Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich

‘Set all your trust in God,

and do not be afraid of what people say.’

        Julian of Norwich in conversation with Margery Kempe

When compared with Julian of Norwich, Margery has frequently been cast as disappointing.

The reasons for this are complex. Margery does not fit in with the kind of images and texts of Christian female spirituality and piety that have been traditionally authorised as acceptable. Julian was an Anchorite and lead an enclosed life. Margery continues to participate fully in the world. A monk in Canterbury says to Margery, ‘I wish you were enclosed in a house of stone so that no one should speak to you’.

One of the startling things that mark Margery out as different from the more usual models of female spirituality and piety is her ordinariness, her earthiness and her candour. And perhaps, just as this was a very real question and problem in Margery’s own time, it still presents questions for us today.

Margery was just as comfortable at home talking passionately to God and conversing with the Archbishop of Canterbury, as she was wringing out her husband’s washing, travelling a country road, or finding swaddling clothes for the Virgin Mary. Margery’s life is a life ‘lived in the world’, with all its difficulties, uncertainty, questions, struggle and messiness. She is a woman insisting on a direct relationship with God without the guidance of priests and men, at this time a dangerous idea.

Her book does not give an ‘ending’, how could it? Margery finally entrusts that to the God who begun it.