Walk this Way: Two Journeys to Jerusalem in the Fifteenth Century

Walk this Way: Two Journeys to Jerusalem in the Fifteenth Century

Lecture by Helen Hickey

Given at the Practising Emotions: Place and the Public Sphere conference, held at Uniting Church Theology College on August 7, 2015

Pilgrimage is a central theme in Christianity. As the image of the Christian journey through life, a physical journey to a sacred location, and an interior experience, the impulse and practice of peregrinationes often overlap. Pilgrimage is also a frequent and vital component of a wide range of medieval secular and spiritual texts: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Langland’s Piers Plowman or Guillaume de Deguileville’s Old French Le Pèlerinage de l’Âme, which was translated into The Pylgremage of the Sowle, and widely circulated in fifteenth-century England. In addition, we have first-hand accounts of late-medieval pilgrimages.

This paper appraises place pilgrimage to Jerusalem in two late-medieval English texts: The Itineraries of William Wey and The Book of Margery Kempe. William Wey journeyed to Jerusalem twice: 1458 and 1462, Margery Kempe only once in the early fifteenth century. One of Wey’s claims to fame is his first use of the word ‘stations’ for the series of stops on the via crucis. The ‘stations’ would evolve to be the Stations of the Cross. Kempe is well known for her vociferous and lachrymose piety, as well as her constant movement to holy sites. Intriguingly, one of Kempe’s inspirations is believed to be the York Corpus Christi Plays.

Both Wey and Kempe offer unique insights into the performance of pilgrimage and the complex motives for and understandings about such journeys. At the point where secular and sacred experiences crossover, we can map the emotions that attended their respective journeys to and through Jerusalem. Some of these findings disturb a cohesive interpretation of the practice of emotion in late-medieval pilgrimage.

Helen Hickey completed a PhD in medieval literature at the University of Melbourne after studying history and sociology at La Trobe University. In 2013 she was awarded a travel bursary from the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature at the University of Oxford to study the relic cult of the Sainte Larme (Holy Tear of Christ). She has a forthcoming chapter in an edited collection titled ‘Trauma in Medieval Life’ and is a member of the International Health and Humanities Network.

Depiction of Jerusalem in the 15th century, by Hartmann Schedel
Depiction of Jerusalem in the 15th century, by Hartmann Schedel

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