Dame Julian was an urban hermit who counseled desperate people who talked with her through a window grate in the bustling city of Norwich, in England 600 years ago. She also suffered a near-death experience and a profound conversion that she wrote about in her beautiful book of meditations on her deathbed encounter with a Loving Jesus, “The Showings of Divine Love”.
We do not know her name, as she took the name of the chapel — St. Julian — attached to her one-room hermitage. She never left her cloister, but her servant —whose name we know, Alice — was her connection to the outside world. Alice also “screened” those persons who came for counsel, to protect her mistress. This story is told in the voice of Alice, who explains Julian to us. Alice is very chatty, but insightful. And she totally loves Dame Julian and Her Lord Jesus.
Norwich was the second largest city in England around 1400, known for its wool trade and it breweries both. The little chapel of St. Julian and the adjoined hermit’s cell of Dame Julian is the destination of many modern day pilgrims seeking to enrich their inner life. Her many visiions centered on Jesus and his love for all creatures. Julian’s famous words are: “All shall be well. All shall be well, And all manner of things shall be well.”
Along with Margery Kempe, she is the earliest woman writer in English. Read her first in a modern English translation, and then again in Middle English to fully appreciate the beauty of her language.
If you are curious about how Julian sounds in her native Middle English, listen to this brief excerpt. (“behovely” is still used when we say “It behooves us…”) and can best be translated in this context as “Sin is useful"… or, “Sin is necessary” It gives deeper meaning to the rest of Dame Julian’s expression “And all shall be well…"
Here is a song about Julian of Norwich. Listen to it after you have heard the story Alice tells of her mistress, Dame Julian. Thanks to Ann Mayo for her joyous and graceful singing of this song...
Listen to the Commentary on this Story
To listen to a commentary on the spiritual dimension from a Catholic Christian perspective of the the story, please visit This Link. I tell stories in both secular/cultural and religious/spiritual contexts. I find no contradiction in speaking about a story in both secular and religious terms since I am both a folklorist and a religious artist. Please choose to listen on the site that is most comfortable for you.
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Please share your response to the story of Dame Julian of Norwich with me. As the teller, I wonder the story was heard… by You. Thanks!