Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Perfecti

Too often in history, I feel we eulogise long-lost communities and ideas, because by doing so we can project onto them a fantasy of what history should have been had they triumphed. In this sense, the realities of defeated sects and ideas becomes of secondary importance to perceptions of them. One such case, I think, is the current vogue of presenting the medieval Cathar community in southern France as being the embodiment of a more liberal type of Christianity, free from the undoubted horrors of medieval Catholic persecution and the more repugnant excesses of the medieval period. There is nothing inherently wrong with wondering 'what if,' but only as long as it is grounded in reality; a closer examination of the Cathar sect reveals that whilst they may have been very different to orthodox medieval Christianity, they were more than capable of perpetrating bizarre horrors of their own. Catholic writer, Elena Maria Vidal, whose latest novel The Night's Dark Shade, is set during the downfall of the Cathar movement, has posted on the group's sinister leaders, the so-called "perfecti" and the controversial "Consolamentum" rite.
"In the center wall of the chamber directly opposite the door sat two men in midnight blue robes, girt with cinctures and scrolls. Each had long hair, with the foreheads shaved from ear to ear, and bearded faces. The hair of one was grey; the other, black, but both had visages that were gaunt, pale, and strangely illumined, with black-lidded eyes. Raphaëlle froze to see Raymond crouched on the floor at their feet, like a vigilant snake, ready to bite if provoked. Terror rose in her at the memory of the morning’s attack upon herself by Raymond, and she fought the desire to run away.
Esclarmonde prostrated, touching her face to the floor, before the grey-haired Perfectus, saying, “Good Christian, grant me God’s blessing and yours.” She performed the gesture three times, each time she asked for the blessing. It reminded Raphaëlle of how her father had described the worship of the Saracens." 

~The Night's Dark Shade by Elena Maria Vidal

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for the link, Gareth. While the Cathars are currently seen as peace-loving beatniks, in reality they were the ones who started the violence which escalated into the Crusade. They did not give equality to women as claimed; their Parfaites were submissive to the male Parfaits. They viewed pregnancy with loathing and mocked expectant mothers as being "having a demon." That is not to say I favor burning them at the stake; I do not, but I understand why they were seen as problematical to many......


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