April 2016 | Nate Pedersen

Medieval Manuscripts by Female Authors On Display Together For First Time

1772.jpgThe Book of Margery Kempe, (between 1436 and 1438), is currently on display along with Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love (1373) at the Wellcome Collection in London. The two medieval manuscripts are particularly notable for their female authorship. Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich are two of the earliest women writers in English.

The Book of Margery Kempe, widely considered the first autobiography in English, was dictated to a scribe by Kempe who, after birthing 14 children, became a pilgrim, traveling far from her Norfolk home to visit Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela.

Julian of Norwich wrote Revelations of Divine Love in 1373 in the wake of spiritual epiphinanies while serving as an anchorite.  Revelations includes the oft-repeated line, "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Both manuscripts are extremely rare -- The Book of Margery Kempe only existing in one copy thought lost for four hundred years before an accidental discovery in a British country house brought it back into the light.

In an interesting aside, Margery Kempe met Julian of Norwich while Julian was entombed as an anchorite, seeking advice on her own visions of God. Despite this historical meeting, their manuscripts were only brought together for display for the first time at the new exhibition from Wellcome Collection. The manuscripts are on loan from the British Library.

The Wellcome Collection exhibition, entitled This is a Voice, explores the human voice in its myriad forms and will continue through the end of July.

[Image from the British Library]