08 May 2023

‘All shall be well’ … Julian’s hope
and confidence in God ‘who
loves us and delights in us’

‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’ – Julian of Norwich

Patrick Comerford

Over the years, as I have faced personal difficulties and continued to wrestle with them, my mind returned constantly to those reassuring words from Dame Julian of Norwich: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’

When she wrote those words, Dame Julian of Norwich was expressing her attitude towards life and her spirituality. Julian’s spirituality is filled with hope and confidence in the God ‘who loves us and delights in us,’ the God who ‘will make all things well,’ the God who created us to live fully the life we have been given.

Those words have been in my head so often, and I was remined of them yet again over the weekend as I was reading the latest edition of the Church Times (5 May 2023), with two features by Canon Emma Pennington of Canterbury Cathedral and Sarah Meyrick marking the anniversary of the ‘shewings’ or visions of Julian of Norwich, beginning 650 years ago on this day, 8 May 1373.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) is one of the greatest English mystics. When she was 30, she suffered a severe illness and, believing she was on her deathbed, had a series of intense visions 650 years ago, between 8 and 13 May 1373. She recorded these visions and then reflected on them in theological depth 20 years later in Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love – the first book ever written in English by a woman.

Julian’s positive outlook does not come from ignoring suffering or being blind to it, but arises from the clarity she attained as she struggled with her own questions. This struggle gave her the ability to see beyond the pain and suffering and to look into the compassionate face of God. Only this gazing could reassure her that – despite pain, and sorrow – in God’s own time, ‘all shall be well.’

Julian had a heartfelt belief in the God who loves and graces us with an abundance that only God can give. And God’s love and grace placed Julian’s words before me time and again.

According to Julian, the unfathomable mystery of love is the supreme sign of the reality of God, and sin is necessary so that we can become, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, ‘instruments of love in the hands of God.’

TS Eliot adapted these ideas in Little Gidding, the fourth of his Four Quartets, when he wrote:

Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well …

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

Little Gidding is the most anthologised of the Four Quartets. In Little Gidding, the Four Quartets end with the well-known affirmation by Julian of Norwich:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Other poets and writers who reference her in their writings include Denise Levertov, Iris Murdoch and, more recently, the novelist and theologian Claire Gilbert and the novelist and poet Victoria Mackenzie.

Julian wrote in Revelations of Divine Love that she became seriously ill at the age of 30. Her Revelations of Divine Loveis based on a series of 16 visions she received beginning on 8 May 1373, when she was lying on what was thought at the time was her deathbed. On this day 650 years ago, a priest administered to her the last rites in anticipation of her death. As he held a crucifix above the foot of her bed, she began to lose her sight and feel physically numb. But, gazing on the crucifix, she saw the figure of Christ begin to bleed. Over the next several hours, she had a series of 15 visions of Christ, and a 16th the following night, giving her insights into his sufferings and his love for us.

Julian completely recovered from her illness on 13 May. It is generally agreed that she wrote about her visions shortly after she experienced them. Decades later, perhaps in the early 1390s, she began a theological exploration of the meaning of her visions, and produced writings now known as The Long Text. This second work seems to have gone through many revisions before it was finished, perhaps in the 1410s or 1420s.

Julian’s revelations seem to be the first important example of a vision by an Englishwoman for 200 years, in contrast with Continental Europe, where there was a golden age of women’s mysticism in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The Revelations of Divine Love survives in two versions. The first or short text was written shortly after the revelation given to Julian; the second or long text was written 20 years later. The long text is greatly expanded to include her meditations on what she had been shown. Only 17th century copies of earlier manuscripts of the long text survive today, and fragments from the 15th century survive.

Mother Julian wrote: ‘What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never, know different, without end’ (342).

Her optimistic theology speaks of God’s love in terms of joy and compassion as opposed to law and duty. Suffering is not a punishment inflicted by God, but God loves and saves everyone. Her great saying, ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,’ reflects this theology. It is one of the most individually famous lines in all theological and spiritual writing, and it is one of the most well-known phrases of the literature of her era.

Julian asked: ‘Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great harm which has come through sin to your creatures?’ (227).

This was God’s response to her: ‘And so our good Lord answered all the questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortingly: I make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well; and you will see for yourself that every kind of thing will be well … And in these words God wishes us to be enclosed in rest and peace’ (229).

A reading of the Revelations of Divine Love reveals an intelligent, sensitive and down-to-earth woman who maintains her trust in God’s goodness while addressing doubt, fear and deep theological questions.

Despite my problems over the years, particularly over the past year or two, I am sure God wishes me to be enclosed in love and rest and peace, and that I will see for myself that every kind of thing will be well. And I thank God for the friendship and love I have in life.


Most holy God, the ground of our beseeching,
who through your servant Julian
revealed the wonders of your love:
grant that as we are created in your nature
and restored by your grace,
our wills may be so made one with yours
that we may come to see you face to face
and gaze on you for ever;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

‘And in these words God wishes us to be enclosed in rest and peace’ – Julian of Norwich

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