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Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography

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In 1373, a thirty-year-old woman named Julian, living in East Anglia, England, began receiving visions--what she later called "sixteen showings"--that revealed to her the reality of the love of God. When she wrote these down, they became the first English-language book ever written by a woman. In this groundbreaking biograohy, AMy Frykholm recreates Julian's world and pain In 1373, a thirty-year-old woman named Julian, living in East Anglia, England, began receiving visions--what she later called "sixteen showings"--that revealed to her the reality of the love of God. When she wrote these down, they became the first English-language book ever written by a woman. In this groundbreaking biograohy, AMy Frykholm recreates Julian's world and paints a vivid picture of a remarkable woman's place in it.


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In 1373, a thirty-year-old woman named Julian, living in East Anglia, England, began receiving visions--what she later called "sixteen showings"--that revealed to her the reality of the love of God. When she wrote these down, they became the first English-language book ever written by a woman. In this groundbreaking biograohy, AMy Frykholm recreates Julian's world and pain In 1373, a thirty-year-old woman named Julian, living in East Anglia, England, began receiving visions--what she later called "sixteen showings"--that revealed to her the reality of the love of God. When she wrote these down, they became the first English-language book ever written by a woman. In this groundbreaking biograohy, AMy Frykholm recreates Julian's world and paints a vivid picture of a remarkable woman's place in it.

30 review for Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I finished reading this short book (which is more of a contemplative book than a biography) last evening. I am quite devoted to Julian of Norwich (c. 1342 – c. 1416), who in 14th century England wrote Revelations of Divine Love, believed to be the earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman. And I very much enjoyed reading this book. It is not quite accurate to say that the author took liberties with the known facts of Julian’s life, because very little indeed is known of J I finished reading this short book (which is more of a contemplative book than a biography) last evening. I am quite devoted to Julian of Norwich (c. 1342 – c. 1416), who in 14th century England wrote Revelations of Divine Love, believed to be the earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman. And I very much enjoyed reading this book. It is not quite accurate to say that the author took liberties with the known facts of Julian’s life, because very little indeed is known of Julian, including her social status, her ability to read and write, or even her name (her anchorage was attached to the Church of St. Julian in Norwich). Rather than regarding the lack of facts as a limiting factor, the author instead chose to weave her story of the life of Julian around what is know of Norwich (the second largest city in England before the Black Plague), medieval life, and how Julian herself may have seen herself and her visions. Her theology was not written for the theologians; while deferring to Holy Mother Church, she spoke of God’s love in terms of joy and compassion for her “even Christians”, that is, for the common person. The saying, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”, which Julian claimed to be said to her by God himself, reflects her theology. It is one of the most famous lines in Catholic theological writing and is one of the best-known phrases of the literature of her era. I recommend this book as a wonderful introduction to Julian for those who may not know of her; for those who know and love her, it’s a good addition to one’s bookshelves.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ethan Mandel

    Captivating meditation on Julian of Norwich. Delves into the life of medieval Norwich, the plague, and other influences behind Julian's writing and transformation. Absolutely loved this book, and it has inspired me to read further into her.

  3. 4 out of 5

    James

    As anyone who has delved into Julian will probably tell you, there is very little about her life that we can know for certain. We know she was a fourteenth century anchorite and that her Showings(or revelations) are universally praised for their beauty and depth. Rowan Williams has said that "Julian's Revelations may well be the most important work of Christian reflection in the English Language." Yet when we try to untangle the details of her personal life, we have scant documentary evidence a As anyone who has delved into Julian will probably tell you, there is very little about her life that we can know for certain. We know she was a fourteenth century anchorite and that her Showings(or revelations) are universally praised for their beauty and depth. Rowan Williams has said that "Julian's Revelations may well be the most important work of Christian reflection in the English Language." Yet when we try to untangle the details of her personal life, we have scant documentary evidence about who this Julian of Norwich really is. In Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography , Amy Frykholm does the impossible and presents us a sensitive and sympathetic vision of the beloved anchorite. Through eleven 'windows' she draws on various passages from Julian's revelations and sketches a portrait of her, placing in her in her historical context. She is able to show, convincingly, the backdrop of the plague, the culture of Norwich and Julian's religious education, and devotion to the life of prayer. At times Frykholm gives a carefully reasoned account, at other times this book is an imagined retelling, but in either case her picture of Julian is thoroughly realistic and judicious. I found the picture that Julian that emerges here thoroughly compelling and it makes me want to return again to Julian's Revelations so that I can read it with fresh eyes. Julian's devotional and prayer life is compelling and makes me want to approach prayer with the same attention and expectancy. And so I heartedly recommend this book to three sorts of readers: Those who love Julian will appreciate Frykholm's prose for the ways she lovingly, imaginatively and sensitively handles Julian and giving us a glimpse of her character. It is a beautiful book. Those who have attempted to read Julian's Revelations of Divine Love and have found her too difficult and ethereal. This is not a commentary on the Revelations, but it does draw on material of Julian's and contextualizes it. I love Julian and found that reading this book helps me see aspects of Julian with fresh eyes. Lastly, I would recommend this to those who would love to read Julian but are looking for a short simple introduction of her first. This book would serve you well. In case you missed it, I am recommending this book to anyone who has even a remote interest in Julian because it is readable, well-researched, imaginative and sympathetic to Julian. Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review. I know this review sounds overly positive, but they didn't tell me to say nice things. The book is just that good.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    This book breathed life into a person I had only vaguely heard of before. It is amazing how some things in life are the same throughout the centuries. Julian’s words and struggles felt immensely relatable to me in 2018. I recognize some of the author’s theories about Julian’s life can only be that because there is so little biographical info available (and some would disagree with her conclusions), but Amy Frykholm’s Julian feels so real: alive and tangible.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Dueholm

    If Terence Malick isn't busy he should make a movie of this book. It's a beautiful, earthy, imaginative yet restrained essay on a great mystic whose life is not well known in detail but whose world and whose thought are marvelously reconstructed here.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Máithrín

    Gorgeous and thought-inspiring. Frykholm weaves a beautiful tale with a wonderful selection of well-known and lesser known pull quotes put in context. While biographical and geographic details abound, they never feel forced. It's so organic that you can just get lost in the story, while in hindsight Frykholm shows amazing restraint. There is no delusion of grandeur--just the real simplicity of its reality. I had to put the book down and catch my breath at Julian's funeral. I feel like I walked th Gorgeous and thought-inspiring. Frykholm weaves a beautiful tale with a wonderful selection of well-known and lesser known pull quotes put in context. While biographical and geographic details abound, they never feel forced. It's so organic that you can just get lost in the story, while in hindsight Frykholm shows amazing restraint. There is no delusion of grandeur--just the real simplicity of its reality. I had to put the book down and catch my breath at Julian's funeral. I feel like I walked the streets of Norwich with Julian herself. I am so grateful to have read this book and highly recommend it to others.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    This was so interesting. I have an interest in Julian and anchorites, too.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Eileen Gebbie, Reverential

    A beautiful imagining of Julian's life.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Debra Waites

    I received the book as a gift from a Benedictine monastic and thoroughly enjoyed it. Others have written good reviews here that I wholly agree with.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    Written in an interesting way, but not really a biography. Too much license is taken.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Susan Quinnell

    This was not what I was expecting. I thought I would learn much more of her story. A very basic account.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tanya Marlow

    This was a pleasant surprise. I would never have read this book if it hadn’t been given to me by a trusted friend, but boy, was I glad I did. It is a biography of Julian of Norwich which reads like a novel, and brings to life the sights and smells of medieval England. This means that it can gently explore her theology, with a few quotes from her writings, putting it into the context of a church that was fearful of doomsday and a society that was recovering from the trauma of multiple deaths from This was a pleasant surprise. I would never have read this book if it hadn’t been given to me by a trusted friend, but boy, was I glad I did. It is a biography of Julian of Norwich which reads like a novel, and brings to life the sights and smells of medieval England. This means that it can gently explore her theology, with a few quotes from her writings, putting it into the context of a church that was fearful of doomsday and a society that was recovering from the trauma of multiple deaths from the plague. Before, I had always secretly thought that the quotes I had heard from Julian of Norwich were, frankly, a little bit bonkers, but this book reminded me that you should always read someone in the context of their time. I found this insight into her life and theology absolutely fascinating and a pleasure to read. Julian of Norwich was a remarkable woman who was the first woman to have a book published in English (she lived around the time of Chaucer, and Latin was typically the language of the church, but she wrote in the language of the people), and whose theology of unity with God rather than distance from Him stood in refreshing contrast to the “God is furious with you” message of much of medieval theology. Despite living a solitary life, she impacted many people beyond her small cell. This slim book brought medieval England and Julian’s theology to life for me, and by the end of the book I felt like a had found a friend and kindred spirit in Julian of Norwich. This book was an intelligent, gripping, and utterly charming glimpse of the theology and person of Julian of Norwich – highly recommended.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin Michelle

    This was a particularly lovely account of Julian of Norwich, written is a careful style (the author masterfully incorporates many authentic phrases and sayings from Julian's own hand) that is indeed "Contemplative" and particularly accessible to the reader who doesn't come to the work with a background in Julian's writings, life or medieval mysticism. I approached this book with little-to-no knowledge of Julian's life and found myself quite engrossed. The endnotes, also, are particularly thoroug This was a particularly lovely account of Julian of Norwich, written is a careful style (the author masterfully incorporates many authentic phrases and sayings from Julian's own hand) that is indeed "Contemplative" and particularly accessible to the reader who doesn't come to the work with a background in Julian's writings, life or medieval mysticism. I approached this book with little-to-no knowledge of Julian's life and found myself quite engrossed. The endnotes, also, are particularly thorough and there is an excellent Bibliography. This book had me at my library finding other books about Julian and itching to read her writings. This is a quick read that is certainly worth your time if you have any interest in women theologians, mysticism or the history of the Christian Church. Theologically rich and provocative, as well!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Stress the "contemplative" in the title--no one really knows much about her life, so this is more of an artful blend of what we know of 14th century England and how her writings/theology would have developed in that environment. I would personally use the word "devotional" instead of "contemplative"--at least my reading experience was quite spiritual. I find this historical period quite fascinating, especially the closeness of religion to everyday common life. I'm also intrigued by the role of w Stress the "contemplative" in the title--no one really knows much about her life, so this is more of an artful blend of what we know of 14th century England and how her writings/theology would have developed in that environment. I would personally use the word "devotional" instead of "contemplative"--at least my reading experience was quite spiritual. I find this historical period quite fascinating, especially the closeness of religion to everyday common life. I'm also intrigued by the role of women in the Christian faith in this era. This book fed my interests in many areas and opened doors to future exploration... which is always a characteristic of my favorite books. A wonderful gift from my mother!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    Very interesting little book telling about the life of Julian of Norwich, England of the late 1300's. Julian loved God so much that her greatest desire was to be able to relate to the suffering of Jesus on the cross and asked God for this in the form of 3 requests. In 1373, Julian received a vision from God that answered these requests and set Julian on a path that would change the rest of her life. Julian would end up writing her story while living in an anchorage (connected to a church) for ov Very interesting little book telling about the life of Julian of Norwich, England of the late 1300's. Julian loved God so much that her greatest desire was to be able to relate to the suffering of Jesus on the cross and asked God for this in the form of 3 requests. In 1373, Julian received a vision from God that answered these requests and set Julian on a path that would change the rest of her life. Julian would end up writing her story while living in an anchorage (connected to a church) for over 30 years until she died. Before Julian died she passed her book outside her window so she could share with other people. That story still lives on today.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Read for research before attempting Julian's Showings. This biography (perhaps not the right word) is meticulously researched but mostly fictionalized. As much as I would like a more clear-cut biography in terms of what we know about Julian of Norwich, versus what scholars guess about her, this book made her a person. That's really, really important, especially with a story of a holy woman who lived a long time ago, to be able to make sense of her choices and her life, even if the life we imagin Read for research before attempting Julian's Showings. This biography (perhaps not the right word) is meticulously researched but mostly fictionalized. As much as I would like a more clear-cut biography in terms of what we know about Julian of Norwich, versus what scholars guess about her, this book made her a person. That's really, really important, especially with a story of a holy woman who lived a long time ago, to be able to make sense of her choices and her life, even if the life we imagine may not be the life she lived. Even if you can't get past the idea of a fictionalized biography, it provides a neat window into the life of a woman in Norwich in the late 1300s.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Charles Lewis

    I read this just after getting severe spinal surgery. Once home I was so doped up I can could barely concentrate on a newspaper story let along a book. Just before surgery I had started reading some of Julian's sayings. They were simple observations about holiness in the everyday. Fortunately for me, this bio is written in about as simple a style as could be imagined. This is not a criticism. Sometimes it's a enough to read a simple story of a simple saint. In any event, it kept me company durin I read this just after getting severe spinal surgery. Once home I was so doped up I can could barely concentrate on a newspaper story let along a book. Just before surgery I had started reading some of Julian's sayings. They were simple observations about holiness in the everyday. Fortunately for me, this bio is written in about as simple a style as could be imagined. This is not a criticism. Sometimes it's a enough to read a simple story of a simple saint. In any event, it kept me company during a lot of sleepless night and for that I'm thankful. Charlie Lewis

  18. 5 out of 5

    Moira Crone

    A most unusual book, about the first woman who wrote a book in English. She is a contemplative who wanted to write down her visions. She did so. Frykholm is a sensitive and almost incandescent writer, who never strays too far from what could be known, and what is known, about this woman who decided she was going to leave the world during the times of the plagues,and describe God for the rest of her life.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Anita

    A gentle read that immersed me in Julian's coastal city in late medieval England, Frykholm gets to the core of Julian's visions (or revelations, or showings), the truth and presence and indomitable power of Jesus' love. Julian gently held and lived with this vision her whole life, deepened in it, and listened and spoke from its truth with all who came to her anchorage to speak with her.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    I loved this book and have given copies to several people. Although not much is known about Julian's life she was the first female author in English that we know of. Ms Frykholm's attempt to reconstruct her life in the 14th century rings very true. I read this book slowly, a little at a time to absorb its contemplative feel.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Violinknitter

    This is not the kind of book I usually enjoy. There's not enough known of Lady Julian to write a true detailed biography of her. Novelized biographies usually drive me nuts, and there were still parts of the text that made the historian in me go "Huh? Are you sure?" But in general, I loved the sweet tone & Julian's thought interlaced in the text. This is not the kind of book I usually enjoy. There's not enough known of Lady Julian to write a true detailed biography of her. Novelized biographies usually drive me nuts, and there were still parts of the text that made the historian in me go "Huh? Are you sure?" But in general, I loved the sweet tone & Julian's thought interlaced in the text.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    This is a beautiful speculative biography of Julian. I have been giving it to various people. I finished it while on a Colombia trip in February, & though Julian's time/place were so far removed, it was deeply nurturing & helped me process all the stories of pain we were listening to. This is a beautiful speculative biography of Julian. I have been giving it to various people. I finished it while on a Colombia trip in February, & though Julian's time/place were so far removed, it was deeply nurturing & helped me process all the stories of pain we were listening to.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    Pretty interesting for non-fiction--I usually can't finish non-fiction because I fall asleep, but there was enough of a story line, or maybe because I really wanted to know about Julian...I enjoyed learning about her, and Frykholm has done the world a service in telling this story!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    Wonderful treatment of the life of Julian, down to quotidian details of her life, what it was like to be a woman called to write and pray, other women religious of her time, and the local cultural geography that shaped her. Reading this was an experience of prayer for me.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dan Brunner

    What a lovely book about a remarkable person! Reading this book changed the way I teach about both the mystics and Julian of Norwich in my church history class.The book, like a hazelnut, is a treasure.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    this was good- I didn't know much about her, but it was interesting to find out more

  27. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

    A luminous work of sensitive imagination and sensible extrapolation.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chelsey

    Loved it - highly recommended.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Took me to 14th century England and introduced Julian of Norwich in such a way I would like to read a modern translation of her writing. Very well done.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Wahlquist

    For a biography based on virtually no first hand information, it's nicely done. I enjoyed getting to know a bit about the role of contemplative women in the 1300's. Decided to read her revelations.

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