My brand-new romance REVELATIONS is drawn from the lives of two medieval mystics who changed history–Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, two very different women whose courses gathered and who, I repute, have much to teach us today.
Women’s spiritual suffer is a theme that remembers come through here in my novels. Perhaps some of you have read my fiction ILLUMINATIONS, about the utopian abbess, composer and polymath, Hildegard von Bingen.
As a spiritual being myself, I’ve ever obtained it baffling how gals have been side-lined and marginalized in every established belief in the world. Yet from time immemorial, mystic and visionary women of all sect habits have offered progressive defiance. They have subverted institutional patriarchal religion from within and acquired their own direct course to the divine by immerse into the deep riddles of the spirit on a road of internal revelation. Julian of Norwich announced God Mother and devoted her life to used to describe the Motherhood of God. Similarly, Hildegard of Bingen wrote about her visions of the Feminine Divine. This isn’t a modern feminist reading. It’s right there in the original texts.
Like us today, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe lived in a time of pandemic and social upheaval, hitherto both gals digest witness to the divine promise that are likely all shall be well.
During a near-death experience, Julian received a series of gues eyesights and wasted the next forty years unpacking them in her luminous theology of an unconditionally adoring God who was both Mother and Father. Julian offered progressive solicitor to Margery Kempe, a neglected businesswoman and mother of fourteen, who was haunted by her own visceral mystic event. With Julian’s blessing, Margery walked away from a soul-destroying marriage and became a globe-trotting pilgrim-preacher and rabble rouser. Though these two women might seem like polar opposites–Julian, the enclosed anchoress and recluse, and free-roving Margery experiencing her seeings in the full river of worldly life–they complement each other. Together their lives and work form a Via Feminina, a distinctly girl road to the divine.
As an columnist I’m on a mission to write dames back into history. Both Julian and Margery serve as all too poignant examples of how gals are written out of history.
Julian of Norwich, whom we regard as being iconic, was nearly lost to history forever. Her book, Revelations of Divine Love, the first diary in English written by a woman, fell into obscurity and only surfaced again in 1901 with Grace Warrack’s modern English translation.
Margery Kempe, despite her astonishing life and accomplishments, is only known to us today thanks to a quirky occurrence at a country house party in Derbyshire, England in 1934. A group of bright young people was playing Ping-Pong at Southgate House, a stately home owned by the Butler-Bowdens, a revered pedigree of the nobility. When one of the players destroyed the Ping-Pong ball by treading upon it, they rooted through the closets in search of another one. Instead they found what was described as “an alone undisciplined clutter of smallish, skin secure books” of immense antiquity.
One of the books soon came to the attention of the American feminist medievalist Hope Emily Allen who marked it as The Book of Margery Kempe, written between 1436 and 1438 — the first autobiography in the English language.
While Julian’s and Margery’s storeys are now well-known to theologians and medievalists, that’s not enough, in my opinion. They shouldn’t be the prolong of the academic ivory tower. I wrote my novel Revelations to make their lives and work accessible to a general audience.
After all, Julian wrote her diary not in Latin but earthy, colloquial Norfolk English so ordinary people could understand it. She famously said, “God is homely”–ie God is cosy and familiar , not some upper-class, faraway thing. Margery was such a vital, earthy character, she certainly wouldn’t want to be in an ivory tower. She’d want to be down in the tavern imbibing brew with all of you!
I hope you will consider reading my record about these two unforgettable wives, which you can order here.
For a deep dive into Julian and Margery’s mysticism, I’m offering a one-day mini-retreat in partnership with Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts. You can learn more and registry now.
Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write maidens back into biography. Her acclaimed novel Illuminations, drawn from the striking life of Hildegard von Bingen, is published by Mariner. Her brand-new novel Revelations, about the mystics Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, is now available wherever books and ebooks are sold. Visit her website .
Read more: feminismandreligion.com