The making of a woman Part II

Medieval girdle books were used to make religious texts more portable, sewn into leather and either carried or attached to a girdle belt.  The making of my book bag represented the remarkable journeys that Margery Kempe took in her lifetime to places such as Danske, Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela.

I used real buck skin to cover my book and purchased plywood, which, I cut to size from the measurements of all six books when they were brought together in a pile.

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The hide was trimmed to a more manageable size and holes were made around the plywood board to match holes that were also made to the hide.  These were then brought together and sewn using small strips of hide and tied off when finished.

IMG_1048The hide was cut to cover the book, leaving a margin to fold over the plywood and attach with thing strips of hide.  An extra piece was included to give the text added security from the elements such as rain.  This extra piece was meant to be folded over the complete book and secured using leather knots and loops which I measured and secured to the book spine.
I realized that I set my book to open from the left hand side and not the right, which would probably have been the norm but I am left handed and did this without thinking.  The text was secured with a long piece of leather attached to the stitching and tied to make the books more likely to stay in place.

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The face of the woman was placed in the book bag so that it is the first thing you see when you open it.  This is to symbolize the fact that the text that follows is a person, tangible and real from the outset.  It is important to note that the text faces towards the reader in the book bag for better readability when walking your pilgrimage.  Its purpose was to hang on one’s girdle to be lifted easily when required.

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The knot was the most difficult piece of the project to construct.  I researched turk’s head knots and monkey fist knots, neither of which are particularly easy to make with leather.  This did however, after many failed attempts, come together to make the finished project as can be seen below.

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My objective for this book project was to reflect the nature of the medieval book and its uses, whilst also representing the person of Margery Kempe, a remarkable medieval woman whom I have come to respect and love.  I have acknowledged the presence of this text as code and allowed it’s aesthetics to infiltrate my book making process where appropriate.  It is true that words hold different meanings for different readers and the pen speaks louder sometimes than the printed word.  This is why I used hand written text to represent the Labyrinth as well as including a recent printed edition for the booklets also.  Real, breathing life went into ‘The Book of Margery Kempe‘ and I hope I have kept it alive with my representation of this wonderful medieval text.

 

The making of a woman.

The Book of Margery Kempe‘ is a medieval manuscript that survives in hand copied form, and has been digitized by the British Library for public viewing online.  The material book is, however, locked away in the vaults of the library for only the selected few to hold in their hands.  Whether you read it as the dictation of an actual medieval woman to a scribe or, as Lynn Staley suggests, the dissenting fiction of an author named Kempe, the resilience and tenacity of Margery, the person or protagonist, cannot be denied.

I used this remarkable woman as the basis for my project because her text engages with my understanding of the book in a variety of forms.  Compiled in the 15th Century, it deals with some of the preoccupations of book culture, such as, authorship (as it was written by a scribe, on vellum and bound in traditional leather binding), the commentary tradition (as it was annotated by a number of additional scribes, most likely clergy) and it reflects the religious culture of medieval pilgrimage, whereby, the travelling book bag would have been an essential piece of kit for the discerning pilgrim.  In it’s pages a recipe for dragges has been discovered, the elements of which point towards the Grimoire and other forms of ‘low magic’ and finally, every fleck of dirt that has gathered on the pages of the manuscript can be observed in high definition, thanks to the digital revolution.

The narrative offers an interesting insight into medieval life, especially that of the medieval woman and at a time when religious fervor was at it’s height.  Margery was prone to weeping and sought to express her Affective Piety with vigor and authority, much to the distaste of those she came into contact with.  She was tried for heresy and used her patronage as ‘the daughter of the Mayor of Lynn’ to great affect on numerous occasions.

As I have mentioned previously with regards to the recording of her manuscript, the account is thought to have been dictated and is confusing in parts, much of which is written out of chronological order.  This sense of dis-organisation is reflected symbolically in my project, with the dis-organised layout of the six booklets that I compiled.IMG_1049

The inside coverings and occasional misprint of text explore the haphazard nature of the original manuscript and the copious smudges of black ink serve to display the  temperamental nature of the printing process.

Margery’s voice has always been disputed by scholars.  She was not the direct ‘writer’ of the book but the dictator and, therefore, subject to scribal interpretation.  When I considered this, my immediate response was that Margery’s voice could be heard in the text alone, in the remarkable events that her scribe was recalling and in the manner in which the story is relayed.  I took the topography of a woman’s face and wrote the opening narrative from ‘The Book of Margery Kempe to symbolize the strength of words alone in representing the authenticity of voice within a text.img129

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This was then placed in the centre circle of a larger piece of work which traces the pattern of Chartres Cathedral in France, a pilgrimage walk which people still do every Friday to this day.  It was the significance of the the Cathedral design that led me to construct my own version of this pilgrimage walk using the text from Margery’s first pilgrimages in England to mark the lines where the path leads.

 

8-3_-_labyrinth_-_chartres-490x559This pilgrimage map wraps the six booklets which were constructed in numerical order, and represent the various places in Europe Margery visited during her life.  Inside these booklets the narrative is interrupted by markings on the pages i.e. tear stains where she wept profusely, burn holes where she was tried for heresy and threatened with burning at the stake etc.

Each booklet is bound using the coptic sewing method and held together with two small strips of cloth which have been gluedIMG_1042 to the cardboard and covered over with random prints of pages disregarded in earlier preparations of the project.  The outer coverings are covered in a printed copy of the digital code which makes up the cover page of the online version of the manuscript.  These sheets have been ripped up and placed in a random fashion by way of symbolizing how the beauty of code can merge with the beauty of the text with seamless authority.

I copied the pages that related to Margery’s pilgrimages and grouped them into six distinct events.  The six groupings reflect the six petals of the inner circle in ChartIMG_1043res Cathedral labyrinth, that is the Rose, which John James suggests “is the Lamb, described in Revelation as being the centre of the Heavenly Jerusalem.” (James 2)
On the front of the  booklets I glued a map of Europe as it looked during the medieval period.  When laid out in the correct numerical sequence, the booklets come together to form a complete map as Margery would have known it.  Her pilgrimages that took place in England correspond with the piece of map that has been attached to that particular section of the text and this has been done for all the other pilgrimages  as far as was possible, save for one repeated journey to Italy.

I was keen to reconstruct the experience of the scribe and used quill and ink to number my booklets and put the place names that she visited on each of the front covers.  This was a highly enjoyable experience, if somewhat messy.  I found it very difficult to get the ink to spread evenly as I wrote and suffered many failed attempts before I came to the finished piece.IMG_1075 IMG_1068

Every element of my project has  a purpose and meaning behind it and expresses my desire to experience some of the elements of medieval life.  For example, the recipe for dragges was recently deciphered by Kalas Williams so I purchased the necessary ingredients and set about making them for myself.  IMG_1050The sugared mixture hardens quickly and broke my measuring spoon in the process.

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A small leather pouch was constructed from hide to carry the dragges in, and was then attached to my larger book bag which houses the six booklets and Labyrinth map, the construction of which I will continue to describe in my next blog.