Margery Kempe, the only daughter of the mayor of Bishop’s Lynn, England has made a tough decision in 1413. She has decided to leave her home, her husband, and her fourteen children to go on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem as a way to honor her late father’s dying wishes. As she begins her journey, she meets the famous anchoress Julian of Norwich, who entrusts Margery with an important mission. She gives Margery her book Revelations of Divine Love and tells her to spread her message throughout the world in secret. Margery’s pilgrimage, her connection to Julian of Norwich, and the aftermath of her journey are intricately woven together in Mary Sharratt’s stunning novel, “Revelations”.
I would like to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I read the description of this novel, I was intrigued. I have heard the names Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich floating around in recent years, but I sadly knew nothing about their life stories. I hoped that this novel would shed some light on both women and why they are remembered in such high regard today.
Sharratt’s novel is based on the research of historians, such as Dr. Janina Ramirez, who have argued that Margery Kempe knew Julian of Norwich and that Julian gave Margery her precious book Revelations of Divine Love. Margery is no ordinary woman as she has visions that will guide her to the path in which she believes God has chosen for her.
We begin with Margery as a young maiden, who has no desire to marry the man that her family has told her to marry. Reluctantly, she does marry John Kempe and they have fourteen children together. It is during the birth of her fourteenth child, Margery almost dies and so she decided to make a vow of celibacy, which her husband reluctantly agrees to. It was not until her father’s death that Margery chooses to fulfill his dream for her, to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Since John chose not to go on pilgrimage with his wife, she decides to don the clothes of a bride of Christ, which means to dress all in white as a virgin.
Many believe that Margery’s visions, her sudden bursts of tears, and her choice to leave her family make her an evil woman. Except for Julian of Norwich, the famed anchoress, and someone who understood Margery’s struggles. Since Julian could not walk away from her duty as an anchoress to explore the world, she gave Margery the treacherous task of carrying her book throughout the world, giving it only those scholars who could be trusted with the knowledge of this scandalous text.
Margery’s journey to discover who she was meant to be is deep and riveting. It showed how even in the early 1400s, there was a struggle between different views of Christianity. From women accused of preaching in the streets to those accused of Lollardy, there was a real sense of danger and death for those who did not follow the status quo. Sharratt shows the dangers that a woman faced when she traveled on pilgrimage alone, but she also showed how deep Margery’s faith was and how willing she was to make sure that her message was heard. If I did have a small concern, it would be that I wish Sharratt delved into the writing of Margery Kempe’s autobiography, The Book of Margery Kempe.
As someone who has never read anything about Julian of Norwich or Margery Kempe, I found this novel enchanting. This was the first novel that I have read by Mary Sharratt and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a delightful escape into the past and the life of a friendship and a pilgrimage that would change the life of Margery Kempe forever. If this sounds intriguing to you, check out “Revelations” by Mary Sharratt.