Monday, 18 July 2011

Margery Kempe

Margery Kempe, where to start? Margery Kempe and I go back a long way... I  first encountered her in my second year as an undergraduate. At the time I did not really accept how integral religion was to the medieval period and found Margery's books to be the worst kind of religious text, unashamedly spiritual, constantly didactic and slightly embarassing. Her weeping made me uncomfortable to say the least! So I was understandably less then keen to try to read Margery again, but I have come a long way in the five years since I first read her.  Though there were two extracts that involve leprosy I found the second much more interesting as it is the more personal of the two.

At the start of her second Book Margery describes how her son, 'fel into the synne of letchery' (line 7460). Her son develops a disease which is described as being like leprosy. When someone goes to his mother and tells her that her disapproval of her son's lifestyle has brough the vengence of God upon him she states that she will not pray for his recovery until he comes and prays for himself. When he does this and faithfully submits to the will of God then he and Margery pray for him to be cured and he is.

What I find interesting about this is that neither of them interpret this illness as a challenge from God, to suffer an earthly purgatory, instead both see it as a punishment from God. Indeed you might argue that if Margery's son truly bowed to God's will then he would not expect to be cured as he would accept whatever fate God granted him. Even though his disease is only described as like leprosy this story offers an interesting perspective of a mother's love conflicting with her love of God, as well as an interesting use of leprosy as a punishment for lechery.

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