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The Gift of Tears: Weeping in the Religious Imagination of Western Medieval Christianity

Jessie Gutgsell


This article explores the role of weeping in medieval practices of piety by performing a close reading of three medieval texts: Walter Hilton’s The Ladder of Perfection, Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue, and Margery Kempe’s Book of Margery Kempe. Hilton emphasized the role of weeping in the journey to a contemplative life while Catherine focused on the typology of tears; both affirmed genuine tears as a method to communicate with the divine. Margery Kempe, known for her strong emotions, often aligned with Hilton’s and Catherine’s views but sometimes differed, especially with her attitudes about crying in public. Even as weeping and the church became more ritualized and formalized over time, the practice remained active in the religious imaginations of people. The paper concludes by suggesting that weeping as part of pious practices continued, though changed, through the writings of more contemporary Anglicans like Jeremy Taylor and Charles Wesley, as well as in the Pentecostal tradition.

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