The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245-1246

The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245-1246

The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245-1246

The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245-1246

Synopsis

On two hundred and one days between May 1, 1245, and August 1, 1246, more than five thousand people from the Lauragais were questioned in Toulouse about the heresy of the good men and the good women (more commonly known as Catharism). Nobles and diviners, butchers and monks, concubines and physicians, blacksmiths and pregnant girls--in short, all men over fourteen and women over twelve--were summoned by Dominican inquisitors Bernart de Caux and Jean de Saint-Pierre. In the cloister of the Saint-Sernin abbey, before scribes and witnesses, they confessed whether they, or anyone else, had ever seen, heard, helped, or sought salvation through the heretics. This inquisition into heretical depravity was the single largest investigation, in the shortest time, in the entire European Middle Ages.Mark Gregory Pegg examines the sole surviving manuscript of this great inquisition with unprecedented care--often in unexpected ways--to build a richly textured understanding of social life in southern France in the early thirteenth century. He explores what the interrogations reveal about the individual and communal lives of those interrogated and how the interrogations themselves shaped villagers' perceptions of those lives. The Corruption of Angels, similar in breadth and scope to Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou, is a major contribution to the field. It shows how heretical and orthodox beliefs flourished side by side and, more broadly, what life was like in one particular time and place. Pegg's passionate and beautifully written evocation of a medieval world will fascinate a diverse readership within and beyond the academy.

Excerpt

In two hundred and one days, between the first of May 1245 and the first of August 1246, five thousand four hundred and seventy-one men and women from the Lauragais were questioned in Toulouse about the heresies of the “good men,” the “good women,” and the Waldensians. Nobles and diviners, butchers and monks, concubines and physicians, blacksmiths and pregnant girls, the leprous and the cruel, the literate and the drunk, the deceitful and the aged—in short, all men over fourteen and all women over twelve were summoned (through their parish priests) by the Dominican inquisitors Bernart de Caux and Jean de Saint-Pierre. They traveled from their villages in the fertile corridor between the Ariège and Agout rivers to the Romanesque cloister of the Abbey of Saint-Sernin. There, before scribes and witnesses, sworn to the truth, individuals (sometimes almost two hundred in a day) confessed whether they, or anyone else, had ever seen, heard, helped, or sought salvation through the heretics.

Some of the confessions were long and rambling; most were short and sharp—all, without exception, were translated into Latin, then attested. Memories, as old as half a century or as young as the week before last, recalled the mundane and the wonderful: two cobblers knew that all visible things were made by the Devil; widows spoke of houses for heretics; a sum of twelve shillings passed through thirteen hands; notaries read the Gospel of John in roman; a monk whined about a crezen pissing on his head; a bon ome healed a sick child; a faidit had a leper for a concubine; an old woman was stuffed in a wine barrel; three knights venerated two holy boys; bonas femnas refused to eat meat; cowherds wanted to be scholars; friar-inquisitors were murdered; angels fell to earth; and very few (only forty-one) had ever seen a Waldensian.

This inquisiton into heretical depravity in the Lauragais was, without a doubt, the single largest investigation, in the shortest possible time, in the entire European Middle Ages. One can, through reading the surviving manuscript of the Lauragais interrogations, in that twist of fate whereby the luck of the historian rests upon the efficiency of persecutors, grasp, however tentatively, something of the vibrant rhythms by which thousands of medieval men and women lived their lives. All that follows, from angels to adoration, from parchment to paper, from crusades to chestnuts, derives its inspiration from this extraordinary manuscript, whose leaves allow for the passionate evocation of the Lauragais in the years before, as well as during, the great inquisition of Bernart de Caux and Jean de Saint-Pierre.

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