The First Woman to Write a Book in English Saw Visions

Julian of Norwich was born in 1342 in Norfolk, England. She is considered the first woman to have written a book in the English language: Revelations of Divine Love. Besides being a writer, Norwich was revered in her community as a woman of faith and many people followed her teachings.  

Norwich became an anchorite, a person who chose to shut themselves away in a room connected to a church. According to Atlas Obscura

In England, from about the 12th to the 16th century, an estimated 780 people chose to live permanently shut up in a room attached to a church. They were called anchorites, from a Greek word meaning to “withdraw,” and most of them were women. They left little record of their lives behind, and they’re little remembered today. 

Norwich wrote Revelations of Divine Love, a Christian text, around 1395. Revelations is still studied today and has been translated into various languages. Revelations is a sort of guide book of visions that Norwich encountered and the meanings behind them. Norwich recieved a ton of recognition in her day from her book and even inspired Margery Kempe, another English mystic, and anchorite. Kempe is the author of the first known autobiography in England and mentioned speaking with Norwich around 1414. 

Atlas Obscura says that in order to be an anchorite, one had “to apply to and be approved by a bishop; they also needed to be wealthy enough to rent the anchorhold and provide themselves with food or have a patron who would underwrite their devotional life. Once they were walled into their anchorhold, they were never supposed to leave.”

In 1539, Henry VIII, in his separation of Church and State doctrine, ended the practice of anchoress’. Only a couple anchor holds left in England, and are typically used for storage. The closest practice we can relate to this medieval tradition is becoming a nun.

Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich followed these practices and two of the earliest known works by women were produced by them. Maybe what we can learn from these women is, a little peace and quiet, focus, and dedication is what it takes to write! 



Featured image courtesy of Alchetron