The Book of Margery Kempe | Study Guide

Margery Kempe

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The Book of Margery Kempe | Book 1, Chapters 31–42 | Summary



Moved by the devotional customs she witnessed in Rome (Chapter 31), Margery Kempe mentioned a ring of hers with the Latin inscription "Jesus est amor meus" ("Jesus is my love"). During her travels, she worried about how to keep the ring from being stolen. When it was not where she had placed it the previous night, she sensed the landlady might have stolen it, because the woman looked guilty. However, Kempe found the ring and considered it good fortune to find herself surrounded by kind and charitable people in Rome. The landlady asked Kempe to pray for her.

Kempe visited various holy sites in Rome and the neighboring region and, without neighbors to worry about, finally began dressing in the white garments God had commanded her to wear. A hostile English priest managed to get Kempe kicked out of a church established for English pilgrims.

Without a church to attend, she feared she would be unable to have her confession heard (Chapter 32), since few clerics in Rome spoke English. God then answered Kempe by telling her that he sent Saint John the Evangelist to be her confessor. She confessed to him—in her mind—until she found a German priest who could miraculously understand her confession, despite understanding no English otherwise (Chapter 33). Relations with this priest soured, however, when he began to listen to the rumors about Kempe from the other English people, including priests in the city (Chapter 34). She told him she knew certain things about him, and so he continued to give her Communion. For penance, she was ordered to serve a poor woman, which she did graciously.

Kempe was moved by the sight of children, and handsome men reminded her of Jesus. In a highly dramatic vision, Jesus appeared to Kempe and was wedded to her while multitudes of angels and saints looked on (Chapter 35). Kempe mentions at that time that she began to feel "a flame of fire, wondrous hot and delectable, and right comfortable, not wasting but ever increasing, of love, for though the weather were never so cold." This burning lasted about 16 years. Jesus then instructed her (Chapters 35–36) that contemplative prayer was a more fitting sacrifice than fasting or reciting prayers by rote. Finally, he reassured her of her place in heaven (Chapter 37) and urged her to put aside any fear of hell.

Following further divine instructions, Kempe gave away all her possessions to the poor, along with some of those belonging to her guide, Richard, who was "evil pleased" (angered or dismayed) by this decision, despite Kempe's promise to repay him. Charitable Italians, including Dame Margaret Florentyne, whom she had met earlier (Chapters 38–39), supplied Kempe with food and wine—generosity that she viewed as a sign of divine providence, given that she did not speak their language. When Rome was besieged by terrible storms, Jesus told Kempe that she would be safe, and he "withdrew the tempests."

A young English priest (Chapter 40) arrived in Rome and cared for Kempe as a son would his mother. He brought extra money to help her and remained faithful to her despite others' attempts to discredit her by saying that her non-English-speaking confessor didn't understand her. Nonetheless, Kempe was sorrowful because she could not understand sermons in the local language (Chapter 41), and God promised to preach to her himself. Kempe and her "son," the priest, left Rome just after Easter (Chapter 42), traveling by land to the Dutch coast.


Rome, as the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, was throughout the Middle Ages the spiritual center of Western Christianity. For Margery Kempe, the city was a virtual cornucopia of grand churches, holy shrines, and local devotional customs, such as the veneration of Christ Child statues. In some ways Kempe's visit to Rome is the high point of The Book of Margery Kempe, the period in which she seems least constrained by worldly society and most liberated to follow the visions she received. Despite the language barrier, the Italians and Germans Kempe met seemed much more receptive to her demonstrative style of piety than did her neighbors in Lynn or the other English pilgrims with whom she traveled. Kempe hardly seemed bothered by the unfriendly and often hostile English clergy in the city. That few people could understand her just made it more gratifying when they did. Kempe candidly described it as a miracle when she found that her German confessor could comprehend her English but nobody else's. It is significant that here, finally, Kempe felt free enough to don the white garments that Jesus had commanded her to wear.

In another sense, however, it's rather revealing that Kempe associated almost entirely with mainland Europeans during her time in Rome. The English were at that time relatively frequent visitors to Italy for both commercial and religious purposes, and a special hospice (in the original sense of "hostel" or "hospital") had been established in 1362 for English visitors. The stated mission of the Hospice of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, which Kempe in fact visited, was to look after the many poor and sick English pilgrims in Rome. Kempe's English birth, along with her (sometimes voluntary) poverty while in Rome, would surely have qualified her for the hospice's aid. Somehow, perhaps because of the enduring suspicion at home that she was a heretic, Kempe's reputation preceded her at Saint Thomas's, and she quickly found a cold and perfunctory reception there. It is unsurprising, though perhaps a bit sad, that Kempe was more welcomed by strangers who were far removed from the question of her religious orthodoxy, which was a highly political subject in England.

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