February 29, 2020

The Book of Margery Kempe of Lynn

The Book of Margery Kempe is believed to be the first autobiography in the English language. In this new Poppyland pamphlet by Gareth Calway the author examines the history of the book itself and the manuscript that emerged in 1934. He explores its content and explains why it was such a pioneering work, the places that are still associated with Kempe and its influence on modern day writers, historians and dramatists. A selection from the full Bhas Allan photoshoot (see below) supporting the text is also included in the pamphlet.

The anchorhold in All Saint's, South Lynn, Lynn's oldest church.

Lynn Minster, whose foundation deed as St Margaret's refers to the building in honour of St Mary Magdalen, St Margaret and all holy virgins. Perhaps, as a tribute to its pioneering parishioner, Margery, independent wives should be added to that roll!

Fourteenth century brasses from St Margaret's, showing the Mayor and his wives. Margery's father was Mayor and MP a generation later.

St Margaret's from the south.

St Margaret's tower - with a sense of Margery's visionary eye.

The Whitefriars Gate, the only survival of a building in which the illiterate Margery is believed to have dictated her Book to a scribe. With a plaque containing at least two howlers addressed in the pamphlet.

Lynn mediaeval waterfront, from West Lynn. Margery's merchant father and burgess husband worked here and Margery sailed from a point somewhere in the middle of this view, which would have been marked then by a large pilgrims' cross. However, she sailed on her most famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land from Great Yarmouth (whose plaque - also reproduced in the pamphlet - accurately describes Margery as the author of her own Book.)

Richard Castre, Vicar of Sedgeford, and later of St Stephens in Norwich, was a friend and supporter of Margery.  She certainly needed support against some very powerful opponents, including the Archbishop of York (and the Mayor of Leicester) who charged her with heresy.

Post script. In response to the third comment below, here is the passage in which Margery describes her meeting with Julian in her cell in Norwich. (chapter 18, Book 1)


Avril Wright said...

Excellent and thought provoking ! We certainly grew them tough in Norfolk . Thinking of another, the anchoress lady Julian of Norwich.

Thomas P Leech (Flabbergasser) said...

Intriguing and obviously a lot of research required. Well done and I hope you get a lot of readers! Particularly alerted to the fact Sedgeford is so steeped in history and a record kept on vicar tenures from 1200s.

Aude Gotto said...

I have just received your booklet and read it. What an extraordinary life. And what a good idea to produce this short introduction to her life and personality, it is an excellent text and gives a picture of the paradoxes and questions surrounding Margery Kempe. She was obviously a mystic, but was she also a bit mad? Certainly rather extreme, but her unusual blend of mysticism and worldly life is very unusual, specially in her times. I was fascinated, and found the reading comforting, as I too, straddle mystic longings with the demands of ordinary life. .... I had some knowledge of Margery, through you as well as some quotes in my book of daily readings, The Joy of the Saints, compiled by Father Robert Llewellyn. But my knowledge was rather bitty so your writing put it all in perspective.
Is there any record of her meeting with Julian of Norwich? It would be interesting to know what the anchorite said to her.
You obviously have studied Margery in depth, so anything you can tell me will be welcome!

Thank you for writing so clearly about her.