Friday, 27 August 2010

The Book of Margery Kempe

What do seminarians do on their summer holidays?

Well now, that would be telling. But I will break up our complete lack of summer-time blog articles, with a little indulgence into one of my passions.

This seminarian went to a second-hand bookshop in the great East Anglian city of Cambridge, and found a little 1936 print of a very much older book indeed.

I spent a portion of my time at university translating mediaeval documents, such as wills and deeds (not for was a course module!). One place-name I came across was Lynn episcopi. This caused me a few moments of angst until I realised that, of course, it referred to King's Lynn, called, before the Reformation, Bishop's Lynn.

Bishop's Lynn, a town of our diocese, was, 570 years ago, the home of a certain woman named Margery Kempe. A book of her life, unimaginatively yet charmingly entitled, was that which I discovered in my county-town last week.

I have never before read The Book of Margery Kempe, though I have seen novel snippets found in the various tomes of Professor Duffy, and the like. The book is a cross between the life of a saint, and a 15th century episode of Eastenders.

Written down by a priest, she tells the stories of her life: arguments with her husband, her lustful temptations at evensong, her conversion to holiness, her pilgrimages, her meetings with bishops, friars, vicars and anchoresses, such as Julian of Norwich, who, regular followers will remember, was the subject of Oscott's Lenten reading this year.

It also recounts the course of her spiritual life, which, though mediaeval, is still, for me at least, inspiring and thought-provoking, worthy to be read in our own time. She reminisces of one occasion of her attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion (which she did regularly, so rare in her times, she had to seek permission from the Archbishop of Canterbury). I'd like to share with you her personal prayer for these occasions, which she shared for time immemorial:

Lord, as surely as Thou are not wroth with me,
grant me a well of tears,
whereby I may receive Thy Precious Body
with all manner of tears of devotion to Thy worship
and to the increase of my merit;
for Thou art my joy, Lord,
my bliss, my comfort and all the treasure I have in the world;
for other worldly joys covet I not, but only Thee.
And therefore my dearworthy Lord and my God,
forsake me not.

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