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Margery Kempe Part I A Brief Chronology C. 1373 Margery born to the mayor of Lynn. C. 1393 Margery married to John Kempe. C. 1394 Experiences “madness.” C. 1413 Visits Archbishop of Canterbury. 1413 Her father dies; she visits Holy Land 1414 Visits Chapel of St. Bridget

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a brief chronology
A Brief Chronology
  • C. 1373 Margery born to the mayor of Lynn.
  • C. 1393 Margery married to John Kempe.
  • C. 1394 Experiences “madness.”
  • C. 1413 Visits Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • 1413 Her father dies; she visits Holy Land
  • 1414 Visits Chapel of St. Bridget
  • 1414 Mystical marriage to Godhead
  • 1415 Arrives in Norwich
  • 1417 Visits Santiago de Compostella
  • 1417 Trial and detention in Leicester
  • 1417 Visits York and London
chronology continued
Chronology (continued…)
  • 1421 Great fire in Lynn
  • C. 1431 Her husband and son die
  • 1433 Visits Norway; Danzig; Aachen
  • 1434 Visits Syon Abbey
  • 1436 Priest revises Book I
  • 1438 Priest begins to write Book II
  • 1438 Margery admitted to Guild of the

Trinity at Lynn; mentioned once more (1439)

mary of oignies and margery
Mary of Oignies and Margery
  • Mary of Oignies (d. 1213) was a well-known mystic in Brabant (Low Countries).
  • She persuaded her husband to live chastely.
  • She had visions and ecstasies, and wept copiously.
  • She was devoted to the Passion of Christ.
  • She was devoted to the sacrament of communion.
  • She had the gift of prophecy, heard music, and wore a white mantle and coat.
  • She did not eat meat.
  • She felt she would go directly to paradise (no Purgatory).
birgitta and margery
Birgitta and Margery
  • Both had visions.
  • Both listened directly to God.
  • Both felt led to chastise others.
  • Both traveled to the Holy Land.
  • Both had their experiences written down.
  • Both felt they were of high parentage.
  • Both interpreted lives of others for their spiritual “correcton.”
birth and psychosis
Birth and Psychosis
  • Margery gave birth to a child and fears for her life.
  • She sends for a confessor who does listen to her patiently; she is consumed with guilt.
  • She experiences a form of mental illness, perhaps a postpartum psychosis.
  • She is tied up and kept from hurting herself.
  • Christ comes to her and heals her.
  • This is Margery’s miraculous experience that serves to validate her spiritual claims.
alive once more
“Alive” Once More
  • Margery’s husband gives her the keys to the buttery.
  • Margery dresses vainly.
  • Margery starts a brewery which fails.
  • Margery starts a horse-mill but the horses refuse to pull in order to grind the grain.
  • Margery gives up her pride and does penance.
  • She hears music, sobs mightily, and talks of God
margery and lust
Margery and Lust
  • Margery is propositioned and decides to accept.
  • After approaching the man, he refuses, saying he was testing her and that he’d rather be chopped into little pieces.
  • Margery is consumed with guilt and does penance, wearing a hair shirt.
  • Jesus tells her he’d rather have her have a hair shirt “on her heart.”
  • She is not to eat meat and is to celebrate communion every Sunday (unusual at the time). She is given a spiritual advisor at the Preaching Friars.
meditation on mary
Meditation on Mary
  • Mary meditates on birth of Mary and feels she is there.
  • She cares for Mary and follows her through her birth of Christ.
  • They “visit” Elizabeth together.
  • Margery is “present” at the manger in Bethlehem and helps Mary.
  • She’s “present” for the visit of the three kings.
margery and chastity
Margery and Chastity
  • Margery wants to live spiritually; therefore, she feels she needs to have a chaste marriage.
  • She and her husband agree to be celibate (60). She gives up her Friday fast and agrees to sleep with her husband and to pay his debts; he agrees to free her from the “marriage debt.”
  • She later takes to wearing white clothes and a ring to symbolize her marriage to Christ.
margery and lollardy
Margery and Lollardy
  • In Canterbury, she is threatened with being burned at the stake, a very real threat (64). The apparent reason: her conspicuous behavior; the technical reason: Lollardy.
  • Lollards were followers of the theologian John Wycliff. He proposed the Doctrine of Dominion and Grace which stated that a wayward priest did not have to be followed.
  • Lollards also read the (translated) bible on their own in groups and interpreted it without a priest present.
  • They felt they could interpret the bible through the Holy Spirit who would guide their interpretations.
  • The biggest secular fear: that people would decide that if a king or lord were not a good person, he would not need to be followed. This could lead to anarchy and/or revolution.
margery and social custom
Margery and Social Custom
  • Margery is also a threat to the status quo. In medieval society, women were not usually given as much freedom as Margery enjoys.
  • She is spatially mobile (travels a great deal, with and without her husband).
  • She is often without her husband (he leaves her or stays home).
  • She is conspicuous, wearing the white robes of virginity and weeping (and sometimes shrieking) loudly.
  • She challenges authority, speaking boldly before secular and religious authorities.
  • She quotes the bible and comes very close to preaching. (Women were not allowed to preach, and no one other than an ecclesiastic was to read the bible.)
margery and christ
Margery and Christ
  • There are parallels to Christ in some of her actions:
  • She speaks with authority to archbishops and bishops, all of whom are amazed at her knowledge (like Christ as a twelve-year-old in the temple).
  • She enters Jerusalem on a donkey (which was the accepted method of travel, yet still a literary parallel).
  • She teaches (some would say “preaches to”) others (sometimes through stories) and encourages them to “sin no more.”
  • She challenges the authority of some of the religious of her day (the monk who was sinful).
margery and travel
Margery and Travel
  • Her fellow voyagers reject her:
  • They cut her dress short (like a prostitute’s) and make her wear a rough apron (like a fool).
  • They refuse to travel with her and make fun of her.
  • They sit her at the lower end of the table.
  • They only travel with her when they feel the ship is not seaworthy.
  • The more she suffers, the more she feels she will be spiritually rewarded.
in the holy land
In the Holy Land
  • Margery weeps and is overcome with tears and cries out at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The crying out (shrieking) is new and lasts for ten years, off and on.
  • She “sees” the Passion of Christ as if she were present (something Julian desired) (102-107).
  • These two actions are ones that two other (male) English mystics of the time experienced: Richard Methley and John Norton.
  • Christ as a dove-cote, a place with openings for dove to rest in. His wounds are the resting places for the soul.