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Margery Kempe

27 Apr

Kempe angel

Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

Margery Kempe is fascinating. She had some really crazy qualities — she would cry (wail, actually) unexpectedly and in public; she appeared to be possessed after the birth of her first child (she had 14!); and she begged of her husband to let her remain celibate from age 40 until her death so she could make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She was an extremely passionate woman.

She wrote about herself (“this creature”) in third person. All of her “writings” were composed orally and someone else transcribed them because she was illiterate. She was very dramatic in her speech about herself:

…she bit her own hand so violently that it was seen all her life after. And also she rived her skin on her body again her heart with her nails spiteously, for she had none other instruments, and worse she would ‘a done save she was bound and kept with strength both day and night that she might not have her will.

…..

And when they came up onto the Mount of Calvary she fell down that might not stand nor kneel but wallowed and wrested with her body, spreading her arms abroad, and cried with a loud voice as though her heart should ‘a burst asunder, for in the city of her soul she saw verily and freshly how our Lord was crucified.

…..

The crying was so loud and so wonderful that it made the people astoned unless that they had heard it before or else that they knew the cause of the crying.

The conversation between her and her husband about celibacy was amusing. It began with her husband asking what she would do if a man came up to them with a sword and said he would cut the husband’s head off unless she had sex with her husband. Her answer: I would rather see you slain. And his prompt response was: “Ye are no good wife.”

She said she wanted chastity, and he said that he wanted to remain in a sexual relationship with her, that he wanted her to pay his debts should she go to Jerusalem, and that he wanted her to not fast on Fridays. She prayed, and God told her she could eat on Fridays with him. He accepted that as a consolation prize, and she became chaste so that her body could be completely dedicated to God.

She visited once for a few days with Julian of Norwich, hoping to learn something from her about her visions, and she wrote about it.

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