Towards the beginning of her pilgrimage, Margery Kempe passes through a city she refers to as Constance (most likely Konstanz, Germany) with her unfriendly companions. This city lies on the route between Norwich, England, where Kempe began, and Bologna, Italy, where she travels next. Her brief stay in Constance reveals how Kempe interacts with the cities that she passes through on the way to pilgrimage sites.
When Kempe and her companions arrive in Constance, Kempe mentions that she hears an English friar who is also a legate of the Pope is staying in the city. She does not describe her arrival to the city, the city’s physical characteristics, or the people she encounters in the city. Instead she jumps directly to her meeting with the Pope’s legate, who she seeks out because of his wisdom. She confesses to him, and tells him her entire life’s story, as well as her current troubles with her traveling companions, who dislike her and try to stop her from praying, crying, and maintaining a vegetarian diet. She also tells him “what grace God gave her of contrition and compunction, of sweetness and devotion” and the visions He had given her (Kempe 99). This is as immodest as Kempe’s constant assertion of her superiority over her companions. Kempe then tells of how her traveling companions invite the legate to dinner. The legate, who has taken Kempe’s side, tells her to behave as submissively at dinner as she always does. Then, when her traveling companions ridicule her, the legate stands up for her, and refuses to tell her to cease her unorthodox habits. This prompts her companions to abandon her, but the legate makes arrangements for her. Kempe tells of how, despite her dire conditions, God provides for her. He sends her a kindly traveling companion to accompany her to Bologna, where she arrives before her old traveling companions.
It is clear that Kempe believes that the most noteworthy aspects of her visit in Constance are her acquaintanceship with an important religious figure, her suffering at the hands of her traveling companions, her eventual vindication, and the divine intervention on her behalf. She reveals very little about the city of Constance. She gives no identifying features, meaning the city might not even be Konstanz, Germany. However, she reveals some aspects of the place pilgrims occupied when they passed through the city, and raises questions about the travels of religious authorities. What brought an English friar, who was a legate of the Pope, to Constance? Was he on official Church business? Was he living there? Was he on pilgrimage himself? Was he there to interact with pilgrims passing through? This in turn raises the question of Constance’s role in pilgrimages. Was it a common place for pilgrims to stop?
Whatever the case, it is shown that the pilgrims’ status is high enough to be able to invite an important religious authority to dine with them. They also complain to this authority, and grow angry when he takes Kempe’s side. They seem to interact with some level of informality. However, it is clear that legate has a higher status. He sits down first at dinner, and the company asks him to regulate Kempe’s behavior, showing that they understand him to have some control over at least the religious life of pilgrims (and, probably, Christians in general).
Kempe’s account of Constance reveals that pilgrims were able to find people who spoke their language in various cities, dine with them, and consult with them. More established English speakers in non-English-speaking cities could help English pilgrims exchange their currency and make travel arrangements, as the legate helps Kempe. This shows both that there were English people, at least religious authorities and pilgrims, abroad, and that they helped each other when they encountered each other in foreign places. This could even hint at a formal or informal support network for pilgrims that could potentially exist in the cities en route to important pilgrimage sites like Jerusalem.