from the Diary of Margot,
A Cathar Woman
October 2, 1243- October 6, 1243
Wednesday October 2, 1243
This little book will be my secret project from now on. Every night
to copy a page of The Book of Two Principles, but to be truthful
I hate copying
manuscripts, even if it is a book of our beliefs. Before I get too far
ahead I should
probably introduce myself. I am Margot, a nineteen-year-old Cathar woman.
I live in the
foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in the castle of Esclaimonde. Esclaimonde
noble woman who converted to Catharism. She is no longer living but Cathars
myself have gathered here and made it our stronghold. There are 300 of
women, and children living together to hide from the persecution of the
accept the Pope as the head of their church. My mother and father died
when I was very
young, and I was brought here to be raised by Cathar women. I wish I knew
happened to them and how they died, but al1 T am left with are their names:
It's hard for me to understand the persecution; our beliefs seem peaceful
threatening to me. We believe that there are two essences in the world:
good, which is
the spirit, and evil, which is material goods and matter. Basically, life
is a battle between
good (God) and evil (Satan). Most people will not be able to escape the
material evil in
this world, and will continue to be reincarnated until they have become
good and can
escape the cycle. I shall write more about my beliefs later.
This morning started as any fall morning does. I rose at 5:00 am and
morning meditation indoors. My first meal of the day, dinner at 9:00 am,
was not very
good today, since I have not been tending to the communal garden as faithfully
should. We had onions, bread, wortes (parsley and spinach), and watered-down
was this afternoon when things became interesting. A very skinny, sick
old man came to
the castle today. He was probably over sixty years old. The older women
cloth and straw mats for him to sleep on, and I didn't get a chance to
speak with him
before he took his rest. He looks weathered with age and I hope to speak
with him soon
to hear his story.
I prepared supper this evening and made sure it had more flavor than
used oil from olives to prepare the rest of the onions and wild celery.
We do not eat food
that comes from sexual reproduction or sexual organs, so meat, cheese,
and eggs are out
of the question. We eat vegetables grown in our garden, and fish when
Cathar brings it to us. Fish, of course, reproduce spontaneously, so we
can eat them if we
are lucky enough to have them.
After supper I spent my evening, one of my favorite times of the day,
and meditation. It makes me feel at peace to be so free of material goods
concentrate on the spiritual world. I detest the traditional Christian
way because of the
hierarchy of power, and the simony, or buying of positions. True spirituality
oneself of possessions.
I shall write more tomorrow night, as my candle is getting low and the
women in this room would like darkness. I wish it were not so cold in
Thursday, October 3, 1243
This morning before dinner I spoke with the man who came to the castle
night. He told me his name was Thomas and that he was a "perfect."
In Catharism, there
are bishops, who minister to the perfects. Then there are the perfects,
who attempt to live life without a trace of evil. They live a live of
poverty, fasting, public confessions, and
avoidance of physical contact with the opposite sex. Then there are the
lay people, or
credentis, believers in the Cathar religion who take the oath of "consolamentum"
to live life free of sin) only before death. As a layperson I try to live
up to the ideals of
my religion though I am not as strict as a perfect. Thomas became a perfect
30 years ago
in the south of France and wandered and preached with another perfect,
as most Cathars
do. Around thirty years ago, a crusade was launched by the official Christian
against Catharism. Thomas lived to see the terror of this crusade in southern
fled to the Pyrenees Mountains. The strangest thing about our conversation
was that he
thought I looked familiar. But where would I have met him before? I wanted
more questions but he needed to begin his prayer for the day. I haven't
been able to get
the comment out of my head, not even during meditation. Perhaps I will
try to speak
with him tomorrow.
Potherbs, or edible flowers, were served for dinner. Violets and primrose
are some of my favorite foods. j enjoy soft foods because my teeth have
been giving me
terrible pain. They ache all the time but especially when I eat. Thankfully,
we only eat
two meals a day because it is gluttonous to eat when one is not hungry.
was spent outside with my friend Guillemette. I told her about Thomas,
and his escape
from persecution. I am so afraid that such a war will come to our area
and our castle.
There are so many women and children here that there would be no real
way to protect
This evening I wanted to play bocce, one of my favorite games that involves
throwing polished stones, but I did not come in enough time to join the
game. I will be
content just to write in my journal while there is a bit of daylight left.
become Cathars because they are upset at the materialism of the Christian
me. There are many different types of people who live in the castle: peasants,
and nobles. It is wonderful because all of us can live together under
one roof to denounce
material possessions for the good of spirituality. Our castle is unusual
Cathars wander in pairs, preaching the word of Catharism. However, as
more dangerous it is wise for Cathars to stick together.
Friday October 4, 1243
I spent the morning in the garden pulling fava beans and preparing for
One of the women who worked with me recently took the oath of a perfect,
can also hold power. We spent the morning discussing the ridiculousness
clergy, and a literal interpretation of the bible. All of those things
get in the way of the
relationship between God and the follower. We also discussed the best
remedy for a
bloody nose, and concluded that a combination of herbs and vinegar would
do the trick.
I spent the afternoon after dinner patching the black robe that I wear.
a couple of rips around the waist, and I did not want the tie to break
and the robe to fall
open. I also always carry a small copy of the New Testament in a leather
bag. My feet
feel so much better now that new leather shoes with wonderful linen string
were made for
me last week.
Then came the best part of my day: the evening when I got to speak with
again. This time he knew why I looked familiar. Twenty years ago he came
Pyrenees and befriended a group of wandering Cathars, two of which were
Gregory and Margot. Margot had a little two-year old girl at the time.
There were tears
in my eyes as he told his story because who I am and where I came from
has always been
a mystery to me. But it seemed Thomas had the answers. I eagerly waited
for him to
finish his story, but he became much too tired and asked for me to come
He is sixty-three years old, which makes him the oldest man I have met.
only live to be thirty-five or forty. However, would it really hurt to
stay up a bit longer to
finish the story? I sit here writing in excitement for the things to come
parents were not married, of course, as marriage only entangles pure spirits
in the flesh.
Occasional relations with the opposite sex, however, are acceptable between
as they are not expected to live up to the same standards as perfects.
I hope my teeth stop hurting, so I can fall asleep! Oh, and I have to
talk to Henri, a young boy. He has been repeating silly ghost stories
to small children to
scare them. There is no such thing as wandering spirits coming back for
unforgiven sin. Anyone who has unforgiven sin when they die is simply
Oh, I hope I sleep soon! I cannot wait for tomorrow.
Saturday October 5, 1243
I awoke in my hard bed the way I do everyday; except that today
was the day I
got to find out about my family. Everything looked special to me. My straw
with a sheet of doth was somehow belier than every other day. I hardly
even noticed the
fleas in my mattress. The dampness of the castle seemed to be lifted,
and the usual dark
corners were more inviting. I am sure that one this was once a most extravagant
but it is quite bare now because material possessions are just earthly
After dinner I went to talk to Thomas. He was well rested and ready to
everything he knew. For all my excitement I was Still unprepared for the
story he told
me. During the time that he was preaching in the Pyrenees with my parents,
inquisition was launched against all religious groups that had separated
traditional Christian church, including the Cathars. Soldiers came and
the region. Cathar huts, tents, and the people themselves were burned.
group tried to flee the region, but they were moving so slowly that they
knew the soldiers
would catch them. The group was forced to make the decision to split up.
moving people, including women and children, were put in one group that
was going to
hide, while the more able bodied adults were put in another group that
was going to flee.
Thomas said that my mother cried as she handed me, her baby, over to Cathar
take care of me until she could return. Thomas fled with the fast group;
soldiers caught their trail and tracked them down. Thomas managed to hide
in a nearby
cave, but the rest of the group was not so lucky. Every one of the Cathars,
mother and father, were burned to death.
Nothing could have prepared me for this news. I was still in a state
of shock as I
prepared salted peas, bread, and onions for supper. What a horrible fate!
After eating, I
played a game of chess with a younger boy. He was upset because tomorrow
for his monthly bath. I do not mind the scent of lavender and mint in
the basin, but he
dreads it. I guess this is only normal. After chess, I went outside with
Guillemette as I had spent all day indoors. She talked to me about trivial
artisan wanted to make a tapestry depicting the recent crusades and a
new kind of
bloodletting was proven to cure head pain - until we both agreed that
prayer would help
us feel the most at peace. I sat with Guillemette as the stars came out
and felt so grateful
to be alive. Never again would I complain of the rats running over my
feet when I slept;
no, from now on I would be happy just to be alive.
Sunday October 6, 1243
This morning we had our Cathar service. I like them very much because
in the vernacular, French, and they are so simple and informal all can
the service, I spoke with Thomas again. After hearing such horrible stories
against the Cathars, I wondered what he thought the future had in store
for us. He was
said he was certain the persecution was not over. As recently as four
weeks ago another
small Cathar settlement was burned. The news was startling to me, but
story taught me; some peop1e wi1l take fanatica1 measures to protect their
wonder when this madness will end?
These thoughts continued to plague my mind as I helped prepare dinner.
braid almost fell in the three-legged kettle over the fire. I know I must
soon rebraid my
hair, but it is so time consuming I would rather wait. Besides, I do not
have as many
fleas as some people in this castle.
After dinner I played paille-maille with Guillemette and other women.
It is a fun
game because it is played outdoors and involves shoving balls on the ground
I enjoyed supper tonight because fresh greens were served: cabbage and
parsley. It is
always delightful to have fresh food instead of the usual salted vegetables
And so now I sit think thinking of my tasks for tomorrow. I must help
undergarments, as those are washed every week, unlike the outer robes,
which are rarely
washed. I must also help preserve food to prepare it for winter, which
the vegetables and smoking the fish over a fire.
I am satisfied now that I know what happened to my parents, but also
disturbed. I had a vivid dream last night that startled me. It was winter
in the mountains,
and Christian soldiers attacked the castle. They took our clothing and
made us march
away from the castle to the foot of the hill, where every one of us was
burned. I know it
was a dream, but it seemed so real. At the end of the dream there was
even a painted
image of all of us Cathars marching away to our fate. But I go to bed
knowing that it was
just a dream and hopefully not the fate of my people and me.
Medieval Character Bibliography
Annenberg/ CPB. The Middle Ages: The Feudal Life. 1997. 13 Sept.
<http://www .leamer.org/ exhibits/middleages/feudal.html>.
Ardagh, John. "Cathars." The Cultural Atlas of France.
Oxford: Andromeda Oxford, Ltd. 1991.
Dahmus, Joseph. A History of the Middle Ages. New York: Barnes
& Nobles, Inc. 1968.
Gabois, Aryen. "Albigension heresy." Illustrated Encyclopedia
of Medieval Civilization. New York: Mayflower Books, Inc. 1980.
Gies, Joseph and Frances. Life in a Medieval City. New York:
Harper Collins. 1969.
Gies, Joseph and Frances. Women in the Middle Ages. New York:
Harper Collins. 1978.
Jones, Colin. "The Middle Ages 987 to 1328." The Cambridge
Illustrated History of France. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kibler, William W. "Cathars." Medieval France: An Encyclopedia.
12th Ed. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1995.
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