Monday, August 08, 2005

Jerusalem Syndrome -- the first patient

A rather bizarre article in the JPost on Jerusalem Syndrome -- in which sufferers are famously overwhelmed by the spirituality of the city and go temporarily insane -- contains the following interesting snippet of information:
the syndrome has been documented for some 600 years, going back at least to an early 15th-century Englishwoman named Margery Kempe who began to show signs of dementia upon entering Jerusalem during a grueling religious pilgrimage.
According to Wikkipedia, her story is much more complex than this; she had suffered from self-described 'madness' and visions since the age of 35, and is also the author of what is sometimes considered the first autobiography in English:
Having for many weeks railed against the institutions of family, marriage and church, Kempe reports that she saw a vision of Christ at her bedside, asking her "Daughter, whyhave you forsaken me, and I never forsook you?" From that point
forward, Kempe undertook two failed domestic businesses--a brewery and a grain
mill--both common home-based businesses for medieval women. Though she had tried to be more devout after her vision, she was tempted by sexual pleasures and social jealousy for some years. Eventually turning away from what she interpreted as the effect of worldly pride in her vocational choices, Kempe more fully responded to the spiritual calling that she felt her earlier vision required. Striving to live a life of commitment to God, Kempe negotiated a chaste marriage with her husband, and began to make pilgrimages around Europe to sites that were holy to her, if not to others. The stories surrounding these travels are what eventually comprised much of her Book, although a final section includes a series of prayers.

New Voices, of all places -- in an excellent article on Jer. Syndrome -- adds:
Margery Kempe was a married woman who, after 14 pregnancies, received directions from God to declare herself a “spiritual virgin” and take off for the Middle East (she arrived in Jerusalem riding a donkey and was immediately seized with fainting fits).
Of-course, combining all the information on Ms Kempe, you might argue that she suffered some kind of illness before Jerusalem Syndrome -- although one definition of the illness does allow for this.
Which brings me to my second point. Wikipedia answers, although briefly, a question I've always had about Jerusalem Syndrome: is it absolutely unique to Jerusalem?
The answer is, apparently not:
behaviors have been noted at other places of religious and historical importance such as Mecca and Rome (see Stendhal syndrome).
Although of-course, we long ago documented Paris Syndrome.

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