Last Sunday I had the pleasure of presenting at the fantastic Imbas conference in Galway. Other commitments meant that I was unable to attend the whole thing but from all reports it was a resounding success. The paper I gave was based on my research on medieval courtesy literature and the presence of pilgrimage in such texts; in other words, an extension of my previous post on The Book of the Knight of La Tour-Landry. I also included an analysis of a selection of other short exemplary tales in this paper that I will return to in a future post but for now I will provide a condensed version of the section relating to Geoffroy de La Tour-Landry thus killing two blogging birds with the one stone by providing a concluding part to the previous post The Knight and His Daughters and His Book.
Geoffrey is attentive to the role of true intentions in his book. He emphasises the importance of correct intentions when attending services or going on pilgrimage. Chapter XXVIII gives an example of “them that usen to clatre, speke, and iangle atte the masse, in whiche thei shuld haue herde the deuyne seruice of God” (40). Geoffroy explains that a holy hermit had a chapel to which many people came on pilgrimage. They did not, however, act in the appropriate manner but talked and “jangled” together. This is again another example of the negative image of pilgrimage at this time, a social occasion where all religious aspects are forgotten or ignored. The outcome of this story, like that of the women who attend jousts and feasts is one which is intended not only to educate but also to frighten the intended audience as demons appear beside those who misbehaved during the service.
The idea of wandering without purpose or with a malicious intention such as gossip or adultery is a concern of the knight’s and, of course, the society in which he lived. A wandering woman is a liminal figure, on the peripheries of society, who was able to upset prescribed gender expectations. According to Sarah Salih, “the opposition between the good woman in the household and the bad woman in the street continues to inform medieval texts of all genres, which write gendered morality in spatial terms” (125). A wandering woman is without intent or purpose and can sometimes be construed as a threat to society, returning once again to the issue of curiositas. Their desire to travel and explore the world resulted in the theory of wandering women who “violated or threatened to violate, the spatial boundaries that defined behaviour appropriate to their gender” (Craig, 23). Therefore, it is no accident that in his book, Geoffroy places two examples of women going on pilgrimage one after another, both with very different intentions. Chapter XXXIII provides “an ensaumple of a countesse that euery day wolde here thre masses” (46). The knight emphasises the true nature and intent of this women in comparison with those who do not attend the prescribed amount of masses. Her dedication to God is reflected in her attendance of three services each day and so neither narrator nor audience feel the need to question or criticise her motives for going on pilgrimage. Going on pilgrimage is almost the cause of her missing one of her three services as her chaplain falls from his horse but God, in response to her devout nature, provides her with the opportunity to meet a saint as she continues with her journey who will say a mass for her. Geoffroy continues to emphasise the humble and sincere character of this women who immediately gives thanks to God for this miracle. She is not a false pilgrim who travels with insincere intentions but rather one who is rewarded directly from God for her devoutness. His daughters have been given the example of a true and worthy pilgrim who does not take advantage of the activity for her own worldly gains.
Chapter XXXIV, however, does not paint pilgrimage or women in such a positive light. It is “an ensaumple of a yong lady that had her herte moch on the worlde” (47). The knight explains that she is married but is in fact in love with a squire. To be with her squire she “made her husbonde to understond that she had uowed in diuerse pilgrimages”. The knight not only reverts to describing pilgrimage as an increasingly more secular activity but it is now also an outlet where the sin of adultery can be easily committed. Geoffroy ensures that the purely secular, worldly motives for this travel in the story are clearly seen. Both the squire and the young lady do not participate in the religious elements of the pilgrimage to a shrine to Our Lady but “they might haue her foly speche and communicacion togedre, in whiche they delited hem more thane to saie praieres or seuice to God, or to hav ani deucion in her pilgrimage” (47). They attend the services associated with pilgrimage but spend the entire time making signs at each other and talking. This behaviour does not escape the attention of God and he strikes down the young lady with a sickness, reflecting the attitude of society as a whole towards adulterous women. She does not leave the place of pilgrimage but begins her path to redemption there. She receives visions which are then interpreted for her by a holy man. This pious figure shares and reinforces the knight’s concern with true intent as he says:
Alle thei that gone on pilgrimage to a place for foule plesaunce more thane deucion of the place that thei go to, and couerithe thaire goinge with seuice of God, fowlithe and scornithe God and oure lady, and the place that their goo to, as ded the squire whanne he come to that place, and that he hadde more plesaunce in hym thane he hadde of the plesaunce of God, or on the pilgrimage that he hede to (50).
The young wife of this tale becomes a good woman, pious and devoted to both her husband and God after this experience and is not tempted by the corrupting force of the squire again. This lady has exemplified the fear of the free and mobile woman. She has used pilgrimage as an excuse to lie to her husband and leave the confines of her domestic duty to commit adultery and put her moral and spiritual welfare in danger. The knight does not portray pilgrimage as the corrupting influence but as the means to commit sin. Pilgrimage is corrupted by those who go without true intent and the statement which Geoffroy attaches to the end of his story serves as a warning to those who wish to go on pilgrimage:
And therefor here is an example that no body shulde go in holy pilgrimages forto fulfelle no foly, plesaunce, nor the worlde, nor flesshely delite. But thei shulde go enterly with herte to serue God; and also that it is good to praie for fader and moder, […] for thie impetrithe grace for hem that be alyue. (51).
This story, which the knight has recounted for his daughters, portrays pilgrimage as a force which can have negative effects on marriage and the family if undertaken for the wrong reasons. Pilgrimages occur outside of the safety of the domestic environs, in the liminal space outside of society’s boundaries and Geoffroy uses the diversity of pilgrimage as a literary device to emphasise the dangers and temptations of this particular space especially for women.
For anyone interested in the great postgraduate conference, Imbas and the speakers who presented this year, please click on this link http://www.nuigalway.ie/imbas/Imbas_2012/imbas2012.html
Craig, Leigh Ann. Wandering Women and Holy Matrons: Women As Pilgrims in the Later Middle Ages. Leiden: Brill, 2009. Print.
Salih, Sarah. “At Home; out of the House.” The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing. Ed. Caroline Dinshaw and David Wallace. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. N. pag. Print.