Illuminating the Soul: Religious Enclosure and the Validation of Mystical Experience in The Life of Christina of Markyateand The Book of Margery Kempe
Roberts, Ruth R.
Marginalia, Vol. 3 (2006)
The mind has a more extensive and expansive leisure within the six surfaces of a room than it could gain outside by traversing the four parts of the world. […] If no one prevents it, my mind leaps as high and as far and as deep as it wants; (where disputes and the causes of disputes have been put to sleep,) it does not fear obstructing complaints.
By positing an inverse relationship between the parameters of physical space and the expansiveness of the mind, the twelfth century monk Peter of Celle represents religious enclosure as the site of truly elevated visions. In the process, he represents a spiritual opposition between the confined figure and the pilgrim figure traversing the world. The Life of Christina of Markyate and The Book of Margery Kempe represent the two sides of this opposition: Christina was enclosed for four years before adopting a more relaxed form of religious life, and Margery was a married woman who lived her spiritual life as both mystic and pilgrim within society. I will demonstrate that the spiritual elevation of the confined figure is a concern both of Christina’s biographer, and of Margery. Christina’s biographer validates her mystical experience by emphasising that the conditions of her enclosure are part of a tradition that extends back to the desert fathers.