A biography of Julian of Norwich (a book review)

Julian of Norwich-Amy Frykholm 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.

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