|Purged by Fire by Diane Bonavist|
Purged by Fire: Heresy of the Cathars by Diane Bonavist
In the thirteenth-century, a unique civilization flourished in the region that is now Southwestern France. The tolerant rulers of this realm embraced the Cathar faith which kept the simple teachings of the early followers of Christ, and rejected the venality of the Catholic Church.
To destroy the heretical faith, the pope declared a holy war. With the infamous words 'Kill them all, God will recognize his own,' the crusade against Christendom began. For two decades, these wars decimated the old regions of the Languedoc and the troubadour culture. But when they still failed to destroy the heretical faith, the papacy gave special powers of inquisition to Dominican monks. Their mission was to root out heretics, compel confessions, and burn the unrepentant at the stake.
Purged by Fire tells the intertwining stories of three people enmeshed in the treachery of the Inquisition. Isarn Benet believes he has survived the wars by accepting the pope's will and the French rule, until Marsal, the child he once rescued, arrives on his doorstep, forcing him to question every conciliation he has ever made. Marsal has lost everything to the Inquisition. Raised to always turn the other cheek, now she wants back what the Catholic Church has stolen, and she will aid anyone who helps her do so, even outlaws and rebels. Isarn's son Chrétien can barely remember his life as a soldier and troubadour, the time before he knew and loved Marsal. Condemned and hunted by the Catholic Church, the two escape to the mountain fortress of Montsègur. Here, as the forces of the Inquisition lay siege to their place of refuge, they must make one final choice between life and love or death and faith!
Set in 13th Century France, a troubled time of religious wars and persecution, this is a period of French history I knew little about, but was on my list to learn more. I hoped this book would give me the perfect chance to understand the Cathars and why there had been so much violence towards them.
From the beginning I enjoyed the writing style and the alternating chapters that told the story through the lives of the three different but entangled characters of Isarn, Chrétien and Marsal. I instantly found Marsal, who had been rescued as a baby when the town of Beziers was falling, to be engaging and was intrigued to learn more of her story now she is an adult and alone in the world. Her childhood had been spent in a small Cathar community, but following the death of her guardian, she lost everything. Isarn, who despite taking a huge risk to rescue baby Marsal, now seemed to want to take the easy path for a quiet life; keeping his relationship with Chrétien and feelings for Marsal a secret. Chrétien, his son, was more of a mystery to be unfolded over time. Appearing and disappearing, he seemed to have a hold over Marsal, but also a reluctance to get too close. Despite their lives being difficult, these characters assured I never lost interest in their stories.
This book gave me a good insight to the religious discrimination and persecution of these times and why the Christian beliefs of the Cathars were at odds with the French crown and Roman Catholic Pope. Not an easy subject, but Diane has made it very readable. I’m sure this book will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading historical fiction.