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The Swetenesse of Confection: A Recipe for Spiritual Health in London, British Library, Additional MS 61823, The Book of Margery Kempe
Studies in the Age of Chaucer, Volume: 40, Issue: 1, Pages: 155 - 190
Swansea University Author: Laura Kalas
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The topos of spiritual joy and intoxication has its roots in a long tradition of mystical discourse on sweetness, as seen in Richard Rolle’s emphasis on dulcor as central for spiritual amelioration. The myriad references to God’s swetenesse in The Book of Margery Kempe illustrate the sensual viscera...
|Published in:||Studies in the Age of Chaucer|
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The topos of spiritual joy and intoxication has its roots in a long tradition of mystical discourse on sweetness, as seen in Richard Rolle’s emphasis on dulcor as central for spiritual amelioration. The myriad references to God’s swetenesse in The Book of Margery Kempe illustrate the sensual viscerality of Kempe’s spiritual experience. To evoke the swete sounds, smells, and tastes of rapture helps her to go some way towards describing the ineffable, since the metaphor of the sweetness of Christ holds deep, symbolic value. The meaning of swetenesse is at once sensory, emotive, and figurative. Bartholomaeus Anglicus noted that sweet flavours are pure “by kynde [nature]”, and beneficial for bodily health. Sweetness is also, then, therapeutic. The contents of the faded recipe, annotated at the end of British Library, Additional MS 61823 by a late fifteenth-century or early sixteenth-century reader of The Book of Margery Kempe, are revealed here; and show to be for medicinal sweets. The recipe’s redolence with such significations of confection, sweetness, and spiritual health resonate with Kempe’s trajectory towards divine love and eschatological perfection. Her ‘confection’ with Christ is frequently described as a “swet dalyawnce”. The recipe’s inclusion in the manuscript gestures towards the curative nature of the Book, both for Kempe who lives the narrative, and for her readers, who are edified by the healing words of the text.
Margery Kempe, sweetness, manuscript, recipe, confection, dragges, medicine, divine love, dalliance, senses, synaesthesia, health, cure, mysticism, spices, illness, Mariae medica
College of Arts and Humanities