Julian Norwich Revelations of Divine Love Brought to Film


The lights dimmed in Olin 102, and the image of Natosha Guldan (‘23) dressed in a cardinal red cloak appeared on the screen. A darkened set made to look like a prison cell surrounded her, setting the scene for the audience as the film began.


On Tuesday, March 1, Luther College students and Decorah community members gathered to view Showing of Love, almost a year after the project had been completed. The original film adapts the writings of Julian of Norwich in her book Revelations of Divine Love. Thought to have been written in the 14th or 15th century, it is the earliest surviving example of a text written in English by a woman.


Created as a collaboration between many different arts departments at Luther College, the idea for the film was originally conceived as an opera during Professor of music and Composer-In-Residence Brooke Joyce’s sabbatical year. However, after its initial workshopping in late 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and effectively derailed its in-person progress.


“The original idea was not to make a film, but to stage a live production with a solo singer, dancers, and live electronic music,” Joyce said. “It became clear that performing in front of an audience was not going to be feasible due to the pandemic, [so] we decided to make the whole production into a film, with no live element.” 


Showing of Love incorporated opera-style music, solo dance numbers, and movement-based interludes with groups of dancers in various natural areas around Decorah. With the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, the composition, rehearsal, and filming process was somewhat different than that of a normal film. 


“I ended up recording all of the music in my closet, listening to the instrumental and backing tracks on earbuds and laying [them] down,” singer and composer Lisa Neher said. “It was a very different process and I didn’t see the results of the film until much later, after all of the wonderful editing had gone together. In that way it was kind of a fun surprise, but of course I missed being with people in person.”


Guldan, who portrays Julian in the film, had similar experiences filming her various scenes. While she was the lead and had many solo parts, she was not able to rehearse with the other dancers in the film. 


“I filmed my pieces separately to the ensemble dancers, which added to the seclusion of Julian,” Guldan said. “We actually didn’t rehearse or even meet as a full group until the filming of the final scene.”


The changes brought on by the pandemic were not all bad, however. Due to much of the subject matter in Showing of Love revolving around Julian’s experience with the black plague, the film team’s experiences with COVID-19 throughout filming added a new element of understanding to what they were creating. 


“After [what] we presumed to be [Julian’s] husband and children’s death in the black plague, she decided to quarantine and seclude herself from the outside and dedicate her life to receiving divine revelation,” Guldan said. “With the current events of the time, quarantine and dedication to a craft were very relatable. I was really inspired.”


Once everything was rehearsed and finally recorded in February and March of 2021, and a year long editing process, the Showing of Love film was finished and ready to be viewed by an audience. With March being Women’s History Month, the film was a new way to display to the Luther community one of the oldest surviving English works written by a woman.


“The thing that really really struck me most about this piece [was] the incredible sense of wonder on every face throughout the entire performance,” audience member David Cavagnaro said. “To me, this was just a grand celebration. And the cinematography, I mean [Cory Eull (‘21), cinematographer] was really outstanding. It was beautifully edited and beautifully integrated.”


Despite some unexpected circumstances, Showing of Love was brought to life by the Luther Arts students, alumni, and faculty, giving the Luther community an artistic visual depiction of the writer Julian of Norwich. For anyone who missed the live showing, the film can still be viewed here.