Monday, March 2, 2009

Marg and Joan

      This will be my last post on Margery Kempe for a while.  Margery did the key pilgrimages of her time:  she went to Rome, Jerusalem, Canterbury and Santiago.  Since Santiago sounds like a great trip to make even today, I was curious as to how it went in the Middle Ages but Margery went by ship to Santiago, she did not walk from France. This is disappointing to say the least and she said very little about Santiago.  This made me curious as to why, when the point of the pilgrimage is to do penance which you perform by taking this grueling hike across Europe, she sailed there and back again.
      She took this trip in about 1417, when she was approximately 44 and Henry V was on the throne in England.   This trip would have taken place about two years after Agincourt when Henry was preparing to invade France in the later stages of the Hundred Years War.  Margery mentions how difficult it was to secure a ship because most available boats were being used elsewhere.  So she did not want to walk through territory that was a battlefield but the route along the northern coast of Spain was clear as there was relative peace at that time.
     Her pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem took place before this and she went to Jerusalem through Germany and probably came back that way as she returned in about 1415 and one would not want to be an Englishwoman having a stroll through France while the English are attacking.
     About this time, another woman who was famous for hearing voices was born - Joan of Arc.   The fact that one of the reasons that Joan was accused of heresy was her insistence on wearing men's clothing shows how dangerous it was for Margery to wear white although she had been forbidden to repeatedly.  At Joan's trial, she insisted that she wore men's clothing to preserve her chastity, a reason that was permissible under canon law but Joan was being tried by the English factions and logic would not save her. 
     Margery lived another twelve years, perhaps more, after Joan died.  It is interesting to note that Joan's brief life fell within Margery's.   If Joan was born in 1412, then she was only 19 when she died in 1431.  Margery did not mention her at all in her biography.  It is a shame.  If they understood each other's language, they would have had much to say to one another.  Since they were both on speaking terms with Jesus, surely he would have sat down with them and translated. 


Anonymous said...

You wonder why Margery bothered going to Santiago at that time, if she couldn't undertake the full pilgrimage - maybe she thought it was her last chance to go?
She certainly managed to do quite a bit of travelling - did she travel on her own on these pilgrimages?

Anonymous said...

I don't think Margery travelled alone. It was very dangerous and even inappropriate in the medieval times for a woman, even if she was married, to do so. Apart from that a private pilgrimage was very expensive so people from middle class didn't travel alone. Properly organized ‘companies’ of pilgrims would regularly set off from central gathering points complete with armed soldiers as bodyguards. The initiators were often astute clerics who mapped out the route and planned the whole trip providing their services at a price but also ensuring a relative safety.

Pilgrimages were extremely important in medieval times, both as a route to salvation and also as an ‘excuse’ for travel at a time when most traveling was extremely dangerous (Margery simply loved having those excuses, didn't she?). Pilgrims traveled recognised and relatively safe routes, stopping off at shrines and cathedrals where relics were venerated and saints worshipped but, most important, they had the protection of the church and the church’s soldiers at all times.

One last think - I am not surprised, that Margery didn't mention Joan. Joan was officially proclaimed a witch and burned at the stake. It seems Margery had enough troubles with her own comportment without being linked to such an individual. It was a matter of caution.


The Red Witch said...

No, Bridget is correct, it was illegal for her to travel alone. But her 'gift' that is the crying got on people's nerves and the groups she was traveling ditched her some times.
When coming back from Rome, she managed to find a group that was heading back to England but they didn't want to take her along as they had been robbed and were trying to get home with all possible speed.
News did not travel all that fast sometimes then as well. She might have heard about Joan but years after the fact. And you are right, Margery was accused of heresy herself and had to be careful.

Anonymous said...

But her 'gift' that is the crying got on people's nerves and the groups she was traveling ditched her some times.
LOL, Margery was indeed quite an eccentric but you can't deny her intrepidity!