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MARGERY KEMPE was a contemporary of Julian of Norwich. She was the daughter of a respected merchant, born in (Kings) Lynn, of a wealthy family, but never educated. She married merchant John Kempe in the year of 1393, with whom she had fourteen children.

When Margery was in her twenties, she began to have visions in which she talked to Jesus, Mary, and the Saints. In one vision, Jesus told her to go deeper in her religious practices. Margery Kempe dedicated her life in an unusual state by weeping, screaming and praying aloud during religious services. She became so involved that she detached her daily life from her husband and children. Her autobiography, The Book of Margery Kempe is the earliest known in English. Margery's message is taken from her direct relationship with Jesus, based on unconditional faith and love.

She received many visions, several of them of the Holy Family, but one of the most regular being of the crucifixion. She also had conversations with the saints. She was much sought after as a visionary, was endlessly in trouble with the Church, rebuked by the Archbishop and was more than once imprisoned. Following the messages in her visions, she undertook pilgrimages to many holy places, including Walsingham, Canterbury, Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem, often setting out penniless. She was “blessed” with the gift of tears and seems to have been favoured with singular signs of Christ's love, whereby for long periods she developed a strong sense of compassion for the world.

Her autobiography, The Book of Margery Kempe, recounts her experience of intense visions, followed by a period of emotional disturbance. She describes her travels, and her mystical experiences - the long periods of communion with Jesus, experiences that developed in her a deep compassion for the human condition.

“Our merciful Lord Christ Jesus drew this creature to His love and to recollection of His Passion, so that she could not endure to look at a leper or any other sick man, especially if he had any wounds showing on him. Then she cried so and wept, as if she had seen our Lord Jesus Christ with His wounds bleeding. And so she did in the sight of her soul, for through the beholding of the sick man her mind was all taken into our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“…Then she felt great mourning and sorrow because she might not kiss the lepers, for the love of Jesus, when she saw them or met with them in the streets. Now she began to love what she had most hated before, for there was nothing more loathsome or abominable to her while she was in her years of worldly prosperity than to see a leper, whom now, through our Lord's mercy, she desired to embrace, and kiss for the love of Jesus.”

Margery Kempe's devotion to her Lord, characterized by so much weeping, was manifested through her "gift of tears", understood by her as a gifting of the Holy Spirit for the true penitent. She offered this prayer unceasingly during her life:

"Lord I pray you, let me never have any other joy on earth but mourning and weeping for your love. ... your love sets aside every sort of fear of our spiritual enemy".

She lived out her concept of holiness in the ordinary things of life: to love Christ and others in Him, to be truly contrite for the sins which crucified Him, and to share His suffering in this world by doing His will; these were the only things of importance to Margery.

Kempe's behaviour has been dismissed by many modern critics as hysterical, but her book is not random ramblings. She patterned her Life on the legend of Mary Magdalene, whose transformation from sinner to the beloved of Christ, was closely linked in Margery’s view with the sacrament of penance.

Margery could readily identify with Mary Magdalene as she waited outside the tomb of the Resurrection, weeping -

See "Woman, Why Weepest Thou?": the influence of Mary Magdalene on the book of Margery Kempe” by Karen Elizabeth Berrigan.

Mary Magdalene's tears, in Margery’s and others’ understanding, had been interpreted as tears of sorrow for Her Saviour, compassion for the world He came to save, and devotion to Him for lifting a woman such as herself in “Magnificatal” terms, raising the lowly, upturning those who viewed themselves as powerful……

I’ll finish with another quote, this time from Dr. Lucy Johnston, a doctor working in Glasgow (she says: “I have a special interest in history and historical interpretations of illness, particularly in the medieval period.”)

“Margery’s book is a fascinating read for many reasons. It allows the reader an intimate glimpse into the everyday life of an “ordinary” woman of this time – ordinary insofar as Margery was not born into nobility. It can be rare to hear a woman’s voice in this time period, but Margery’s own words come through loud and clear, written though they were by another’s hand. The writing is also unselfconscious and brutally honest, leading the reader to feel intimately involved in Margery’s story.

However, the book can be problematic for modern readers to understand. It can be very difficult to take a step away from our modern perceptions of mental health and to immerse ourselves in the medieval experience of unquestioning acceptance of mysticism.

In the end, over six hundred years after Margery first documented her life, it does not really matter what the real cause of Margery’s experience was. What matters is the way she, and the society around her, interpreted her experience.”

“The Mysticism and Madness of Margery Kempe” by Lucy Johnston

God our Father, your servant Margery Kempe was moved to shed tears of compassion for a fallen world; grant us the help of your Holy Spirit that we, with her, may come to a full knowledge of your purposes revealed in your Son Jesus Christ, our wisdom and our life; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Heavenly Father, accompany those living with depression and mental illness. Give them loving, supportive families and friends, and bless their caregivers with wisdom and compassion. Restore them to strength of mind and cheerfulness of spirit, and give them health and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may repose upon thy eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.

The Minster, Kings Lynn, where Margery heard God and the people of God heard Margery!

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