Over six hundred years ago, in an enclosure attached to a church in Norwich, England, a woman known only as Julian wrote a book detailing sixteen mystical encounters with Christ on the cross. At the time few women could read or write, and the writing or teaching of theology by “unlettered” lay people in the vernacular was strictly forbidden. Today, however, Julian’s Revelations are studied along with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Her theological insights and spiritual direction are compared to those of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The twentieth century monk Thomas Merton called her “one of the most wonderful of Christian voices.”
But who was Julian? While her writings have increased greatly in popularity, the woman herself has remained a mystery. In Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich ($38.00), Veronica Mary Rolf draws on extensive research and interpretation to reconstruct Julian’s life and times. First, Rolf introduces the world of fourteenth century Norwich, and the political, religious, and cultural context: the Hundred Years’ War, the Great Plague, the Peasants’ Revolt, the Papal Schism, and the hugely popular Corpus Christi mystery plays. Rolf traces Julian’s likely ancestry, recreating her childhood, education, and adulthood as wife, mother, widow, and finally, enclosed anchoress. Then, Rolf interprets the Revelations themselves, in a new and highly accessible translation from the Middle English that includes a complete chapter-by-chapter spiritual companion to the texts.
Unique among studies of Julian of Norwich, this work creates a strong, dramatic arc for the Revelations, interweaving Julian’s personal sufferings and burning theological questions with her visionary experiences, producing a compelling spiritual biography of one of Christianity’s most extraordinary voices.
An independent scholar of medieval studies and comparative literature, Veronica Mary Rolf was educated at Columbia University, New York. She has spent her life in the professional theatre as a performer and playwright, including more than two decades training and directing actors as a Master Teacher of Dramatic Arts at the Stella Adler Studio (New York City), The Actors’ Centre (London), Teatro Andamio ’90 (Buenos Aires) and Berkeley Repertory Theatre (California). Currently, she presents a lecture series, Mornings with Julian of Norwich, and writes frequently on her website: JuliansVoice.com.