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Revelations of Divine Love is a medieval book of Christian mystical devotions. It was written between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by Julian of Norwich, about whom almost nothing is known. It is the earliest surviving example of a book in the English language known to have been written by a woman. It is also the earliest surviving work written by an English anchorite or anchoress.
Julian, who lived all her life in the English city of Norwich, wrote about the sixteen mystical visions or "shewings" she received in 1373, when she was in her thirties. Whilst seriously ill, and believing to be on her deathbed, the visions appeared to her over a period of several hours in one night, with a final revelation occurring the following night. After making a full recovery, she wrote an account of each vision, producing a manuscript now referred to as the Short Text. She developed her ideas over a period of decades, whilst living as an anchoress in a cell attached to St Julian's Church, Norwich, and wrote a far more extended version of her writings, now known as the Long Text. She wrote straightforwardly in Middle English.
Julian's work was preserved by others. Various manuscripts of both the Long Text and the Short Text, in addition to extracts, have survived. The first publication of the book was a translation of the Long Text in 1670 by the English Benedictine monk Serenus de Cressy. Interest in Julian's writings increased with the publication of three versions of Cressy's book in the nineteenth century, and in 1901, Grace Warrack's translation of the manuscript of the Long Text known as 'Sloane 2499' introduced the book to twentieth-century readers. Many other versions of Julian's book have since been published, in English and in other languages.
Revelations of Divine Love was written by Julian of Norwich (1343 – after 1416), an English anchoress and mystic. Julian's dates can be surmised from various sources: Julian herself wrote that she experienced her revelations when she was thirty and a half years old in May 1373 (in chapters 2 and 3 of her Revelations), and the author of the preface to the so-called Short Text version of Julian's writings stated she was still alive in 1413. The celebrated mystic Margery Kempe wrote about her visit to Julian, which probably occurred in 1413. She is also mentioned by name in Isabel Ufford's will, which is dated 1416. The English antiquarian Francis Blomefield incorrectly wrote in the second volume of his History of the County of Norfolk that Julian was still alive in 1442.[note 1]
Throughout her life Julian lived in the city of Norwich, an important commercial and religious centre in England during the Middle Ages. The Black Death of 1348–50, the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and the suppression of the Lollards, all occurred during her lifetime.
In 1373, seriously ill and convinced she was close to death, the 30-year-old Julian received a series of visions, or 'shewings', of the Passion of Christ. All the revelations but one appeared to her over a period of several hours during one night; the last occurred a day later. After recovering from her illness, Julian lived the rest of her life as an anchoress, in a cell attached to St Julian's Church.
Details of her life remain unknown, but she is known with certainty to have existed, as she was the recipient of a number of wills, and she is mentioned in an account by Kempe, who met her at her cell in Norwich. It is not known for certain whether the name Julian was adopted once she became a recluse: the authors Liz McAvoy and Barry Windeatt have both commented on the lack of historical evidence that the true names of anchoresses were ever changed to match the patron saint of the church they belonged to, pointing out that Julian was a common girl's name during the Middle Ages, and McAvoy notes that Julian is the old form of the modern name Gillian.
Julian referred to herself in her writings as "a simple creature unlettered", a phrase perhaps used to avoid antagonising her readers, especially in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The term unlettered in the Middle Ages might have meant that she was herself illiterate, or that she did not receive a formal education, rarely available to laywomen. The city contained many convents whose orders recognized the importance of education. Many had boarding schools for girls, where they were taught to read and write. Scholars are not sure whether Julian attended such a school. It is possible that Julian had an educated brother and became literate through him.
Revelations of Divine Love is unique, as no other work written by an English anchoress seems to have survived. It is the first book in English known to have been written by a woman. In the 14th century, women in England were generally barred from high-status clerical positions or other authoritative roles such as teaching, and their knowledge of Latin, the lingua franca of the day, would have been limited. It is more likely that they read and wrote in Middle English, their vernacular language, as Julian did. Her life was contemporaneous with four other English mystics—Walter Hilton, Richard Rolle, Margery Kempe, and the unknown author of the work known as The Cloude of Unknowyng—all of whom wrote in the vernacular. The historian Janina Ramirez has suggested that their use of Middle English was a sensible choice, considering the inexplicable nature of what they were attempting to describe, as they could "couch their theological ruminations more as personal encounters with the divine". Julian's writings were not mentioned at all in any bequests, in which personal libraries of lay or monastic books were distributed within wills, as often happened for male authors at that time.
Some Middle English spiritual texts were written for a specific readership, such as The Cloude of Unknowyng, which was intended by the author to be read by a young hermit, but Julian wrote as if for a general readership. There is no evidence that her writings influenced other medieval authors, or were read by more than a very few people, until 1670, when her book was first published by Serenus de Cressy under the title XVI Revelations of Divine Love, Shewed to a Devout Servant of Our Lord, called Mother Juliana, an Anchorete of Norwich: Who lived in the Dayes of King Edward the Third. Since then the book been published under a variety of different titles,[note 2] and has become celebrated by Roman Catholics and Anglicans because of the clarity and depth of Julian's visions of God. Since the 1960s, a number of new editions and renderings of her book into modern English have appeared, as well as publications about her.
The book now commonly known as Revelations of Divine Love was written in manuscript form by Julian in two versions, now known as the Long Text and the Short Text, both of which contain an account of each of her revelations. They were written whilst she was living as an anchoress, enclosed in her cell attached to St Julian's Church, with the Short Text being completed soon after Julian had recovered from her illness. Complete versions of the extended version of her writings known as the Long Text—in which she developed her ideas over a period of decades—survive in the form of three separate manuscripts. Three partial copies of the Long Text are also known to exist.
The Short Text is known from a single manuscript. The number of copies of the Long Text that once existed, but are now lost, is not known: Windeatt refers to the three surviving manuscripts of the Long Text as being copied "perhaps from now-lost medieval manuscripts or copies of these", and the authors Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins acknowledge the existence of unknown "earliest copies".
The Long Text does not seem to have been widely circulated in late medieval England. The one surviving medieval manuscript, the mid- to late‑fifteenth century Westminster Manuscript, contains a portion of the Long Text, refashioned as a didactic treatise on contemplation.
The three complete manuscripts of the text fall into two groups, with slightly different readings. The late-16th century Brigittine Long Text manuscript was produced by exiled nuns in the Antwerp region. Now referred to as "MS Fonds Anglais 40" (previously known as "Regius 8297") or simply the Paris Manuscript, and consisting solely of a copy of Julian's Long Text, it resides in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. The other two surviving manuscripts, "Sloane MS 2499" and "Sloane MS 3705", now form part of the British Library's Sloane Collection. The Paris Manuscript and "Sloane MS 2499" are named by Watson and Jenkins as "the main witnesses to the text".
The Paris Manuscript (BnF fonds anglais 40), a manuscript consisting of the Long Text, was probably copied near Antwerp in imitation of an early-sixteenth-century hand in c.1580, travelled from there to Rouen, was sold by the Bridgettine monastic community, and was then owned by Jean Bigot of Rouen during the second half of the 17th century, before being bought for the French royal collection in 1706.
The one surviving medieval manuscript to contain Julian's writings, the mid- to late-fifteenth-century Westminster Manuscript, contains a portion version of the Long Text, refashioned as a didactic treatise on contemplation.
It is part of a medieval florilegium, now known as "Westminster Cathedral Treasury, MS 4", which was inscribed on parchment c.1450-1500. The manuscript has '1368' written on the opening folio. Along with Revelations of Divine Love, "Westminster Cathedral Treasury, MS 4" also contains commentaries on Psalms 90 and 91, purportedly by the 14th century Augustinian mystic Walter Hilton, and a compilation of Hilton's The Scale of Perfection. During the 16th century it was owned by the Catholic Lowe family. In 1821, Bishop James Bramson made a hand calculation of the age of the manuscript on its endpaper. Rediscovered in August 1955, it is kept in the archives of Westminster Abbey, on loan from Westminster Cathedral.
It is thought unlikely that the Short Text, thought to have been completed shortly after Julian's recovery from her illness in 1373, was ever read by others whilst she was still alive, on account of the draconian measures taken against those—especially women—who wrote on theology in Middle English, the vernacular language. The text was instead copied after her death, and then largely forgotten. It remained hidden following the English Reformation, as ownership of any copies of her work would have been considered heretical by the religious authorities.
The sole surviving medieval copy of the Short Text was—until its reappearance in 1910—thought to have been lost. It is part of an anthology of theological works in Middle English, now known as "MS Additional 37790". It was copied c.1450 by James Grenehalgh (born c.1470) for the Carthusian community at Syon Abbey. The manuscript acknowledges Julian as the author of the Short Text and includes the date 1413.
The manuscript was obtained for the library of the English astrologer and astronomer Vincent Wing (1619-1668) and was at a later date acquired by the English antiquary Francis Peck (d. 1743). The copy is known to have been seen by Francis Blomefield when the manuscript was in Peck’s possession, as Blomefield quoted from it in his 1745 work An essay towards a topographical history of the county of Norfolk. During the eighteenth century it was owned by the scientist and collector William Constable (1721–91) of Burton Constable Hall, in Yorkshire, before being sold on 14 June 1889 at Sotheby's to the politician and collector Lord Amherst of Hackney (1835-1909). As part of the sale of the library of Lord Amherst of Hackney, which took place on 24 March 1910, the manuscript was purchased by the British Museum. "MS Additional 37790"—once known as the Amherst Manuscript—is now held in the British Library in London.
Serenus de Cressy, a confessor for the English nuns at Cambrai, published a translation—probably in England—of the Paris Manuscript in 1670. Copies exist in eleven British libraries, including the British Library and Dr Williams's Library in London. There is also a copy in Berlin, and three copies in the United States.
Cressy's book was reprinted in 1843 in an edition by George Parker, which included biographical details about Cressy, and a detailed glossary. The American Roman Catholic priest Isaac Hecker reprinted Cressy's book in 1864, noting in his preface "how sweetly the voice of piety sounded in our good old Saxon tongue". In 1902 the Irish Jesuit priest George Tyrrell published another version of the book, which included a detailed preface.
Modern interest in the text increased with the 1877 publication of a new edition by Henry Collins, and still further with the 1901 publication of the Scottish translator Grace Warrack's version of the book. The first modern translation, it included, according to the author Georgia Ronan Crampton, a "sympathetic informed introduction". It was based on "MS Sloane 2499", introduced early twentieth-century readers to Julian's writings, and was republished nine times (with revisions) before Warrack's death in 1932. Only one other complete version of the Long Text appeared in English between 1902 and 1958: Dom Roger Hudleston's translation of the Sloane manuscript, published in 1927.
In 1910, Gabriel Meunier produced an edition in French, Révélations de l’amour divin, with a second edition made in 1925. During the 1970s, several new versions of the book were published: Marion Glasscoe, A Revelation of Divine Love, produced by the University of Exeter in 1976, and revised in 1989; Roland Maisonneuve's edition, Le Petit Livre des révélations (1976); Etienne Baudry, Une revelation de l'amour de Dieu: version brève des "Seize révélations de l'amour divin" (Begrolles en Mauges, 1977); and A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, an edition in two volumes by Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (PIMS, 1978).
In the 1990s, Georgia Ronan Crampton produced The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, (West Michigan University, TEAMS, 1993) and Frances Beer produced Revelations of Divine Love, (Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1998). New editions of Julian's book published this century include: Sr Anna Maria Reynolds, and Julia Bolton Holloway, Julian of Norwich: Extant Texts and Translation (Sismel, 2001); Denise N. Baker, The Showings of Julian of Norwich (Norton, 2004); Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins, The writings of Julian of Norwich (Brepols, 2006); Elisabeth Dutton, Julian of Norwich: A Revelation of Love (Yale University Press, 2010); and Barry Windeatt, Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love (OUP, 2015).
After the death of Dame Margaret Gascoigne in 1637, the Benedictine monk Fr. Augustine Baker edited a treatise including two brief passages by Julian, which was kept in Paris until 1793. The original treatise (now named 'MS Baker 18') is now kept at St Mary's Abbey, Colwich.
The Long Text of Revelations of Divine Love is divided into 87 chapters, if a postscript written by a medieval scribe is included as a final chapter, as in the edition by Grace Warrack. The first three chapters comprise the introduction. All the remaining chapters except chapter 87 describe Julian's revelations, each of which is given between one and twenty-two chapters. 
The first chapter begins: This is a Revelation of Love that Jesus Christ, our endless bliss, made in Sixteen Shewings, or Revelations particular. This is followed by a sentence or two describing each of the sixteen visions in turn. The second chapter is partly autobiographical. Julian mentions her illness, but in a spiritual manner. She reflects on three 'gifts' from God: meditation on the Passion of Christ, meditation on her own suffering, and the gift of greater piety (which she calls 'wounds'). In the third chapter, which concludes the introduction, Julian writes more concretely about the events of her illness and her preparation for death by receiving the last rites. The introduction ends with Julian's recounting of her sudden recovery as she lay on her deathbed gazing at a shining image of the cross.
And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, it seemed, and it was as round as any ball. I looked thereupon with the eye of my understanding, and I thought, 'What may this be?' And it was answered generally thus: 'It is all that is made.' I wondered how it could last, for I thought it might suddenly fall to nothing for little cause. And I was answered in my understanding: 'It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it; and so everything has its beginning by the love of God.' In this little thing I saw three properties; the first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; and the third is that God keeps it.
Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, chapter V "Westminster Cathedral Treasury, MS 4"
Modern translations of Revelations of Divine Love all include commentaries on Julian and her writings. Other separately published commentaries include those by Father John-Julian's Love’s Trinity: A Companion to Julian of Norwich (2009), and Veronica Mary Rolf's Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life and Revelations of Julian of Norwich (2013). Scholars of Julian all acknowledge that her writings are neither only a record of her experiences, nor solely devotional, and that she fully intended them to be accessible to others.
According to the translator Grace Warrack, the central theme of her book is God as love: "To Julian, the only shewing of God that could ever be... ...was the Vision of Him as Love." Philip Sheldrake notes that her teachings focus on "a God whose meaning is love and only love", and that Julian uses "feminine, specifically motherly imagery for God".
Much of the content of Julian's Short Text is repeated in the Long Text. Some passages were re-written, but much of the wording and many of the phrases of the Short Text were retained in the Long Text. It can be considered as a commentary on the Short Text, with extensive meditations on each of the revelations written as additional passages, woven by Julian into the fabric of her original words. The Short Text has the character of a narrative of an experience of revelation, but Julian's later writings bear witness to her later perception of God, of herself, and of her evencristens ('fellow Christians'), all being developed during her years as a recluse. Missing from the Short Text is the parable of the Lord and the Servant, and the chapters on Christ our Mother.
Julian's writings reveal almost nothing about her home, her life or the times she lived in: the few details in the Short Text that involve other people included (such as the boy accompanying the priest on his visit to Julian during her illness) were removed during the process of writing the Long Text.
Most of the chapters in the Long Text begin with a short abstract of what Julian saw, followed by details of her experiences and a commentary section. The longest chapter, Chapter 51, is an 'exemplum', which was used, according to the author Philip Sheldrake, to "inform, edify, persuade and motivate the listeners". The chapter contains Julian's parable of the Lord and the Servant, considered by Sheldrake to be important for helping the reader to understand Julian's theology. The final chapter is a reflection of all of the previous ones, as explained by Julian: “This book has been begun by God’s gift and his grace, but it has not yet been completed, as I see it. We all pray together to God for charity, thanking, trusting and rejoicing by the working of God. This is how our good Lord wills that we pray to him, according to the understanding I drew from all of what he intended us to learn and from the sweet words he spoke most cheerfully, ‘I am the ground of your beseeching."
Each of the revelations is composed of visual images, fully articulated words and spiritual events. Most of the images focus on aspects of the Passion of Jesus, for example as in Chapter 4, when Julian depicts Jesus' blood flowing from the crown of thorns: "In this sodenly I saw the rede blode trekelyn downe fro under the garlande hote and freisly and ryth plenteously, as it were in the time of His passion that the garlande of thornys was pressid on His blissid hede". However, her visions of the Passion leave out much of the Biblical story. She discusses the nature of God, sin, and prayer, and the theology of creation, and speaks of the Trinity at length. Her commentaries include a discussion of the idea of 'Jesus Christ as Mother': without describing Jesus as a woman, she understands him to embody the qualities of motherhood. Secular images in the text include Julian's vision of the hazelnut placed in the palm of her hand.
Julian's revelations vary in length, type and content. Some (e.g. the first, second and eighth revelations) provide a detailed description of Christ's face and body. Contrasting with these is one such as the short twelfth revelation, a single chapter of a few hundred words, which lacks any imagery. According to Julian, this revelation transcended her wits "and all my understanding and all my powers... ".
Translators of Julian's book have had to deal with her obscure words by modernising them, sometimes by correcting spellings into recognisable words without realising that their meanings have shifted over time. Windeatt notes the difficulties for any translator wishing to maintain Julian's original content, whilst still producing a text suitable for a contemporary audience. According to Georgia Ronan Crampton, Julian's writing displays an intellectualism such as a "conspicuous meticulousness in (the) disposal of prepositions", an indication that Julian was highly literate.
A section from Chapter 3 of the Long Text can be used as an illustration of how the translation of Julian's words has been approached by different editors:
|Middle English||Collins, 1877 (p. 10)||Warrack, 1907 (p. 7)||Windeatt, 2015 (p. 43)|
|After this my sight began to failen and it was all derke about me in the chamber as it had be night, save in the image of the Cross wherein I beheld a comon light, and I wiste not how. All that was beside the Cross was uggely to me as if it had be mekil occupyed with the fends. After this the other party of my body began to dyen so ferforth that onethys I had ony feleing, with shortnesse of onde; and than I went sothly to have passid.||After this my sight began to fail; it waxed as dark about me in the chamber as if it had been night, save in the image of the cross, wherein I beheld a common light, and I wist not how. All that was beside the cross was ugly and fearful to me, as it had been much occupied with fiends.
After this the over part of my body began to die, so far forth that scarce I had any feeling; my most pain was shortness of breath, and failing of life.
|After this my sight began to fail, and it was all dark about me in the chamber, as if it had been night, save in the Image of the Cross whereon I beheld a common light; and I wist not how. All that was away from the Cross was of horror to me, as if it had been greatly occupied by the fiends.
After this the upper part of my body began to die, so far forth that scarcely I had any feeling;—with shortness of breath. And then I weened in sooth to have passed.
|After this my sight began to fail and all grew dark around me in the room, as though it had been night, except for the image of the cross in which I saw a light for all mankind—I did not know how. Everything apart from the cross was ugly to me, as if it had been much crowded with fiends.|
After this the upper part of my body began to die to such as extent that I hardly had any sensation. My greatest pain was my shortness of breath and the ebbing away of life.
Julian's style of English appears simple in form and lacks more complicated sounding words, but she expresses complex ideas and deep emotions. According to Windeatt, "a subtle patterning of words and clauses contributes to Julian's meaning". Windeatt notes that to modern readers, Julian's sentences can seem overlong, as she wrote in such a way that ideas "appear to circle their subject in building towards an accumulated understanding". She evolved her ideas after years of contemplation upon her visions.
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