It is remarkable how much a saint for our times is the Lady Julian. Living in the latter half of the fourteenth, and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, on first glance one would think there was nothing about her life that would resonate with ours. However, like us, she lived at a time of much worry, anxiety, and turmoil. Twenty years before her birth in 1353, the Great Famine swept Northern Europe leaving up to 25 percent of the population dead. Shortly after her birth, the Black Death struck, leaving up to half the population of the city of Norwich itself dead, and killing an estimated 200 million people in total. It would take centuries for the population of Europe return to previous pre-Black Death numbers. Both these events lead to the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, when the city of Norwich was overwhelmed by rebel forces. At this same time early agitation for the reform of the Church, known as Lollardy, initially begun by John Wycliffe, was beginning to take root
It was in that world, not so unlike our own, that the Lady Julian lived and received her showings or revelations during a time when she herself was gravely ill, and expected to die. After receiving the Last Rites on 8 May 1373, she lost her sight, and began to feel physically numb. It was in this state that as she gazed upon a crucifix above her bed, she saw the figure of Jesus beginning to bleed, and received her revelations. Over the next several hours she received sixteen revelations. Following her recovery five days later, she recorded them, first in a short version, now lost, except for a copy, and then many years later in a longer version.
While the texts of her revelations were preserved, and even published in 1670, and again in 1843, they were not widely circulated until 1901, when a manuscript was found in the British Museum, and published along with some notes.
Little, outside what she tells us of herself in her revelations, is known about Julian. Even her name is uncertain. Yet her revelations have had a profound impact on the mystical tradition of the Church in the last century.
What strikes me today about her, is that in the midst of a world filled with such grief, loss, death, and uncertainty, she could write with so much confidence about the mercy, grace, and love of God. In the midst of her own illness, the Great Famine, the Black Death, and so much political and religious turmoil, she could still write all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
It seems to me that those words, spoken across the centuries, from the time of one pandemic to another, are the same words of grace and courage that we need to hear, just as did all those who came to see her for counsel, and advice during her own lifetime, a lifetime marked by grief, loss, death, and uncertainty.
All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
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