During the scorching summer of 1209, Pope Innocent III blessed an army of 40,000 Catholics and called on them to purge the Pyrenees foothills of religious revolutionaries called the Cathars. His crusade against these peaceful heretical thinkers was a carefully connived scheme. Initiating his gory harvest of souls involved plans for pre-meditated murder and the blackmail of Kings, the conscious twisting of truths and invention of falsehoods. The ignorant of Europe flocked to his cause and even the most pious lusted for blood.
Through the eyes of a young northern knight, Cathar explores those intricate machinations and the resulting hysteria fomented by Innocent III and Dominic de Guzman, a papal zealot destined for sainthood and father of feared Dominicans in the Spanish Inquisition.
Guy de Burlois accepts a secret mission to identify heretics and their priest-like Parfait in the lush Mediterranean lands of the Languedoc. He views his task to mark them for slaughter as little more than an administrative chore. It’s simply an order to be followed. His training as a knight has stripped him of any humanity and he’s naively bereft of guilt for enabling the brutal violence he knows will soon follow. Once he starts his covert census, however, that begins to change. He knows what recording the names of those he befriends in the Languedoc will mean. Though he has the balm of confession he finds it more and more difficult to rationalize his conduct. Eventually it becomes impossible. He grows confused by the gentler emotions of tolerance he finds the Cathar display and when he meets a Cathari woman and secretly falls in love with her, he’s motivated to correct his errors. Instead of Cathar heretics he names the most prominent and devoted Catholics, believing the errors in identification will be so glaring they will void the value of his entire list. But he’s wrong. When the crusade begins, aided by his covert census, everyone in the Languedoc becomes a target for religious cleansing. Afraid to admit what he’s done, Guy reluctantly participates with the rabid northern horde in the sacking of Beziers. The frenzy of gore puts 15,000 Biterrois to the sword in one afternoon, regardless of their faith, regardless of their age. In its aftermath, he sees the Pope’s crusade is about genocide and not faith. He realizes too late that his list is the Church’s license to commit wholesale murder. Considered heroic by the nobles leading the crusade, Guy tries to hide his true feelings for the Cathar and in fear continues to follow orders. He commits ever worsening acts of barbarism demanded in the Pope’s name, haunted by the knowledge that with each act the crusading army juggernaut is moving closer and closer to claiming the woman he loves and the child she is about to bear. When it is obvious she will soon be seized, he is plunged into a desperate struggle to save them. But the odds are overwhelming and he’s powerless to alter the woman’s destiny waiting at the pyre.
With that hope lost he gambles the only thing left to him, his newly-found Cathar faith in a kinder God, and he attempts a daring rescue of his child – the last Cathar.
- Stan Sauerwein, December 2011
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