Like St. Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich is widely admired and misunderstood. Unlike St. Francis, however, Julian has not been canonized and so does not have an authentic and reverent cult that safeguards her true message. Her most famous line—often translated as “Sin is inevitable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”—is taken as proof that she stood against a judgmental Church. But the popular image of Julian is false, as is the translation of her words. Unless we recover the true Julian, we will miss her unique spiritual insight into the place of sin in the providential ordering of the universe.
Born in 1342 near Norwich, England, Julian lived through the horrors of the Black Death and the turbulence of the Peasants’ Revolt—events that would not have conduced to a sentimental view of life. Beyond that, we know very little about her. In fact, we do not even know her real name. She is now referred to by the name of St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, where she became an anchorite. She took a vow to live a life of prayer in radical isolation, being literally walled into a room by masons, with only a small window for necessities and communication. It was in this state that Julian received sixteen revelations (or “showings”) from Jesus Christ, which she recounted and contemplated in her Revelations of Divine Love.