Margery Kempe, the main topic of this essay, was in fact a controversial person. During her lifetime peoples' opinions about her were quite polarized. She was a conspicuous person and was in many conflicts with mostly clerical authorities. Some contemporaries looked up to her, while many others did not really know how to deal with her and her extraordinary behaviour. It is pretty much the same thing today. While some credit her as a mystic, others just condemn her as crazy. During the course of this essay, I will try to answer the question if she was a mystic or not. One approach could be made by looking at definitions of the terms "mystic" and "mysticism":
The "Oxford Dictionary of the ...view middle of the document...
Margery Kempe was born in about the year 1373 as the daughter of John Brunham, a merchant, who was five times major of the town King's Lynn. She did not report much about her youth, but the readers get to know that she was not capable of reading and writing. Most noticeable evidence is the fact that she dictated the book to a priest. In 1393, Margery was married to John Kempe at the age of twenty. Soon afterwards, she became pregnant (she altogether had twenty children). Following the birth of her first child, she became mad. This period is described in the first chapter and finishes with a vision of Jesus, who spoke to her: "Daughter, why have you forsaken me, and I never forsook you?" This vision had the effect that Margery was sane again. She reverted back to life in a glamorous way, by wearing extravagant clothes and starting her own businesses, which both failed. Shortly after these failures, it came to her mind that God wanted to punish her for her sins. Her life changed some more, when she started to hear sweet melodies at night: "This melody was so sweet that it surpassed all the melody that might be heard in this world, without any comparison, and it caused this creature when she afterwards heard any mirth or melody to shed very plentiful and abundant tears of high devotion, with great sobbings..." From now on she had no longer the desire for sexual intercourse with her husband and decided to lead a life in chastity. She also attended church longer and more often and started to fast. Moreover she had more and stronger revelations, e.g. in chapters 6-7 she became Mary's handmaiden and is present at the birth of Christ. Then she and her
husband went to see the Bishop of Lincoln and performed the vow that they would live in chastity. Henceforth Margery started a lot of pilgrimages, leading her to the Holy Land,
Assisi, Rome and Santiago de Compostella. She always attracted peoples' attention with her weeping and sobbing. When she visited Jerusalem, she had a vision of a suffering Christ and she could see him being crucified: ."..she fell down because she could not stand or kneel, but writhed and wrestled with her body, spreading her arms out wide, and cried with a loud voice as though her heart would have burst apart..." This behaviour also annoyed people, what resulted in slander. She was often accused of being a "Lollard" and a "heretic" and sometimes even imprisoned. Important to mention is the fact, that she wore white clothing on her pilgrimages, which was seen as the colour of virginity and only increased slander.
During her travels she had a lot of visions and revelations, e.g. she was "married to the Godhead" or was present at "Mary's death" . But her pilgrimages came to an end, when her husband became indigent and she had to care for him. She died in about the year 1440.
As I mentioned earlier, her sometimes strange and inconvenient behaviour resulted in many conflicts. For example, she was acting against the effective...