Purged by Fire: Heresy of the Cathars

Purged by Fire: Heresy of the Cathars

By Diane Bonavist
2016 | 257 pp. | 978-0-86698-810-0 | Paperback 6 x 9 in
$14.95 |

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In the depths of thirteenth-century darkness, a unique civilization of light and beauty flowered in the region that is now Southwestern France. The tolerant rulers of this realm embraced the Good Christian faith which kept the simple teachings of the early followers of Christ and rejected the corruption of the Catholic Church.
In 1209, with the infamous words “Kill them all, God will recognize his own,” the pope’s first crusade was unleashed against his own people and their Catholic lords. For two decades, these wars decimated 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, confiscate property, and burn the unrepentant at the stake.
Through shifting viewpoint Purged by Fire tells the intertwining stories of three defiant people enmeshed in the deadly machinations 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 before he knew and loved Marsal. After their condemnation, the lovers escape to the mountain fortress of Montségur. Here, as the forces of the Inquisition lay siege to their place of refuge, he and Marsal must make one final choice—between life and love or death and faith!


"A historical novel dramatizing a love story that plays out against the backdrop of the Albigensian Crusade. Bonavist’s debut work of historical fiction is set in a 13th-century France convulsed in religious conflict. The Catholic Church, in league with the French monarchy, conducted decades of war and crusades against the Languedoc region of southern France in an effort to extirpate the Cathars, the “good Christians” as they call themselves in Bonavist’s fast-moving and utterly beguiling story. The tightly woven exposition familiarizes readers with the complicated state of religious and psychological tension that exists in the south as peaceful Cathars try to go about their daily lives even as persecution at the hands of the Dominicanrun Inquisition continues to mount. Three main characters are caught within these tensions: Isarn Benet, a legal advocate for the crown; Marsal, a strong-willed young woman Benet saved from the deadly siege of the city of Béziers; and a woman named Tibors, an elder of the Cathar faith and a healer of great local renown who gave safe harbor to Benet. Having reached young womanhood, Marsal meets Tibors’ handsome nephew Chrétien, a wounded soldier who travels to Tibors for healing. Marsal, raised on the poems of courtly love, falls almost instantly in love (“I had looked for the clean-striking arrow of love about which the troubadours sang and I had found it in Chrétien”). The warmth of the portrait Bonavist paints of Tibors and her safe, sane little Cathar enclave makes the eventual horrors of the Inquisition feel more immediate than any history book, and although the character of Chrétien is a bit flat, Marsal is an arresting fictional creation, a hopeful yet unsentimental realist. Bonavist shifts the narrative focal point from chapter to chapter; chapters told from Marsal’s point of view are the sharpest. An absorbing reconstruction of the faith wars of the Middle Ages. A rich, intensely rewarding novel that humanizes a long-forgotten religious conflict." --Kirkus Reviews, The Best Books of 2016