The Treasure of Montsegur
Sophy Burnham
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Buy *The Treasure of Montsegur: A Novel of the Cathars* online

The Treasure of Montsegur: A Novel of the Cathars
Sophy Burnham
HarperSanFrancisco
Paperback
304 pages
June 2003
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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The huge success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code proves that all things relating to the heresies of the Holy Grail legend are hot, hot, hot! One of those legends involves the Cathars: a pacifist, reverent Christian sect known as "the pure ones," who claimed a direct bloodline to Christ and the Apostles and were all but wiped out by the vicious holy soldiers of the Inquisition during the darkest of spiritual times. The Cathars were said to possess the treasure of extraordinary healing powers, based upon their direct experience of God without need of bishops, popes and cardinals. But there was another treasure spoken of.

The Treasure of Montsegur refers to an actual physical treasure that many religious historians claim includes proof that Christ did not die on the cross but journeyed with his wife, the Magdalen (with child at the time), and Joseph of Arimethea to the Languedoc region of France. The Cathars believed their own bloodline descended from either Christ's children, or the actual Apostles and was, therefore, proof that they were closer to God than the Catholics, who could not reach God without going through the Papal Hierarchy. This belief, and the potential for devastation that any proof would offer, is the reason why the Inquisition was created as a way to wipe out all evidence of heretical belief and guarantee the Roman Church sole rule of peoples' hearts, minds and souls.

This very same legend is the basis for the hugely successful The Da Vinci Code. But it is presented here in Sophy Burnham's novel in a much less commercial light, with so much more depths, humanity and historical importance. Using actual facts and historical data relating to that time period, the author presents the little-known story of these tortured heretics. She uses a novel format, interweaving the story of the rise and violent demise of the Cathars with a romance involving a Cathar woman named Jeanne of Beziers and the many men she loves in her pursuit of an elusive happiness.

The story follows the little child Jeanne, found alone in a field and taken in by a loving matriarchal woman named Lade Esclarmonde. Jeanne is educated in the ways of the Cathar sect, but she is soon exposed to the raging war between the growing and powerful Catholic Church and the tiny Cathar community struggling to survive the bloody Inquisition ravaging their population. Jeanne falls in love with several men, all of whom propel her further along on her journey to understand her growing ability to heal and emit the light of God. It becomes clear that Jeanne is special, a chosen one of God with a destiny that goes far beyond simple romance and raising a family.

When the Cathars are all captured by the soldiers of the Catholic Church and set to burn on the stake en masse, Jeanne must take it upon herself to fulfill that very destiny as the chosen one to keep the treasure of the Cathars alive -- a treasure the Catholic Church will kill to obtain.

This stunning, violent, brutal, passionate novel covers a period of history we should have learned so much from what horrors can happen when one religious group sets out to control, destroy and oppress others that disagree with it. Yet so much of this novel will ring true with what is happening today, with religious bigotry and deception still a major part of our everyday lives. One thing we cannot even begin to fathom, though, is the sheer violence and torture imposed upon thousands of innocent men, women and children at the hands of the Holy Inquisition, men who claimed to be Godly yet whose own twisted and arrogant beliefs allowed them to do the most unspeakably horrific things to other human beings. Burnham's descriptions of the commonplace torture and burning of heretics will send chills down the spine and turn the stomach.

The extraordinary woman at the heart of this strangely terrifying yet ultimately uplifting novel is the unifying key that holds this vast epic tale of love, betrayal and struggle together. We follow Jeanne through a period of history when fear and danger lay around every corner, when no one could trust their family members or neighbors, and we come to truly care about her and her special gift of spiritual union with God. Like so many of Sophy Burnham's books, such as the beautiful and inspiring The Ecstatic Journey and The Path of Prayer, there is a reverence and joyfulness that somehow overcomes the often overwhelming images of death, killing and religious oppression presented in this particular story.

The Treasure of Montsegur is both tragic and inspiring, chillingly dark yet rampant with the light of hope and the power of love. It is one novel you will never forget, and a tale of a historical time we may hope to never repeat.

© 2003 by Marie D. Jones for Curled Up With a Good Book


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