Posted by: istop4books | May 20, 2011

The Treasure of Montsegur: A Novel of the Cathars by Sophy Burnham

“Kill them all, God will know His own” 

When questioned by a crusader on how to recognize true Catholics from Heretics during the battle at Bezier in 1209, this was the answer from a papal legate. Subsequently, 20,000 people were massacred.

The story of the Albigensian Crusade and the extermination of the Cathars by members of the Catholic Church by orders of the Pope in 13th C France is one that is not widely known The Crusade was a win-win situation for both the Church and the nobility of Languedoc, a region of France.  The Catholic church would eliminate a faction of heretics and gain enormous wealth as they confiscated land and belongings of the heretics, and the French knights would also gain enormous benefits from participating in a crusade. 

Montsegur

Barnham tells it very well through the narrative of Jeanne, a young girl, found in a field as a baby after the mass extermination of 20,000 Cathars and Cathar sympathizers in Beziers. She is brought up in a Chathar household, but develops an independent streak which makes her flawed, rebellious, questioning and very human.

As an old lady she tells her story in bits and pieces to a man who has befriended and sheltered her. The narrative moves between her present time and the past easily, although the scenes of the ruthless Inquisition are hard to read. Stories of mass burnings and brutal torture scenes emerge, but she also tells of the almost cult-like entrancement of the Cathar people as they collectively gather to be burned alive at the stake (almost reminding me of Jonestown in the 1970’s). As Jeanne was one of the 300+ people held under seige at Montsegur, she retells this part of history well in addition to her part in keeping the Cathar belief and treasure from total extermination.

A big fault with the book: typos and faulty proofreading – totally unacceptable.

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