They look nothing alike but they love each other.
November 10, 2014 11:09 AM   Subscribe

"2013. In my Medieval Literature class at the University of Pittsburgh, we’re talking about Margery Kempe, a 14th century English woman who wanted very, very much to be a saint, one of the few roles an ambitious woman of her time could aspire to achieve. She talked a monk into writing down her dictated autobiography, a sort of proto-memoir/self-hagiography that – along with a lengthy explanation of how she convinced God to make her a virgin again after having 14 children – includes visions of interacting with the Christ child. There’s one in which she explains to Mary, the mother of God, how to diaper the baby."

A personal essay on nuns, children, and love.

Included in this Longreads list of articles on the lives of nuns.
posted by jetlagaddict (15 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, that's great. I had no idea that medieval nuns did all that with baby Jesus dolls. Fascinating.

Also, Margery Kempe is awesome.
posted by suelac at 11:51 AM on November 10, 2014

People have been made saints on worse grounds, if you ask me.
posted by Segundus at 12:07 PM on November 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

That was a really well written and moving essay.
posted by dabug at 12:11 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Suddenly the tradition of Infant of Prague statues makes a lot more sense. When I lived in Ireland, there was a house down the road that had an Infant of Prague in the upstairs bedroom window. His robes changed with the seasons, and he was always gaily bedecked in gold, silver or (faux) ermine. I remember thinking it a bit weird and creepy at the time, but if that household was childless...suddenly it doesn't seem quite as weird as it did before.
posted by LN at 12:46 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is it part of Catholic dogma that Jesus still exists as a baby somehow and that Mary has spent the last 2000 years changing diapers? I'm skeptical. That sounds too much like a joke.
posted by HappyEngineer at 12:54 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

For nearly all of those women, the choice was marriage or convent.

I don't think that's completely true. At least in some circles, if the family couldn't marry them off, they were sent to the convent with no personal choice in the matter.

That goes a long way towards explaining why there were nuns who flirted with men, got pregnant, or as noted above, dreamed of having a baby of their own.

Of course, all thatcould be true of someone who chose the church as a vocation as well, but many did not.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:02 PM on November 10, 2014

HappyEngineer, comments like that make the baby Jesus cry.

Also, given that nuns are supposed to be brides of Christ, doesn't the entire taking care of the infant Christ kind of make them a bit Jocasta like?
posted by Hactar at 1:43 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

See Also ... says the crazy stuffed cat lady
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 1:47 PM on November 10, 2014

There exists a circa-15th-16th century woodcut with a caption that reads, "There are two reasons why a man might choose to become a monk." It's a vertical diptych; the top half shows a monk praying while gazing upwards, and the bottom shows two monks under the covers in bed (obviously, to share heat in the cold room) (obviously heat is a metaphor) (obviously the room is, too) (they're gay).

One thing I've never heard discussed, neither in period nor modern times, is any prevalence of lesbians who joined the convent in order to live unquestioned with other women. Is this a known thing (but not to me)? Seems equally likely to the "Join the YMCA Franciscans!" thought process for some gay, religious men in a homophobic environment.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:56 PM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

New Narrative writer Robert Glück's book Margery Kempe was published under the High Risk imprint of Serpent's Tail in 1994 (an imprint edited by long-term William Burroughs/Dennis Cooper/Kathy Acker agent Ira Silverberg and Amy Scholder, formerly of City Lights and recently of Feminist Press. High Risk Archives now at NYU Fales.)

Blurb: "This tale of romantic obsession chronicles two relationships that take place in disparate worlds, separated by 500 years. The story of failed saint Margery Kempe's physical passion for Jesus mirrors the tale of the narrator's adoration of a young man."
posted by larrybob at 2:31 PM on November 10, 2014

Maybe these women weren't just fetishizing dolls, but were simply engaging in a newly-popular devotional practice?

For example:
It was during Christmastide of this year (1223) that the saint [Francis of Assisi] conceived the idea of celebrating the Nativity "in a new manner", by reproducing in a church at Greccio the praesepio of Bethlehem, and he has thus come to be regarded as having inaugurated the popular devotion of the Crib. Christmas appears indeed to have been the favourite feast of Francis, and he wished to persuade the emperor to make a special law that men should then provide well for the birds and the beasts, as well as for the poor, so that all might have occasion to rejoice in the Lord.
According to Bonaventure’s biography, St. Francis got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.”
Or maybe it was a little of both. Either way, sad/interesting article.
posted by resurrexit at 2:37 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

It wasn't just marriage or convent. If you lived in the Low Countries you could become a beguine.
posted by orrnyereg at 4:50 PM on November 10, 2014

Well, at least you could begin to, orrnyereg.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:55 PM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I walked right into that one.
posted by orrnyereg at 11:20 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

larrybob, thanks for that cool comment. Never heard of New Narrative, but it's a movement I have apparently been a fan of without knowing its name.
posted by jayder at 7:28 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

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