A Revelation of Purgatory was written by an unnamed woman, almost certainly an anchoress, in Winchester in 1422. It details from a first-person perspective a series of terrifying visions experienced by the author in which she witnesses the purgatorial sufferings of a former friend named Margaret who makes her way through the blazing fires of purgatory tormented by devils, the "worm of conscience", and - uniquely - her two former pets, a fierce little cat and dog. Through her prayer and the prayers she elicits from her own circle of influential priests, the anchoress is eventually able to deliver Margaret to the doors of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Made available here in accessible parallel-text format with extended introduction and annotation, the Revelation is an important text: not only does it testify to popular and religious concerns with the afterlife in the late Middle Ages but also underscores the significant role played by women in mitigating the suffering of souls in purgatory by means of their personal interventions. The text also bears witness to female friendship, effective intergender dialogue, and the central role played by an anchoress in those communities with which she interacted, be they spiritual, institutional or personal.
Liz Herbert McAvoy is Professor of Medieval Literature at Swansea University.