The Book of Margery Kempe | Study Guide

Margery Kempe

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The Book of Margery Kempe | Book 2, Chapters 90–99 | Summary

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Summary

Book 2 begins by telling of the death of the priest who had transcribed Book 1 and the continuation of the project by a second priest, the same one who had edited that transcript. Chapter 1 continues with the story of Margery Kempe's son, a seafaring merchant who suffered from a strange disease attributed to his "lechery." The son later mended his ways, married, and brought his wife and child back to England (Chapter 2) to live with his mother. The child was later sent to Prussia, the home of Kempe's daughter-in-law. Kempe's son suddenly died; soon after his death, Kempe's husband died. When Kempe's daughter-in-law wanted to return to Germany, Kempe decided to accompany her on the voyage, but her confessor ordered her not to. Jesus, on the other hand, told her to go anyway, and she proceeded across the sea with an uneasy heart.

The journey was an eventful one, punctuated by frightful "storms and tempests" (Chapter 3). Kempe prayed to God for—and received—comfort. Upon landing in Germany, she spent six weeks in Danzig (present-day Gdańsk) and then traveled with an unnamed companion to a shrine at Wilsnack (Chapter 4). There, she viewed the so-called Holy Blood of Wilsnack (Chapter 5), said to have emanated miraculously from three hosts (consecrated pieces of Communion bread). Afterward, Kempe and her companion traveled to Aachen (Chapter 6), stopping at a monastery on the way to venerate the Blessed Sacrament. Her companion, now identified simply as John, parted ways with Kempe but offered her money to arrange for her journey. A disappointed Kempe proceeded to Aachen by herself but by chance met a fellow Englishman—a monk—soon after she arrived (Chapter 7). She viewed the relics there and then attempted to make her way back to Calais on the French coast (Chapter 8) and, from there, to London (Chapter 9).

In London, Kempe, running short of money, heard strange gossip about herself but did not dignify it with a reply. The gist of the rumor was that Kempe was a hypocrite who abstained from less preferable foods and permitted herself only finer fare. On her way home to Lynn, she stopped at Shene (now called Richmond) to pray at the church there. Arriving in her hometown, Kempe found her confessor angry because she had disobeyed him by going to Germany, but she did her best to make peace with him. The Book of Margery Kempe ends with a long prayer, ostensibly the one recited daily by Kempe herself. In it, Kempe asks mercy for many different people and groups of people, including herself, the king of England, sinners and criminals, and the souls in purgatory.

Analysis

Book 2 is, in essence, a short supplement to Book 1. More coherent and straightforward than Book 1 but also about one-seventh its length, this brief addition to The Book of Margery Kempe shows its protagonist making her last major pilgrimage. The travel narrative here calls to mind a theme familiar from Kempe's first international voyage: the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, in Chapters 26–30. Abandoned by the world, Kempe was embraced by God. Perhaps out of respect for her age, Kempe's fellow pilgrims treat her somewhat more kindly than the Jerusalem party treated her 20 years earlier. Still, their sympathy has sharp limits, and at one point the leader of a pilgrim retinue flatly tells Kempe that she will bother with her no longer. Kempe, for her part, did not abandon her weeping and screaming at church, and readers may imagine the reaction this behavior prompted from Kempe's traveling companions.

If the theme of the Jerusalem pilgrimage was the Passion and death of Jesus, the theme of her northern European journey is the Eucharist. The relics at Wilsnack were believed to have miraculously survived a fire that destroyed the entire rest of the village, including the church in which they were housed. The blood found staining the hosts would have been taken as a sign of Christ's presence in the Eucharist—that is, as divine confirmation that the Eucharistic bread and wine became, as Catholics believe, the true body and blood of Christ. Throughout the roughly 180 years of their existence, the relics at Wilsnack were frequently blamed for encouraging idolatry, a fact that might have facilitated Protestant reformers' decision to destroy them in the mid-16th century.

The Eucharistic theme continued on the road to Aachen, where Kempe's journey coincided with the Feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ). During this feast and in the week following, the Blessed Sacrament—the host, believed through consecration to have become the body of Christ—would be exposed in a special, ornate case called a monstrance. Churchgoers would venerate the Sacrament in this setting, often by keeping a prayer vigil for the duration of the Sacrament's exposure. Kempe, who received Communion with both frequency and avidity and whose visions confirmed for her the miraculous nature of the Eucharist, would no doubt have regarded Corpus Christi as an especially significant time of year.

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