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14 Children and a saint

Margery Kempe (ca. 1373 -1438) lived in Norfolk
at the time this Norfolk house was built.

Margery Kempe, who is credited with writing the first autobiography in English, suffered a debilitating illness after the birth of her first child. During her illness she had a vision that changed her life.

In Margery’s case, change did not happen in the twinkling of an eye. She tells us quite frankly that after her vision she continued to be a jealous, vain, snobbish woman. She was also increasingly busy – she bore thirteen more children and ran a brewery and grain mill.

The power of her vision grew. After the birth of their fourteenth child, Margery negotiated a vow of celibacy with her husband, and headed off on a series of pilgrimages around England while interviewing strangers as notable and fascinating as the anchoress Julian of Norwich along the way. She reached Jerusalem, Spain, and Norway, difficult journeys in the 15th century.

Unable to read or write, but possessing a keen memory and a fierce will, Margery dictated her complex thoughts, feelings, and spiritual experiences, including her conversations with Christ. Pity the Church when it brought her to trial on charges of heresy. Margery made short work of the accusations and her accusers.

This is her feast day in the Anglican Communion, whose realistic catechism tells us: The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.

Margery's book was lost until a manuscript was found in the private library of the Butler-Bowden family in Lancashire in 1934. Barry Windeatt, the author of the edition seen below is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He provides commentary and social context. English Historical Review reports that Margery Kempe "bursts from the pages of this careful and sober critical edition like Molly Bloom."