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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Treasure of Montsegur by Sophy Burnham

Title: The Treasure of Montsegur
Author: Sophy Burnham
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2002
ISBN: 0732275946

Rating 4.5 Crowns

A Novel of the Cathars

In 1243–44, the Cathars (a religious sect considered heretical by the Catholic Church) were besieged at Monts├ęgur by 10,000 troops at the end of the Albigensian Crusade. In March 1244, the Cathars finally surrendered and approximately 220 were burned en masse in a bonfire at the foot of the pog when they refused to renounce their faith. Some 25 actually took the ultimate Cathar vow of consolamentum perfecti in the two weeks before the final surrender.
 In the days prior to the fall of the fortress, several Cathars allegedly slipped through the besiegers' lines carrying away a mysterious "treasure" with them. While the nature and fate of this treasure has never been identified, there has been much speculation as to what it might have consisted of — from the treasury of the Cathar Church to esoteric books or even the actual Holy Grail.

The Castle of Montsegur
This is the setting against which Sophy Burnham tells the story of a young woman whose destiny was to be entwined with that of the Cathars. Found abandoned as a tiny child Jeanne is raised in a loving Cathar household . On a visit to Montsegur as a young girl and roaming the hillside with a companion they discover a hidden cave which many years later will become instrumental to her future. Jeanne's life as a noblewoman proceeds through several love affairs, marriage and a child ........she struggles to find happiness and to accept the gift of healing that grows stronger as the years pass. Eventually she returns to Montsegur and those she loves , sharing the desperate days of the siege and knowing she will also share their fate. Until the Cathar Bishop asks her to lead those chosen to remove the treasure to the secret cave. This task will save her life but leave her struggling to survive.

It is as the fugitive forever running from the 'black crows' of the Inquisition that Jeanne looks back and tells her story. The author has created a chilling atmosphere of a time when people lived in constant fear, unable to trust their closest family and friends, for the easiest way to avoid suspicion was to point the finger at someone else. The violence, the tortures and terror the Church inflicted on the people is horrible to read about but there is throughout the book a beautiful spiritual thread of love and hope .

Googling the author I discovered her writing does have strong spiritual elements which may not appeal to some people but I thought it was lovely. A story of true faith and courage, of unexpected love and unexpected betrayal during a dark period of history and a novel that will be sure to appeal to historical fiction lovers. This is another book that has never seemed to receive much attention and I take every opportunity to shine the spotlight on and recommend.

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