During her stay in Jerusalem, Margery Kempe decided to travel to religious sites in the surrounding areas. First, she wished to travel to the River Jordan, although her companions forbade her from accompanying them there. She prayed to God, and claimed that he gave her permission to travel without the permission of her companions. In describing this experience, Kempe gives some of the only details about her surroundings and local people that occur in the entire narrative. Even so, she mentions them only in relation to how they affect her own experience. Kempe describes the extreme heat of the day as an aspect of her suffering. When she decides to climb Mt. Quarentyne, she writes that the heat and the steep terrain prevent her from making the climb. Her companions also refuse to help her. Because of this, we get one of her few descriptions of people who live near Jerusalem and are not Christian. A “good-looking” “Saracen” helps Kempe to climb the mountain when her companions will not, and she generally states that the “Saracens” were kind and helpful to her.

All of these descriptions serve to heighten Kempe’s depiction of her own suffering and to cast her companions in an unflattering light. She states that she “found all people good and gentle to her, except her own countrymen.” The kindness of the Muslim people in Jerusalem serves to highlight the failings of her companions, not to make any argument for religious or racial acceptance.

There is also another effect of Kempe’s depiction of herself as an outcast among English pilgrims but a welcomed, pious figure among others. She distances herself from “normal” English people, representing herself as better and holier than them. She allies herself instead with strangers in many places. These strangers tend to be members of the clergy, nuns, monks, or other figures with religious authority or random, often destitute, people that she meets along the way and that she claims are sent by God to guide her. By associating herself with religious authorities, she depicts herself as religiously orthodox and correct, and her companions as degenerate for rejecting her. By claiming those who help her as servants of God, she increases the appearance of her own religious importance (God rearranges the world to help her) while remaining humble as she meets these guides in times of suffering. Her acceptance among “Saracens” functions slightly differently, as they are not Christian and not situated as servants of God. However, it seems like Kempe is using them to rebuke unkind Christians, by saying that even non-Christians accept and help her, and even recognize her piety.

Another interesting trend in this section is the boldness and permission Kempe receives from God. For various reasons, including the fact that she is a woman and the fact that she continuously weeps, Kempe’s companions and other people attempt to limit, contain, and constrain her. When she encounters obstacles such as this, she turns to God for permission, fortification, and vindication. Whether or not Kempe actually experienced the voice of God telling her to go to the River Jordan despite being forbade from doing so, claiming this experience gives her the confidence to do so, and provides a retort to anyone who contradicts her. It justifies her actions to her readers and to the people she was traveling with in the moment. It also seems to be a source of internal fortitude. Kempe writes that because of God’s warnings, pronouncements, and reassurances, she dared to “act the more boldly in consequence.”


P.S. I looked up the etymology of the word “quarantine” and it is actually partially derived from the name of the place where Jesus fasted for 40 days, which is Mt. Quarentyne!