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Gorey Things
10 November 2017 | comments: 0 | Categories: | Tags:

The Treasure of Montsegur

2 starsSeveral years ago I read a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Eleanor was a remarkable woman and probably would have been great in any era. She was married to the King of France, but they obtained (purchased) a divorce on the grounds of being cousins despite already having a daughter.

Eleanor was a prize catch, commanding in her own right the affluent Duchy of Aquitaine. She married Henry II of England, who was also the Duke of Normandy, and between them they were tremendously powerful.

Treasure of MontsegurHer Duchy included the Languedoc region in the south of France, where a Christian sect called the Cathars flourished. After Eleanor's time the Cathars were branded heretics and a brutal Crusade waged against them.

My last Robert Goddard fiction included a brief reference to the Cathars in relation to the Knights Templar. There's a myth that the Knights smuggled great holy relics from Jerusalem and these were held by the Cathars, who were effectively exterminated after the siege of Montsegur in 1244. The treasure has never been found.

While browsing a bookshop recently I came across a novel by Sophie Burnham called the Treasure of Montsegur. It claimed to be "a novel of the Cathars" and pricked my interest.

After finishing the book I'm sorry to say I don’t know much more about the Cathar faith than I did before, or no more than any reader could learn from Wikipedia.

As literature the book was well written, albeit meandering in style. It's written in the first person as the account of a Cathar woman named Jeanne who survived the siege and helped hide the treasure. It crosses between her past and present, which was sometimes confusing.

The Cathars believed that Satan created the world and that humans were fallen angels striving to regain God's grace. They were vegetarian and had different levels of faith, similar to the caste system we know today in the Hindu and Buddhist religions.

They espoused equality for women and were basically a gentle people. Followers of the highest level were called "perfects" and their supporters were "Good Christians". During the Crusade and subsequent Inquisition their greatest weakness proved an inability to lie. They admitted their heresy and were promptly burnt at the stake.

If Catharism existed today it would be regarded as a curious exotic sect.

Jeanne's story follows her flight from Montsegur with three perfects. She was meant to lead them to the cave where the relics and gold were hidden so they might escape to Lombardy and carry on the faith.

She unbelievably became distracted and left the gentle monks to their fate. She then ran and concealed herself, narrowly escaping Inquisitors, before meeting a widowed farmer named Jerome, who took her in.

Jerome knew her background, but like many common people was ambivalent about the heresy and had no personal objection to the Good Christians. He was also aware that people were tortured and burnt by association. He grappled with desire for the treasure, his sense of right and his Catholic faith.

Jeanne, meanwhile, first came to the conclusion that the perfects she helped escape from Montsegur were the real "treasure" rather than gold and relics. Later, as she feared for her life, she received the Cathar sacrament of the light of God and knew that the "treasure" was her immortal soul.

Jeanne died on the rack before she could be burnt at the stake.

This book was a total change of pace for me, and it may be I'm unfairly critical because of this.

As an historical novel, I felt it didn't transport me effectively to the 13th century. Well researched, the author may have erred on the side of caution in wanting to be historically accurate. Her descriptions could have been more vivid.

Some parts of the story were simply incredible, such as Jeanne's disappearance from the perfects, and a futuristic prophecy that foreshadowed today's world.

Don't be dissuaded from reading this book. Just don’t expect to be illuminated upon completion.

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