powerful city due to its location on the ‘wool road’, which connected Yorkshire to Flanders. And we know that work related to wool such as bleaching and washing was often work undertaken by beguines.

I propose this personal hypothesis to those who want to corroborate it but also to those who would like to contradict it. Please write to : pancierasilvana@gmail.com

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