Julian of Norwich: England’s forgotten first

Katherine Dixon 

Editing by: Vicki Madden

Art: ‘The Young Virgin’, Francisco de Zurbarán

Julian of Norwich, an early fifteenth century East Anglian anchoress, and important Christian mystic and theologian, is the first person to draw attention to her own limitations as a woman. She makes it clear that she is unable to serve as a teacher to her reader, ‘For I am a woman, lewed, febille, and freylle’ (ST 7). Julian pens this admission close to the beginning of her writings, in which she wonderfully and wisely documents a divine visionary experience she had whilst deathly ill in 1373 and on which she continued to ruminate over the course of her subsequent life of enclosure in a Norwich anchorhold. In contrast to her contemporary counterparts, Margery Kempe in particular, Julian is often unduly overlooked in every strand of medieval studies despite being uncontestably deserving of canonical status, not least because she is the first woman ever known to write in the English language.

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