Queer Touch Between Holy Women: Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Birgitta of Sweden, and the Visitation



This essay takes a new approach to the well-known meeting between two late-medieval English visionary women, Margery Kempe and the anchoress Julian of Norwich, as described in The Book of Margery Kempe. In this analysis their conversation subtly evokes a long history of women concentrating their subversive power through intimate, spiritual exchange, a history reaching back to the Biblical Visitation scene and expressed in its medieval artistic and literary instantiations. A queer reading illuminates the way that such female same-sex relationships challenge patriarchal systems by offering a privileged access to God outside clerical supervision. By examining Margery and Julian’s encounter, Luke’s Visitation passage, its depiction in a late-medieval Book of Hours, and comparing two different Middle English translations of a Visitation vision in Birgitta of Sweden’s Revelations, the full transgressive effect of queer touch between women—or even its unspoken possibility—emerges.


Julian of Norwich Margery Kempe Birgitta of Sweden Queer theory The visitation 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universitetet i BergenBergenNorway

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