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

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (30) 8 May 2023

Saint Oswald (left) and Saint Aidan (right) in a stained-glass window in the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are more half-way through the season of Easter, and yesterday was the Fifth Sunday of Easter (7 May 2023). Today, the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Julian of Norwich, Spiritual Writer (ca 1417).

Today is a bank holiday in England as the post-cornonation public celebrations continue. Two of us are travelling to York later this morning. But, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. Following my recent visit to Lichfield Cathedral, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:

1, Short reflections on the windows in the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Saint Oswald and Saint Aidan window in Lichfield Cathedral is in memory of Archdeacon John Allen and Canon Henry George de Bunsen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Saint Oswald and Saint Aidan window:

The Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral is currently the venue for the exhibition ‘Library and Legacy,’ showcasing the collections in the cathedral library.

The chapter house was decorated with frescoes and stained glass in the late 15th century by Thomas Heywood, Dean of Lichfield in 1457-1492. The glass in the Chapter House once contained figures of the apostles, with other depictions above. These all predated the Cromwellian era, and were destroyed by the Puritans during the Civil War in the mid-17th century.

In the 19th century, the glazing of the chapter house displayed armorial bearings, more or less correct, in imitation of glass known to have ornamented the cathedral in the past. This armorial glass gradually gave way to glass representing scenes in the history of the cathedral. Six of the windows were glazed with these images in the late 19th and early 20th century, and the original but unfilled plan was to fill all the windows in the Chapter House.

The second window on the left-hand side on entering the Chapter House is in memory of the Ven John Allen (1810-1886), who was Archdeacon of Salop in the Diocese of Lichfield (1847-1886), and Canon Henry George de Bunsen, Rector of Donington (1847-1869) and a son of Baron de Bunsen. This window is by Burlison & Grylls, ca 1890. The firm was founded in 1868 at the instigation of the architects George Frederick Bodley and Thomas Garner. Both John Burlison (1843–1891) and Thomas John Grylls (1845–1913) had trained in the studios of Clayton and Bell.

The main figures in this window are Saint Oswald and Saint Aidan. Saint Chad, Saint Aidan and Saint Oswald are also depicted in the altar carving in Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield.

Saint Aidan was one of Saint Columba’s monks from the monastery of Iona. He was sent as a missionary to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald, who was later to become his friend and interpreter. Aidan was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne in 635, worked closely with Oswald and became involved with the training of priests.

Saint Chad of Lichfield was one of four brothers who were of Northumbrian nobility and who were educated by Saint Aidan at the monastery in Lindisfarne. At that time Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island, was one of the most important religious and centres in these islands.

From Lindisfarne, Aidan was able to combine a monastic lifestyle with his missionary journeys. With his concern for the poor and enthusiasm for preaching, he won popular support that enabled him to strengthen the Church beyond the boundaries of Northumbria. He died on this day in the year 651.

Saint Oswald, who was King of Northumbria, spent many years in exile in Dal Riada. On the night before the Battle of Hatfield Chase, it is said, Oswald had a vision of Saint Columba the in which he was told, ‘Be strong and act manfully. Behold, I will be with thee. This coming night go out from your camp into battle, for the Lord has granted me that at this time your foes shall be put to flight and Cadwallon your enemy shall be delivered into your hands and you shall return victorious after battle and reign happily.’

Oswald described his vision to his advisers, and all agreed that they would be baptised and accept Christianity after the battle. After his victory, King Oswald reunited Northumbria and reigned for nine years.

Shortly after becoming king, he asked the Irish of Dál Riada to send a bishop to facilitate the conversion of his people to Christianity. The Irish sent Saint Aidan, and Oswald gave the island of Lindisfarne to Saint Aidan as his episcopal see. Bede says Oswald acted as Aidan’s interpreter because he had learned Irish during his exile.

Bede portrays Oswald as living a saintly life as king and recounts Oswald’s generosity to the poor and to strangers.

Oswald was killed in the year 642 at the Battle of Maserfield, long identified as Oswestry in Shropshire. According to legend, one of his dismembered arms was carried to an ash tree by a raven. Miracles were later attributed to the tree, and legend says ‘Oswald’s Tree’ gave its name to the town.

Saint Oswald’s parish in Oswestry remains a parish in the Diocese of Lichfield.

The scenes in the lower panels of this window in the Chapter House in Lichfield depict Saint Aidan preaching to the Northumbrians, with King Oswald interpreting; and Saint Aidan at Lindisfarne, teaching in his school, where Saint Chad is one of the students.

These educational themes may have been chosen for this window because Archdeacon John Allen had once been a Lecturer at King’s College London.

Canon Henry George de Bunsen (1818-1885), was born in Rome in 1818, a son of the German diplomat and scholar Baron Christian Carl Josias von Bunsen (1791-1860). Canon de Bunsen was Vicar of Lilleshall (1847-1869), Rector of Donington, (1869-1885) and a Prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral (1878-1885). He died in Shifnal, Shropshire, on 19 March 1885.

The lower panels in the window depict Saint Aidan preaching, with King Oswald interpreting, and Saint Aidan at his school Lindisfarne, where Saint Chad was one of the students (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 14: 21-26 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 21 ‘They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ 23 Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.’

Saint Aidan (left), with Saint Oswald (centre) and Saint Chad (right) on the altar in Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘The Work and Mission of the Laity.’ USPG’s Regional Manager for Africa, Fran Mate, reflected yesterday on the work and mission of the laity.

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Monday 8 May 2023):

Let us pray for the Church throughout the world. May its members live out their baptismal promises and may each find their vocation and ministry.


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.

Post Communion:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with Julian to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Inside Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org