Authors: Julie Berry
For Teofilo Ruiz and Mark Gregory Pegg,
with deep gratitude,
and for Phil,
who makes all things possible
“Sin is the cause of all this pain, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
—Julian of Norwich, fourteenth-century mystic,
and the first woman known to write a book in English
Revelations of Divine Love
, Chapter XXVII
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us—a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well.
—T. S. Eliot, twentieth-century poet,
quoting Julian in his poem “Little Gidding”
The Convent of the Jacobins, Tolosa
must write this account, and when I have finished, I will burn it.
Mine is the historian’s task, to record the events of the last century, showing God’s mighty hand in ridding these southern lands between the Garona and the Ròse rivers of the heresy of the Albigensians.
I am asked to show future generations how God’s justice was carried out by the crusade against these so-called “good men” (
), “good women” (
), and “friends of God” (
amicx de Dieu
), and how the inquisitions that followed, wrought by my brother Dominicans, finished God’s holy work. The collected records of more than half a century of inquisitorial toil are mine to examine: transcripts, testimonies, and confessions from a generation now all but extinct.
When searching out a history, sifting through a thousand facts and ten thousand lives, one often uncovers pieces that do not fit. The prudent choice is to cast those details aside, like chaff into the fire. The story must be understandable. The moral should be clear.
Perhaps I am not a prudent man. I found pieces that haunted me, voices echoing from parchment leaves that would not let me sleep at night. I could find no rest until I searched out the truth, studied what I could learn about those involved, and found a way, with, I pride myself, a minimum of invention, to make the pieces fit. If only for me.
There are those who would say this record casts doubt upon the righteousness of the Church’s work. Which is why this book, written for my private satisfaction, must not outlive me.
I myself have never been an inquisitor. I was, I confess, not cut out for it. But I was a patient laborer in the fields of knowledge, and so to Tolosa’s archives I was sent after my university studies in París. Here I have spent nearly thirty years.
It was in the days when Count Raimon’s daughter Joana still ruled as Comtessa de Tolosa, before Provensa came under the rule of the king of Fransa, and when I, myself, was new to this vocation, that the bishop of Tolosa, himself a former inquisitor of renown, came home to the Convent of the Jacobins to spend his final days.
It happened that I served in the hospice one evening. The ailing bishop began to speak to me. He seemed impelled to tell his tale. He confessed to a secret doubt that had plagued him throughout his life—unease over whether he had done God’s will in one particular case. I reassured him with all my heart that he had done his best to serve the Lord. He thanked me with tears. In the morning, he was gone.
Some months after, I found papers belonging to a priest in a seacoast
, a priest known for composing sacred songs of great beauty. The papers made it clear he was not their author. A woman had written them, and with them, a curious and troubling account of her own spiritual journey. Names and places in the woman’s account reminded me of the old bishop’s testimony. And so I wondered.
Later still, a lengthy narrative from a friar in Barçalona fell into my hands, painstakingly recorded. The pieces of my mystery at last began to fit. I puzzled over its connecting threads. Finally, and perhaps, rashly, I decided to stitch the pieces together, however clumsily, and record it. The gaps and errors in the sewing are my own; of its overall completeness, however, I feel certain. These voices from the past had arisen like ghosts demanding to be heard.
This, I will confess, is one of the secret thrills of my historical work. But listening too closely to those voices, in these times in which I live, may also be its most terrible danger.
swear to tell the full and exact truth about myself and others, living and dead. Why keep secrets? There’s no one it would help. The dead are all I have to talk about, anyway. What harm can there be in telling their stories now? They are safe, beyond reach.
There was a time when my name was Botille, when I lived with my sisters and our old Jobau. We lived by our wits, and great buckets of nerve, and anything—
—we could steal, or sell.
Like most in Provensa, we’d seen hunger and illness. We’d grown up in Carcassona, a city broken by the crusaders before we were born. But what was yesterday’s war to little girls? We’d lost our mother. That was all we had room for. She left each of us her love, her reputation, two sisters, and Jobau. And one silver crucifix to share.
We begged for our dinner and stole washing from peasants to clothe little Sazia. We huddled together to keep warm at night. Jobau’s drinking and his temper harried us from town to town at the hands of the
. We were wanderers, survivors, always searching for a home.
We thrived upon it. Greedy little urchins, foolhardy little thieves.
Now I see we were magic, my sisters and I. We laughed at ourselves, at Jobau and the world. Nobody’s ever made me laugh like my cynical little Sazia could. You wouldn’t think it to know her now. We gave Plazensa, the eldest, fits of rage with our cheek.
Life was sweet, though I doubt we realized how much. Home was each other. Not walls, but the adventure of the search to find them.
Our wanderings led us to a small seaside town called Bajas, and there, among vintners and fishermen, we saw an opening and decided to seek a home. We washed our faces and combed our hair and tried to make something more of ourselves. We swore we’d give up thieving. We’d grown old enough to know it was safer to be inside the law, and the arms of the
, than out of them. We took over an old derelict tavern and dared to run it. Plazensa’s brewing, our scrubbing, Sazia’s fortunetelling, and my hustle brought customers in. We began to feel that we might belong, and others counted us among their neighbors and friends. Finally and forever, I believed, we could be safe.
Then I met Dolssa.
he summons came from Dominus Roger, him who’d baptized me and taught me to reverence the body and blood. Our own parish priest came to lead me to the cloister of the abbey church of Sant Sarnin, the great cathedral of Tolosa. The inquisitors wished to speak with me.