Margery Kempe

MARGERY KEMPE - HER LIFE AND TIMES

St Margaret’s is the church of the medieval pilgrim and visionary Margery Kempe.

Margery was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, then called Bishop’s Lynn, Circa 1373, the year of Julian of Norwich's Revelations and around the same period that Chaucer was writing his major works.

Margery was born into one of the most turbulent periods in the history of England, it has been called the age of adversity and anxiety; ominously the century had begun with wide-spread famine throughout Europe including England.

This was a Century marked by long wars, plague, taxes, insurrection bad government, religious persecution and martyrdom.

St Margaret’s was the church of William Sawtre, (Sawtry) who was a Vicar of St Margaret’s Church and the first Lollard Martyr, condemned to death by burning in London.

The Continent had seen a golden age of spirituality, particularly female spirituality and mysticism, which would not be seen again.

For a while England seemed untouched by this, and then two women appeared, different from each other, both remarkable in their own way. One, England’s first woman theologian Julian of Norwich- the other woman almost bursts into the world of Bishop’s Lynn, Margery Kempe.

Margery Kempe: ‘The Gospel gives me leave to speak of God’.

Margery Kempe was no ‘ordinary’ medieval woman. She came from one of the most prosperous and influential families in Lynn.

She was a wife and mother of 14 children, and a Laywoman, who felt she was called by God to live a life of prayer and contemplation, in the world.

She lived out this call to holiness, as a pilgrim, travelling the length and breadth of England and abroad, to pray at the famous Christian shrines. She experienced visions of Christ and Mary his mother, Mary Magdalene and St Anne, and she had intensely passionate conversations with God and Christ.

For all this Margery was no quietly pious woman: She was a woman who liked good food, and fine dresses and hats, and to be seen by her neighbours.

She was independent, proud, outspoken and boisterous, and spoke candidly of her sexual desire and temptations. She wore a hair shirt, fasted, and persuaded her husband to join her in taking a vow of Chastity, and she failed in two businesses.

She suffered for most of her life with feeling a failure, uncertain and afraid, unsure of the path she was following.

Whilst she was generally welcomed on her travels abroad, in England she found many were against her. And when she is accused of Lollardy on a number of occasions, [...]

Whilst there may have been some real concerns being expressed here, it is more likely that this was a hook on which to hang other objections and fears to Margery. All the evidence suggests that she was in fact faithful to the belief of the Church.

But it was in her home town of Lynn that Margery found the most opposition and hatred towards her.

Whilst Margery challenges Bishops, and ecclesiastical authorities, it is they, more than the ordinary people who support her, and indeed encourage her.