Margery Kempe (1373-1439)

Margery Kempe was illiterate and exhibitionistic but valiantly struggled to imitate the lives of these saints and their book-writing. She did so by means of having others read to her devotional books by Walter Hilton and by Birgitta of Sweden and then travelled to the same places Birgitta had visited as a pilgrim, Compostela, Jerusalem , Rome, Trondheim, Cologne and Gdansk. Her confessor was a Dominican, the Dominicans of Lynn being in direct contact with Catherine of Siena’ s Raymond of Capua. She next dictated her memoirs in order thatThe Book of Margery Kempe be written down. Birgitta had worked to reform the state, to reform the Kingdom of Sweden by reforming her King, then the state of Europe by reforming not only kings and queens but even Emperors and Popes. Her work with the Friends of God was not for herself but for all of Christendom. Catherine of Siena, likewise, worked for not only her city state of Siena, but for all of Tuscany, striving for peace between the ancient enemies, Siena, Pisa and Florence, then she worked for the Church and for peace in all of Christendom, begging the English mercenary, Sir John Hawkwood, to leave Tuscany and go on a bloody Crusade elsewhere, against pagans rather than Christians. Julian leaves aside issues of Church and State and works directly for the love of one’s even-Christian, and she even and perhaps especially shows that charity towards Margery Kempe. Birgitta, Catherine and Julian are characterised by joy, by laughter, Birgitta’s maid servant telling Margery many years later that her mistress had always a laughing cheer, Catherine of Siena being deeply loved by her disciples and joking about God playing a joke upon her, Julian bringing in laughter even at her death-bed scene. But Margery takes herself too importantly to be able to laugh at herself – and this makes it hard to take her seriously. What we find in these mystics’ writings is that self-importance is a form of noughting, while the love of God and one’s neighbour in God’s image, is oning .

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