Pages from the Diary of Margot,
A Cathar Woman
October 2, 1243- October 6, 1243

Katie Roger

Wednesday October 2, 1243

This little book will be my secret project from now on. Every night I'm supposed
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 was a
noble woman who converted to Catharism. She is no longer living but Cathars like
myself have gathered here and made it our stronghold. There are 300 of us: men,
women, and children living together to hide from the persecution of the Christians who
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 what
happened to them and how they died, but al1 T am left with are their names: Gregory and
Margot.

It's hard for me to understand the persecution; our beliefs seem peaceful and non
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 began my
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 as I
should. We had onions, bread, wortes (parsley and spinach), and watered-down wine. It
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 gathered some
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 dinner. I
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 a wandering
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, in prayer
and meditation. It makes me feel at peace to be so free of material goods and only
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 is freeing
oneself of possessions.

I shall write more tomorrow night, as my candle is getting low and the other four
women in this room would like darkness. I wish it were not so cold in here.

Thursday, October 3, 1243

This morning before dinner I spoke with the man who came to the castle last
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" (an oath
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 Church
against Catharism. Thomas lived to see the terror of this crusade in southern France and
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 to ask
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 herbs
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. The afternoon
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
ourselves.

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. Many people
become Cathars because they are upset at the materialism of the Christian church, like
me. There are many different types of people who live in the castle: peasants, artisans,
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 because most
Cathars wander in pairs, preaching the word of Catharism. However, as times become
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 winter.
One of the women who worked with me recently took the oath of a perfect, since women
can also hold power. We spent the morning discussing the ridiculousness of sacraments,
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. There were
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 Thomas
again. This time he knew why I looked familiar. Twenty years ago he came to the
Pyrenees and befriended a group of wandering Cathars, two of which were named
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 back tomorrow.
He is sixty-three years old, which makes him the oldest man I have met. Most people
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 tomorrow. My
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 laypeople,
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 remember 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 closure to
unforgiven sin. Anyone who has unforgiven sin when they die is simply reincarnated.
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 bed covered
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 castle,
but it is quite bare now because material possessions are just earthly attachments.

After dinner I went to talk to Thomas. He was well rested and ready to tell me
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, an
inquisition was launched against all religious groups that had separated from the
traditional Christian church, including the Cathars. Soldiers came and began terrorizing
the region. Cathar huts, tents, and the people themselves were burned. My parents'
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. The slower
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 women to
take care of me until she could return. Thomas fled with the fast group; however, the
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, including by
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 was time
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 my friend
Guillemette as I had spent all day indoors. She talked to me about trivial things-- an
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 they are
in the vernacular, French, and they are so simple and informal all can participate. After
the service, I spoke with Thomas again. After hearing such horrible stories of violence
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 as yesterday's
story taught me; some peop1e wi1l take fanatica1 measures to protect their re1igion. I
wonder when this madness will end?

These thoughts continued to plague my mind as I helped prepare dinner. My long
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 with maces.
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 eaten from
wooden bowls.

And so now I sit think thinking of my tasks for tomorrow. I must help wash linen
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 involves pickling
the vegetables and smoking the fish over a fire.

I am satisfied now that I know what happened to my parents, but also a bit
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. 2004
<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. 1994.

Kibler, William W. "Cathars." Medieval France: An Encyclopedia. 12th Ed. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1995.

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