The major work of Julian of Norwich's life is Revelations of Divine Love (sometimes referred to as Shewing, Showings, or A Book of Showings). There are actually two finished copies of this text composed decades apart, and these works are usually referred to as the short text and the long text. Despite being built upon similar elements, these two works are different enough to garner them both titles as independent literary achievements.
The composition of these texts was prompted when, in Julian's 31st year, she experienced a series of sixteen divine manifestations. Early in the short text, Julian actually states that she asked God for this series of events to happen. The first paragraph reads:
desired three gifts by the grace of God. The first was for an experience
of Christ's passion; the second was
for a bodily sickness; and the third was to receive, as a gift from God, three wounds (Beer 25).
God granted Julian all three of these requests, and the account of the few days surrounding these events is what comprises Revelations of Divine Love. About two years after her experience, Julian completed the short text. Sadly, this text has been mostly ignored by scholars, since many see it as merely a draft for the longer text, but that is not the case. While Julian worked on the long text for about fifteen years, starting about twenty years after the experience, she began work on the short text immediately after her experience. The short text contains very little interpretation of God's revelations to Julian, but the vividness of the description and the immediacy of purpose is largely lost in the long text. In this web site, I concentrate mostly on the short text, because most would consider it much more literary and exciting than the longer text.
The long text, however, is very rich in its own way. Julian augments most of the material from the short text (even deleting and adding revelations), and interprets and analyzes all of her experiences. While the short text is so vivid that it takes on the air of a work of fiction, the long text is much more like a series of essays, and this scholarly analyzation of religious tradition is what Julian has been most remembered for. In fact, Julian is most famous for one small part of the long text. Chapters LVIII - LXIII (commonly referred to as The Motherhood of God, or God the Mother), comprise Julian's most significant achievement, one that still seems fresh to readers more than 600 years later. In these passages she reinterprets the wholly masculine make-up of the Holy Trinity, recasting Jesus as a mother figure. The observations put forth in these chapters remain poignant and shocking to readers today.
Though she only composed two texts in her lifetime,
Julian of Norwich managed to become one of the most memorable authors in
the Christian tradition. Her distinctly feminine interpretations of religious
texts, mysticism, and tradition make her one of the few female voices to
break through the patriarchal Catholic tradition, and to this day her writings
allow Catholic feminists to reconcile two seemingly contradictory aspects
of their lives.