After they scattered into the Pyrenees, the Cathars were hard to trace. So was the thread of this book.
- René Weis
- Penguin (first published 2001)
The Inquisition weighs heavily in our modern impressions of an era in which cruelty, intolerance and ignorance reigned supreme for several centuries. Yet a growing body of academic research into the Catholic suppression of the “heretical” Cathar faith now demonstrates with no small irony the sophistication of a highly developed subculture thriving around the uplands of Lombardy, Catalonia and Pyrennean France.
Thanks to the rich detail contained in depositions from two extant Inquisition registers, René Weis here offers readers an insight into life in the village of Montaillou and the Cathar heartland, according to the testimony of its residents. Montaillou may well be, as the author suggests, the best known village in Medieval Europe. Never shy of expounding on his personal sleuthing around the quiet backwaters of modern France, Weis is clearly fascinated by his subject. Equally, the wealth of the material and the complexity of the family histories would be an exciting, if daunting, challenge for any author of popular history. Nevertheless, Weis somehow manages to totally dessicate the stories of intrigue, vendetta, virtue and ambition like tomatoes in the sun.
Much has been written of the Cathars in this genre, in part because modern readers are understandably attracted to perceptions of “enlightened” liberality in a time of oppressive dogma. Weis responds to such sweeping generalisations with a pedestrian, repetitive and chronologically uneven exposition, as if the switchback style of his manuscript source rubbed off on him. The Yellow Cross qualifies easily as history, but it’s hardly popular.