I recently spent a few days in the Languedoc region of France, mostly relaxing but also exploring the rich cultural heritage of the Pays Cathare, Cathar country.
It's an evocative place, historically and for religious reasons and I wrote a great deal in my journal about faith and violence.
During the 12th century a new type of Christianity arose in the region, characterized by simplicity of faith, clothing and way of life. The Cathars were opposed to the corruption of the Catholic Church and spread their simple beliefs among the common people, preaching the scripture in local tongue so people could understand and believe. They were against violence and had a flat structure where no person was considered above another.
But the Church couldn't allow such a threat to the established faith. Between 1208 and 1321 the Cathars were systematically hunted down and murdered, besieged in the castles of the region, tortured by the Inquisition and burned alive.
One day, I sat in the Basilique of Carcassonne's Old City and wrote these words while a male choir sang religious music. These are the notes from my diary.
“I sit in the nave, a male quartet sing. Their voices resound, praising God, soaring into the vaulted space above. They are lit by the sun through stained glass, the blood red of massacred saints, the azure blue of heaven. Why do these sounds bring delight to the soul, when the tomb of the mass murderer reminds us of the slaughtered innocents here? The veil is ripped wide between heaven and earth in places like this, where death and eternal life struggle for dominance. Doves roost in the ancient stone, wings lit by the fragility of candles. My vision is blurred by the smoke that carries prayers to heaven, in memory of the final faithful burnt alive at Montsegur.”
I love church music. When I write, I either listen to rain and storms or Gregorian chants, which evoke images of the great cathedrals of Europe, some of my greatest inspiration.
So it was glorious to listen to the music in that place and yet incongruous to do so under the tombstone of Simon de Montfort, who led the mass murder of the Cathars. His body was actually removed from the church for fear of it being desecrated later on.
The juxtaposition of faith and violence is something that I return to again and again. They seem inextricably linked.
I'm currently writing the last chapters of Exodus, the third ARKANE novel, and have returned again to Jerusalem which is perhaps the place where it collides in the most fierce manner. I don't know if Carcassonne itself will make it into my fiction, but the emotions conjured by these places and the music that echoed there remains my central inspiration.
You can sign up to be notified when Exodus is released here. Pentecost and Prophecy are available on Amazon and all other ebook stores now.
You can read more about the Cathars here. For fiction based in this region, I recommend Kate Mosse's Labyrinth.
Seeley James says
Youv’e captured the feeling of the ancient cathedrals quite nicely here. The Inquisition in Spain was mostly a method of grabbing property from Jews and Muslims, was it the same for the Cathars? Or was it the challenge to authority that ticked off the powers of the day?
Will Simon de Montfort, reborn in modern times, be your next villain? Or, if he was reincarnated, would he just be another water-boarding CIA agent? 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Hi Seeley – I think the persecution definitely had that sense of land-grab and political machinations behind it. Plus the challenge to the established church – we wouldn’t want people thinking they could do away with priests, could we!
I think Simon de Montfort was a tool of powerful men – although by all accounts, he didn’t resist his duty. I also think that those days were very different. Death was a lot closer than it is to us now.
rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy says
You’re listening to Gregorian chants? Come and chant me an Undercover Soundtrack, my girl! R