Lady Julian of Norwich

Feast day May 8

Saints Stories for All Ages

A plague had swept through most of Europe, killing thousands of people. The first outbreak happened in Britain at the end of the year 1348. It happened again 20 years later. In the city of Norwich in the east of England, the plague killed at least one person in three, perhaps one in two. That meant at least 10,000 people died.

When the plague was over, there weren’t enough men left plough the fields or gather in the crops. So food became scarce and expensive. The poorest people suffered most. And if that wasn’t bad enough news, England was at war, fighting the French. Then, in 1372, Spain joined in with France against England. There was a huge sea battle, and the English were defeated. Many English sailors were taken prisoner and an English treasure ship was sunk. Back home, there was another poor harvest. It was a miserable winter. Bu then came spring and Easter. Would everything get better?

Not for one woman who lived in Norwich. A fortnight after Easter, she was taken ill. She was so ill by Wednesday evening that everyone thought she was going to die. Then, early the next Sunday morning (May 8), her parish priest visited her, bringing a crucifix, with a small statue of Jesus on it. “Look at it, and be strong,” he said.

At first she was too weak to even move her eyes. Then she managed to look at the figure of Jesus on the cross. For a moment, the room seemed to go dark and she thought these were last moments—but then she was no longer in pain! Over the next 12 hours, she saw many wonderful things in her mind—but as clearly as if they were quite real. The Lady Julian got better. Later, she wrote down the many things that she had seen when she was ill. Just one of the many sights included “a little thing, the size of a hazelnut and round, like a ball.” Then an answer came to her. “It stands for everything that has been made and everything that will made.” Julian understood three things from the sight of this “little thing” in the palm of her hand:

God has made everything. God loves everything. God looks after everything. Julian felt God was telling her that, yes, things go wrong in the world. There is illness, war, and famine. It can’t be helped. That is the way the world must be; but because God loves us, in the end all will be well.

Julian is not officially a saint, but she is remembered on May 8 in Anglican and Lutheran churches and on May 13 in the Roman Catholic Church.

from The Loyola Treasury of Saints