Soft footsteps – history – art and literature – Julian of Norwich

28 May


We follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. We celebrate their success and learn from their mistakes (before making our own

Julia Margaret Cameron image source : Wikipedia

Julia Margaret Cameron

as we take the next innovative step).

Women have been pioneers throughout history. New ideas and “content” have been created. Existing concepts have been challenged and new inspirations have been found. The following 7 sections covering Art & Literature, Computing Technology, Education, Entertainment, Politics, Science and Society provides a taste of the work women have undertaken to try to make the world a better place for everyone. Their work and passion has laid foundations that all of us (men, women and children) can build on.

The list is neither exhaustive nor complete and is provided purely to take a brief glimpse at the historical achievements of women and as a reference point for those interested in future research in these subjects.

Please note the majority of historical research has been extracted from Wikipedia. Please click on the links for further information.

Soft footsteps – Art & Literature – Julian of Norwich

Women writers and artists have added a rich texture to the literature and art we all appreciate and enjoy today. Via their chosen expressive mediums, these women have championed spiritual and social causes and created new ways of working with the media available at that point in time (whether that is the use of Middle English to express your faith, satirical comedy or the development of modern photography). Their work has translated ideas into a reality that we can all still share, learn from and be inspired by.

Circa 1342 – 1416

Julian of Norwich image source wikipedia

Julian of Norwich

The first woman writer to be published in the English Language and the creator of one of the most remarkable documents of medieval religious experience.

The Revelations of Divine Love (which also bears the title A Revelation of Love — in Sixteen Shewings) is a book of Christian mystical devotions written by Julian of Norwich.

It is unknown if Julian was born in Norwich, or her parental origin, though it is thought she may have come from a prosperous family. She can be placed in Norwich from 1394 when a will refers to her as “Julian anchorite”. Her actual name is even unknown. She is also referred to as Juliana of Norwich, Dame Julian of Norwich, Lady Julian of Norwich and Mother Julian of Norwich.

The name “Julian” is taken from Saint Julian’s church, where she lived (in a small hut next to the church) as an anchoress. An anchoress is a woman who had entered into an enclosed, solitary life in order to achieve spiritual perfection.

At the age of thirty, Julian became seriously ill. As she prayed and prepared for death, she received a series of sixteen visions on the Passion of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Saved from the brink of death, Julian of Norwich dedicated her life to solitary prayer and the contemplation of the visions she had received. Soon after the event, she wrote a short account of her visions. Twenty or thirty years after her illness, near the end of the fourteenth century, she expanded her original short account of the visions and her understanding of them.

Latin was the language of religion in her day and the innovative step that Julian of Norwich took was to write about her visions in a straightforward Middle English, because she had no other medium in which to express herself. It was the first published book in the English language to be written by a woman. By writing in a more widely understood language Julian also made her experiences more widely available to other like minded Christians.

During her lifetime, she became known as a counsellor, whose advice combined common sense with spiritual insight. Since her death, many more have found help in her writings. The Revelations of Divine Love are about a personal spiritual experience in the fourteenth-century. This work is generally considered one of the most remarkable documents of medieval religious experience. A manuscript copy is available at the British Museum.

The relevance of this document in the 21st century can only really be understood if we look at the times that Julian lived in, Europe was ravaged by the plague, the clock was invented, as was the birth of the modern university, parliament and the banking system. Julian’s life time was a period of great change and great challenges, which some might say reflect the challenges we face today. Her work spoke of the joy, love and optimism she had found through her personal religious beliefs. A religion of compassion, rather than law and duty.

From Wikipedia

“As part of her differing view of God as compassionate and loving, she [Julian of Norwich] wrote of the trinity in domestic terms and compares Jesus to a mother who is wise, loving, and merciful.”

Similarly, she connects God with motherhood in terms of:

  1. the foundation of our nature’s creation“,

  2. the taking of our nature, where the motherhood of grace begins” and

  3. “the motherhood at work” and speaks metaphorically of Jesus in connection with conception, nursing, labour, and upbringing.

She, like many other great mystics, used female language for God as well as the more traditional male pronouns.

Her great saying, “…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well“, reflects this theology.”


Frances Burney image source wikipedia

Frances Burney

In the next post we will be looking at the story of our next historical literary pioneer, who, in 1918, Virginia Woolf described as the Mother of English Fiction.

For fear of bringing disgrace to her family her early works were written in secret and she was reluctant to reveal her identity. Yet, her satirical novels and plays about eighteenth-century society were thought to be the literary precursor to prominent authors who came after her, including Jane Austen and William Makepeace Thackeray. Hope you will be looking forward to getting to know a little about Frances Burney

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the authors.  Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information contained in this work neither the author, contributors, employees or advisers are able to accept any legal liability for any consequential loss or damage, however caused, arising as a result of any actions taken on the basis of the information contained in this work. All third party brands and trademarks belong to their respective owners.  Copyright : Maggie Baldry

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Posted by on May 28, 2011 in Soft Footsteps


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