Author: flemingg (page 1 of 2)

The Book of Margery Kempe: Modern vs. Medieval Map

Despite the glaring differences between the modern, online-created map being oriented North, and the Medieval hand-drawn Psalter Map being oriented East, the biggest difference between the two that I noticed was a lack of temporal/spatial awareness on the Psalter World Map. Once I plotted the points from the Modern Map onto the Psalter World Map, I realized that it was inaccurate in terms of spatial awareness. For example, on the Psalter Map, the entire peninsula of modern-day Italy is especially cramped and walled off by the Alps. This made me plotting Bologna, Venice, and Rome seem in much closer proximity than when I was plotting them online through ArcGIS. I also thought this was interesting as I thought it might suggest how medieval travelers saw the Alps as a very treacherous natural boundary to cross. On the same note, England was also exceedingly cramped, making my plots for Norwich and Yarmouth seem way too close to the spot where London was already marked on the map. The Psalter World Map is also incredibly small and, while very detailed for its size, this presents two problems when trying somewhat accurately plot modern points: 1) When trying to plot a city on such a small and cramped map, you end up accidentally covering other markers. This was an issue not encountered when working with the online ArcGIS system, because through internet mapping agents, you are able to pinpoint with startling accuracy and make the points as small as needed so that you do not overlap other important information. 2) Since the Psalter World Map only has space for the things it deems most important, it is not very detailed. I could not find Venice, Bologna, Norwich, Yarmouth, Ramleh, or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as there simply is not room to detail every specific city or site pilgrims may pass through. In this way, navigating with the Psalter Map is very much a guessing game, speaking to the struggle medieval travelers had when trying to navigate from place to place. This was strikingly different from navigating ArcGIS, as all I had to do was enter the city or even a specific building or address, and it would take me to its exact location. There was no need to guess or even think about it as much.

Another large difference I noticed is that just as we can deduce how ruling cultures think about the world through map orientation (modern day maps are oriented North, placing more value on Europe and the United States as they are at the ‘top’ and near the center. Medieval maps are centered towards the ‘East’ where Paradise is meant to be, and Jerusalem is at the center), one can also deduce from medieval maps what traveling members of society cared about most based on how large a certain city or point is. This is exceedingly evident with the Psalter World Map’s placement of Jerusalem. Not only is is placed in the center, as it is in most T-O maps, which signifies it as the heart of the world and a treasured place around which Christ is said to have lived and died, but Jerusalem is HUGE compared to other cities and is circled, like a bulls-eye. The sheer size of how the city is portrayed screams that in the Middle Ages Jerusalem was considered a VERY important place, and details just how central it was to religious pilgrimage. The fact that the city is circled like a bulls-eye makes it appear the Jerusalem is the “end point” despite paradise being far up to the East.

The Book of Margery Kempe: Embedded Modern Map

The Book of Margery Kempe: Medieval Map

The template used is that of the World Psalter Map. You can find the original image here. The below image may appear blurry but upon clicking and magnifying, becomes clear. Edits courtesy of 3D Paint software.


Yellow/Gold= Religious Sites

Blue= Port Cities

Red= Checkpoints

Purple= Food

  1. Norwich, England
  2. Yarmouth, England
  3. Zierikzee, Netherlands
  4. Constanz, Germany
  5. Bologna, Italy
  6. Venice, Italy
  7. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
  8. River Jordan, modern-day Israel
  9. Venice, Italy
  10. Rome, Italy

The Book of Margery Kempe: Venice on Margery’s Return Trip

After Margery Kempe travels to various Holy Sites in Jerusalem, she travels back to Ramleh in modern-day Israel, where she then boards another boat and returns to Venice. Ramleh on the West Bank is 2, 203 miles from Venice.  Assuming that most boats around the time traveled at 5 knots, or approximately 5.7 miles per hour, this journey would have taken approximately 16 days, a bit over two weeks. Margery does not speak much about Ramleh, other than remarking that she wishes already “to return again to Jerusalem” (111). The pit stop she describes in Venice is predicated upon the supposition that God has ordered Margery to go to Rome. As a result, she does not focus much on any architecture or cultural points of the city, but focuses on promises God has made to her and deeply describes people who help or hurt her during her endeavors.  On the boat ride to Venice, many of Kempe’s companions are ill, but God assures Margery that no one on the journey will die, which ends up being true. God tells Margery that he will ensure that she makes it to Rome safely, and that when He does, Margery must wear white in Rome as she did in England. While in Venice she finds a broken-backed man in his fifties from Ireland whose name is Richard. Margery then recalls that the anchorite Julian of Norwich told her that when her companions have forsaken her, “God will provide a broken-backed man to escort you wherever you want to go” (112). Richard agrees to accompany her for the price of two nobles. Right outside of Venice, the couple stumbled upon two Grey Friars and a lady who had been traveling with Kempe in Jerusalem. The lady had a donkey with a chest containing an image of the Lord that caused Margery many tears whenever she saw it. At Richard’s urging, Margery set out with the lady and Friars, who treated her well and fed her well, and Richard came to bring her cheer every evening and morning.

When God requests Margery wear white after making it safely to Rome, Margery remarks that the “world should wonder at her” but that she would follow God’s command out of love for him (112). From this statement we can deduce that it is strange in medieval culture for a woman of Margery’s status to wear white. Margery is a strange enough case in and of herself for traveling unaccompanied while still being married. However, white clothing in the Middle Ages was also a symbol of purity and innocence. During this time, cloistered virgins were the only members of society who were socially permitted to wear white. The world would likely wonder and be ashamed at Margery for wearing white because she is not a virgin. Having given birth to 14 children, Margery is very far from being considered a virgin. By wearing white, Margery may wish to demonstrate to society that she is a woman of virtue. Wearing all white not only allows Margery to align herself with the holy virgin women she wishes to emulate, but also displays her conversion into a chaste woman to the world.  The fact that God proclaims her to wear white gives authority to her action.  The Middle Ages are not best known for their sanitation efforts, so white clothing is also impractical for essentially all classes of women. But besides impracticality, it symbolizes a strict adherence to spiritual values. This is made clear within the Bible in Matthew 26, where all the inhabitants of heaven are described as being clothes in white. God giving a command for Margery to wear white allows Margery to emphasize that God believes she is pure and holy and wishes for her to display that to the world. This functions to align Margery not only with virgins on Earth but with the company of heaven. The fact that the command is a dictate from God allows Margery to avoid any legal or societal punishments that may incur for her wearing the color.

Thank you for being understanding of my English Thesis and Political Science Honors thesis deadlines last week and this week. It’s been super busy 🙂


The Book of Margery Kempe: Mount Quarentyne

Margery travels to Mount Quarentyne or the Mount of Temptation where Christ fasted for forty days from the River Jordan. How long this would have taken them depends upon which spot on the Jordan River they had been visiting. Mount Quarentyne is said to be a hill in the Judean desert that supposedly towers over the town of Jericho in the West Bank. It’s exact location is unbeknownst to us today. Assuming Margery and her company walked to Jericho from the piece of the Jordan River closest to it, this journey is only about 6 miles and thus probably took about an hour to an hour and a half by foot. Margery does remark as she departs from the River Jordan that the weather was so hot she thought “her feet would be burn because of the heat” (110). This is one of the only descriptions of weather Margery ever gives. Kempe describes Mount Quarentyne as being very steep and difficult to climb. Her companions refused to help Margery up the mountain because they could “scarcely help themselves” (110). Eventually, she pays a handsome Muslim man a small sum of money and he assists her up the Mount. Kempe then describes that she became very thirsty and that by the grace of God, the Grey Friars (Franciscan Friars) took pity on her and comforted her even though her own countrymen did not acknowledge her.

Once again, Margery continues to make a cultural commentary on her fellow pilgrims in that they do not assist her or sympathize with her in her times of need (when she has trouble climbing and is extremely thirsty).  By detailing that a Muslim man assists her and that Grey Friars comforted her, Margery is throwing serious shade on her fellow pilgrims and countrymen, portraying them as ungodly. Even a man who does not see Jesus Christ as the Savior bothers to help Margery (if for a small payment) but her “religiously motivated” companions will not. While the Crusades ended over 100 years prior to Margery’s text that was dictated in the 1430s, it is notable that Kempe describes the Saracen man as handsome and portrays him as strong and helpful, considering he practically carries her up a large mountain younger people in good health are struggling to climb. Margery seems to have no animosity for this man of another faith, and because he treats her well, it is almost as though she sees God within his actions even though she cannot see this in her companions who constantly berate and ignore her. I think this is not only an insult to her fellow English pilgrims, but a compliment to the Muslims of Jerusalem, in that Margery trusts them to assist her up to a holy site. The animosity of the Crusades is not felt in Kempe’s particular description of a Muslim man on page 110 of her text. Considering we still see animosity between Christians and Muslims of the world today, I think it would be far-fetched to see this as a scenario in which racism towards Muslim communities or animosity between the two religions didn’t exist. However, I think it does say something about Margery’s faith in that she is able to see her Christian God working in (and believes the Christian God can work through) a man not of Christian faith.

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