May 8: Dame Julian of Norwich, c. 1417

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

Of Dame Julian’s early life we know little, only the probable date of her birth (1342). Her own writings in the Revelations of Divine Love are concerned only with her visions, or “showings,” that she experienced when she was thirty years old.

She had been gravely ill and was given the last rites; suddenly, on the seventh day, all pain left her, and she had fifteen visions of the Passion. These brought her great peace and joy. “From that time I desired oftentimes to learn what was our Lord’s meaning,” she wrote, “and fifteen years after I was answered in ghostly understanding: ‘Wouldst thou learn the Lord’s meaning in this thing? Learn it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it thee? Love. What showed he thee? Love. Wherefore showed it he? For Love. Hold thee therein and thou shalt learn and know more in the same.’ Thus it was I learned that Love was our Lord’s meaning.”

Julian had long desired three gifts from God: “the mind of his passion, bodily sickness in youth, and three wounds—of contrition, of compassion, of will-full longing toward God.” Her illness brought her the first two wounds, which then passed from her mind. The third, “will-full longing” (divinely inspired longing), never left her. She became a recluse, an anchoress, at Norwich soon after her recovery from illness, living in a small dwelling attached to the Church of St. Julian. Even in her lifetime, she was famed as a mystic and spiritual counselor and was frequently visited by clergymen and lay persons, including the famous mystic Margery Kempe. Kempe says of Julian: “This anchoress was expert in knowledge of our Lord and could give good counsel. I spent much time with her talking of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Lady Julian’s book is a tender and beautiful exposition of God’s eternal and all-embracing love, showing how his charity toward the human race is exhibited in the Passion. Again and again she referred to Christ as “our courteous Lord.” Many have found strength in the words the Lord had given her: “I can make all things well; I will make all things well; I shall make all things well; and thou canst see for thyself that all manner of things shall be well.”


I. Lord God, who in thy compassion didst grant to the Lady Julian many revelations of thy nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek thee above all things, for in giving us thyself thou givest us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II. Lord God, in your compassion you granted to the Lady Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Psalm 27:5–11

Isaiah 46:3–5

Hebrews 10:19–24

John 4:23–26

Preface of Epiphany

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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32 thoughts on “May 8: Dame Julian of Norwich, c. 1417

  1. I quite like the collects. They are pithy, make a wonderful (albeit subtle) allusion to the visions, and are rich enough to wear quite well.

    The only edit I would suggest would be to change “many” to “divers” in the Rite I collect. I think this would improve the cadence.

    Another cadence edit that I think might help (but I’m not sure about) would be to change the end of the first phrase to “revelations of thy XXX Love/Word who nutureth and sustaineth all things” (XXX representing an adjective TBD according to the choice of Love/Word made). I’m not certain this would help, but I hate to see the wonderful cadence of the 2nd half of the collect follow on such a heavy stop in the rhythm.

    • It’s good to see someone criticising a collect on grounds of cadence—many of the more recent collects seem to betray little awareness of gthe importance of this to good liturgy. I don’t have a full enough undertsanding of this myself to comment explicitly about the matter, although I’ve occasionally suggested alterations that do, I hope, take cadence and rhythm into account.

      The series of staccato syllables in ‘many revelations’ does interfere with the flow, and changing ‘many’ to ‘divers’ is an improvement, but the problem exists in both versions of the collect, and ‘divers’ would interfere in other ways with the flow in the second version. If you have skill in these things, I urge you to try a complete rewrite of both collects.

      More generally, I find the phrase ‘Dame Julian’ well enough known not to be distracting, even if most Americans and many English don’t understand the significance of the title, but ‘the Lady Julian’ is awful and should be changed to ‘Dame Julian’ or better just Julian. It’s just too cringeworthy for words.

  2. This commemoration is already included in the Calendar. The Hebrew Scripture reading is new.

  3. New Hebrew reading. Ah, three verses again. Who has time for 4, 5, or 6 verses any more? (Just kidding).

  4. Again, we have the complaint that a reading is too short. These presumed mid-week services where we thought short lections would be welcome. Of course, a presider can always lengthen a reading. Greg Howe

  5. The header calls her “Dame”; the collect, “Lady,” and the bio both. Please decide on one or the other. It would be helpful to add “of Norwich” after “Julian” in the collects.

    • I’m by no means an expert in all this, but I’m forced to respectfully disagree with Mr. (Father?) Morrell. Dame and Lady mean the same thing, particularly at this point in history when the Norman conquest was a not too distant memory, and I think that, properly introduced, (either around sermon time or before the service) there’s no need to include “of Norwich.” We don’t do so for the other “brand name” saints (Francis of Assisi, Benedict of Nursia, etc.) and I think Julian is of sufficient reputation it’s not necessary for her either.

      I’m always finding that in my own prayers that including the full names (e.g. Charles Menninger and William Mayo and their Sons) in the collect always leads to them becoming far more didactic and far less mystical.

      • Charles Menninger and William Mayo (and their sons) might be ‘less mystical’? 🙂

      • Michael, I recognize that “Dame” and “Lady” were pretty much interchangeable in the 14th-15th centuries, and that neither has the specific titular meaning it has in modern British usage, but on the presumption that not everyone may know this, I suggested that perhaps it would be better to stick to one or the other title. I take your point on not needing “of Norwich” in the collect as long as some description of the good Dame is made available at the service. For that matter, if such a description is made, we could drop the “Lady” from the collect, since honorifics are not usual in collects. I imagine it’s in there only because Julian is not normally a female name. (I gather the name comes from the fact that she was an anchoress at the Church of St. Julian, Norwich, and that we really don’t know her baptismal name.)

        I’m just an interested layman.

      • Mr. Morrell,

        Those all seem wonderful suggestions. To be honest, I’ve never heard of JoN being addressed as either “Dame” or “Lady” outside the context of the Order of Julian of Norwich’s publications, and I assumed they only did so because she is their patroness, not out of any obscure reference to peerage, though I may well be mistaken. In short, I see no reason why she shouldn’t just be “Julian of Norwich” — that’s how she always seems to be called outside of HWHM.

        Mr. LaVoe (below) is quite right in pointing out that the collect makes it clear we are talking about the female Mystic and not Julian after whom she is called. (I don’t think he remains widely commemorated; even think the RCs don’t mention him any more, though he’s probably on the books somewhere.)

        I have to agree that all the lessons seem to be a little on the short side: there’s nothing wrong with a short psalm or a short epistle here or there, but if the entire commemoration merits only 17 verses we probably need to rethink something.

        Finally, I have to give a resounding endorsement to Mr. LaVoe’s suggestion that the Dedication preface be used — it’s a lovely preface, far too rarely used, and absolutely perfect for JoN. I only know of two (very Anglo-Catholic) parishes that have a yearly dedication festival so I imagine most people have never heard it. (And I, like every former chorister, want every opportunity to sing through Bairstow’s “Blessed City” :-P)

      • Technically, “Dame” is, and was, an honorific given to women who are considered to be the same level as a Knight from a social point of view. Priests, s a few may recall, were addressed as “Sir,” with the equivalent of “Dame” for their wives, or women of the same social standing. Being an anchores she would not have been addressed as “Sister” or “Mother.” “Dame” was, and is, her proper tittle.

      • Mr. Robinson:

        What merits Julian’s traditional title “Dame”? Wouldn’t her low social standing (or at least I assume that an unmarried solitary would be of low social standing) preclude that honorific? Just wondering…

        Also, your explanation of “dame” is consistent with what I’d heard before: is it true that “Lady” was used the same way?

      • By entering the Anchoritic life she side steps the social norms in some way. Ann K. Warren writes about this standing in the volume of the Cistercian Studies series entitled Distant Echoes. (Number 71 to be exact). Since the local, secular Clergy, despite their origen, were addressed as “Sir” and often an honorific tied to their first Cure (ie: Sir Christopher of The Advent) so she would have been called “Dame” as it is the equivalent feminine form of address. Also, remember that Titles function sort of like names so that she is the Dame of St Julians Church.

        Lady is an honorific given to a woman who is either the wife of a Lord, or has an aristocratic title of her own. The tittle “Baron” was almost unknown in England until after the the Wars of the Roses. References to “the Barons” or “the Barronage” were, and are, used as a way to refer to the lesser aristocracy in England. This is complicated by the invention of the title “Baronet” by James the First. Baronets are styled as “Sir” but outrank Knights and their wives are styled as “Lady.” A Baronetess is styled as “Dame” and her husband has no honorific.

        At this point we may start to sound like a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
        To restate my point though: “Dame” is quite proper while “Lady” is not.

    • Not to go too far down the rabbit hole, but the Catholic encyclopedia suggests that the idea of “Lady Julian” comes from trying to associate here with a different “Lady Julian” of history:

      Also, has anyone ever heard her referred to as “Juliana”? I’ve come across that a few times scoping out various RC liturgical resources today, but never in any other context.

  6. Dame Julian of Norwich, c. 1417
    GENERAL: How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? I wish I knew. I don’t have a sense of what life and ministry was like for an anchoress attached to a parish church in the 1400s. It’s like trying to picture someone else’s dream to try to imagine it. It’s a “gimme” that she lived alone (not unusual), “in a small dwelling attached to the Church of St. Julian” (matriarchs in two village churches I’ve served have done similarly, if “next door to church” counts), she kept a highly disciplined Rule, including prayer and meditation, and led a life focused by liturgically formal , publically witnessed vows (this exceeds the “matriarch” model), may well have served many roles normally filled by a sacristan, sexton, matriarch, warden, evangelist, catechist, visitor, nurse, gardener, etc. (this is pure speculation on my part), and most definitely offered spiritual guidance to many, well beyond the local parish. This describes a very “temple-bound” manner of living the Baptismal Covenant, not identical with, but similar to part of a priest or cloistered monastic’s vocation and life.
    How does this person inspire us in Christian life today? She models the “priesthood” of all believers, but probably not in Luther’s sense. All of us, in Baptism, and the church as a whole, are called to a life that has diaconal, priestly, and episcopal aspects – like corners in a triangle — but the wholeness of Baptismal life is the ENTIRE triangle, and in a sense the ENTIRETY of the triangle represents our life as “the laity” – “the people” of God in Christ. Julian inspires us in ways related to the “priestly” corner or aspect. She’s not the ideal model for the entirety of the Christian (Baptismal) life and church – not to criticize her, but merely to specify where her important and inspiring strength lies. To a good but lesser extent, she also models the episcopal (oversight) aspect by adopting a Rule in governance over her own baptismal life as a solitary, — but was not “episcopal” to the church as a whole, nor in a way likely to be typical for the vast majority of Christians in general who are neither solitaries nor spiritual directors. In the sense of Paul’s inviting line of thought, “if the whole church were a foot how would it smell” (I can never resist that misquote), if the whole church lived ONLY as Julian lived, where would be the diaconal side, advocacy and action for justice, compassionate action for the marginalized and victims of greed and selfishness, social conscience towards minorities and the ostracized, and vision of Christ’s connecting the world’s needs and the church’s resources to heal, strengthen and enrich life in two-way intercourse with God’s world and God’s grace, both in the temporal frame and also in the eternal?
    TITLE: Several “comments” already mentioned the use of “DAME” or “LADY” – and I have no notion of where the need and use for either originates. (I don’t mean which language they come from.) The comment about “honorifics” in collects seems right to me – we don’t. That she’s a “she” is amply evident from the use of “her” and “she” throughout the commemoration, so the title isn’t needed for that. I don’t really care what is used, but it all amounts to calling her “Miss Julian” and seems a little odd – like “Driving Miss Daisy.” Julian of Norwich was how I’ve usually heard her identified, and that is what sounds right to my ears – but I admit that’s a subjective reaction (just like, “I know nothing about art but I know what I like when I see it”).
    NARRATIVE: I found this narrative excellent. It tells the story, it makes sense, and it conveys at least a TASTE of the style of the person commemorated. It should mention a year of death (not just in the title), and the place (if known). “Dame Julian” near the beginning suggests peerage when one first hears it. Unfortunately, it also starts my mind singing “There is nothing like a dame” from South Pacific. (It’s not in the hymnal – don’t look.) In paragraph 2, “in the seventh day” loses me; seventh from when? Does it matter? Should we omit the phrase ,or add “FROM xyz” (or say “seven days later”)? It doesn’t just mean the Sabbath, does it? In the third paragraph we have,
    “including the famous mystic Margery Kempe. Kempe says…”
    Do we have to say “famous”? (Will there be autographs, photo ops, or tee shirts?)
    And, to eliminate the immediate repetition of “Kempe” could we continue the sentence with a comma (instead of the period) and change “Kempe says” to “, who said…”? (And did she say it or write it?)
    At the end of the narrative I would prefer an acknowledgement of the date and place of Julian’s death.
    COLLECT: The collect is beautiful, but its lack of a “so that” clause suggests, I think, that a life of contemplation and a profound Rule of Life must not have any implications for us “ordinary laymen/ Christians/ schleps.” With this particular wording, I think the “so that” clause would have to be inserted Immediately after, “all things,” reserving the remaining wording to be resumed after the “so that” insertion. “Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things,” [insert “so that” clause here, followed by] “for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord…etc.” As to its content, anything deemed fitting would be fine, a random example being, “…so that all your people may know you through prayer and and sacraments, giving themselves wholly to the life and work to which they are called,…”.
    READINGS: The BOS lists readings in the “Setting Apart for a Special Vocation” that may well recommend themselves for a commemoration of Julian. I found the psalm perfectly acceptable, but the OT lesson seemed void of resonance with the commemoration:
    3 Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb;
    4 even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.
    5 To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, as though we were alike?
    Brevity is not the point to me, and citing brevity as a saving grace seems a shameful basis for excusing, overlooking or justifying a poor selection. Longer or shorter, it should be meaningful, somehow! Even the nearby Isaiah 45:18-25 would be preferable, in light of Julian’s devout way of looking at creation (e.g., the hazelnut – not included in the narrative but not required for appreciating 45:18-25).
    The Hebrews selection seems fine especially with its emphasis on the Temple and the priestly role), but I find it odd that it would end mid-sentence (v. 24, at a comma) instead of continuing to the end of the sentence with verse 25. I’d extend it to 25). Also, it would add an eschatological depth beyond simply ethical, and communal bliss. (“Provoke to love” — Bliss?)
    24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,
    25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching
    The gospel selection isn’t going to harm anyone, but I don’t find it especially relevant to the commemoration. The BOS selections (see above) include:
    Matthew 16:24-27 (Let him take up his cross and follow me);
    Matthew 19:3-12 (Eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom) (vow of chastity is often assumed);
    Matthew 19:16-26 (Sell what you possess and give to the poor) (vow of poverty often assumed);
    John 15:1-8 (I am the vine, you are the branches).
    PREFACE: (No, there’s nothing I don’t have an opinion on. I didn’t invent blogs – blame that on someone else.) I don’t see the particular applicability of the Epiphany preface to Julian. The Lenten preface, or that for All Saints, seem more matched to a solitary’s overall dedication. In Julian’s particular case, with such a strong Temple/Priest-like accent, Dedication of a Church also fits:
    Through Jesus Christ our Lord; who was tempted in every way as we are, yot did not sin. By his grace we are able to triumph over every evil, and to live no longer for ourselves alone, but for him who died for us and rose again.
    All Saints:
    For in the multitude of your saints you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses, that we might rejoice in their fellowship, and run with endurance the race that is set before us; and, together with them, receive the crown of glory that never fades away.
    Dedication of a Church:
    Through Jesus Christ our great High Priest; in whom we are built up as living stones of a holy temple, that we might offer before you a sacrifice of praise and prayer which is holy and pleasing in your sight.
    THE END (fin-ally)

  7. I have no idea why there is no subtitle: I suggest “Mystic and Author”, or “Contemplative”.

    Line 2, first paragraph: add “November 8,” after “birth (“,

    Line 1, fourth paragraph: add “, England,” after “Norwich”,

    Add a sixth paragraph: “The precise date and place of her death are uncertain, but she probably died in Norwich on about May 8, 1417.”

  8. I agree re: the Isaiah.. but my comment is actually to thank you all for all the good work on this. I appreciate the works for our mid-week mass. Is it possible to have access to the upcoming feasts? This would make homily preparation easier!! thanks again

  9. Without being too fussy I would note that he graphic used to represent Julian is about 100 years
    later than her life time. It is an almost generic substitue for the person. If it was intended as an
    ikon, please say so ! My wife suggests that the head dress and bodice of the dress are much
    too complex for daily use by a solitary.

  10. I would suggest that we drop the Margery Kempe reference. Since the uncovering of more of the text of her Book considerable questions have arisen concerning her life. It may be best to not mention her and avoid any controversy.

  11. To Mr. Morrell: Since The Episcopal Church is a lay-led denomination (thanks be to God), you’re hardly “just a…layman.” No need to denigrate yourself for being a leader. :-).

      • 😀
        How wonderful to hear someone say that~

        And my episcopos is a good and holy man indeed. Proud to have him lead the Church wherein I live.

      • I thought the Holy Spirit had a vote at convention, too — along with the house of episcopossums and the house of deputized lay&ordained baptized?

      • Maybe it’s more of an executive vs legislative branche sort of thing 😛

      • ‘Synodically governed, episcopally led’ is the traditional formula. Lay and clergy together, in their representatives, set the direction, bishops lead the charge. Sometimes.

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