Margot is telling it…

Now, in my father’s day we had six fields and ate like kings. The world was very different then. We lived under the Comte de Belloc who was the seigneur [lord] of six mountain villages. His rule was strict but fair; our tithes were light and we never went hungry. His assistant was the bayle [bailiff], who gathered rents and dues. If a man had complaint against his neighbour, the matter was always settled in the village square. And if a churl transgressed, he was taken by the châtelain and locked in the castle dungeon. But we mostly lived in peace, and the châtelain had little to do.

They were times of plenty. To graze your flock where you pleased, on heath, meadow or mountain, you could surely do it, and all for a pittance. Some folk never paid pâturage. Yes, I once knew a woman in the hills; she had sixteen healthy children who all lived to a ripe old age. I saw them oft’, bathing in the hot springs. And I swear, they never paid a single tithe. They were lucky. Their lives were long and happy, and they passed before the world turned upside down…

In my twelfth year, the church tightened her grip on taxes. The bishop came and demanded carnelages which is tithes in lambs. But the Comte defied him and told us not to pay. After all, if the bishop took our lambs, what would we live by? So we resisted all trespass from Mother Church, believing our good Comte would protect us…

Soon the mountains were teeming with heresy. My father said the bishop was the Antichrist, come to destroy us and steal our fortunes. Even our own priest was against him. If only all the priests in the world were like old Raymond! At Easter, he cried in church:

‘Christ was the sacrificial Lamb of God; but now good Christians have become sacrificial lambs of the bishop!’

We all knew something horrible was about to happen. ’Twas like waiting for the end of the world. Spring came and the elms put forth their leaves. Then the shepherds came down from the hills with tales of the Inquisition. We heard of terrible tortures; of women who were scorched like hogs, with boiling fat poured in their ears…

Listen to what I tell you. There are four great devils ruling the world: the first devil is the Pope, who is placed between God and man, lower than God but higher than man, the judge of all men, but who can be judged by none; the King is the second devil, who is placed between the Pope and man, lower than the Pope, but higher than man; the bishop is the third devil, who is placed between the King and man, lower than the King, but still higher than man; and the Inquisitor is the fourth devil, higher than God, yet lower than a dog…

Before long, our own village came under the Inquisitor’s gaze. He arrived with a great retinue of devils, intent on destroying Cathars and purging the hills of heresy. He told us not to fear, and that he had come to bring true knowledge of the Catholic faith, that we might know Jesus Christ, and the way to eternal life. We were all adjured, in the name of God and Blessed Virgin, to confess freely, and without restraint. Suspicion reigned in every breast. Son accused father; wife denounced husband; cousin condemned cousin. Kinship and peace were at an end. Many confessed without hesitation, whether the accusation be true or false. Those who made free confessions were flogged. Those who did not were put to the question. Neither young nor old were spared. Even our own priest was interrogated – with thumbscrews. He made such terrible screams. And we heard him confess that Christ, like the bishop, was created through fucking and shitting. And that men of flesh and excrement did not have the power to save souls. Only Christ and the Virgin have that power. His torture went on for many days, until his heart gave out.

Then they took my father who proclaimed in the village square:

‘I am a good Christian, Catholic and faithful. I pay tithes and first fruits. I give alms to Christ’s poor. And I go on pilgrimages like all good souls. Last year I went with my wife and daughter to the Virgin of Montserrat; and this year again to Saint James of Compostella.’[i]

He lied. But our family was spared further questioning. Shall tell you what those devils wanted most? A pretty girl. A beauty to stir their loins. And they found one in Aude, the seigneur’s daughter. She was such a rare and radiant pearl, no woman could hold a candle to her. She had the figure of an angel with tresses of flaxen hair. How enamoured was the Inquisitor! Her loveliness had bewitched him. How he longed to grope and maul her! For she made him feel the most wretched of men. So he put Aude to the question…


The Question

As a blasphemer, she is brought out with a gag on her mouth. She wears the vestments of infamy – a sackcloth tunic with a pasteboard cap, three feet high and ending in a point.[ii] On it are painted crosses, flames and dancing devils. The people watch in dread as her gag is removed. Then the Inquisitor says:

‘Aude de Belloc, you stand accused of Cathar heresy. Will you renounce Satan and re-enter the fold of the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church? Will you accept the articles of Her faith in a spirit of unquestioning obedience?’

But her only reply is:

‘You have your faith, I have mine.’

‘The Cathar faith is a perversion: a pottage of pagan dualism and gospel teaching. There’s no truth in it, least of all Christian truth.’

‘You know naught of my faith.’

‘I can assure you, I most familiar with it. The Cathars assert that there are two gods – a good God, and a bad God – the evil Creator of all things visible and material. They declare that Earth was not made by God our heavenly Father, but by the wicked devil, Satan. And so Cathars assume two Creations – one invisible and immaterial, which was made by God, the other visible and material, which was made by Satan. Is that your faith?’

‘Yes Monsieur.’

‘And do you believe in the transmigration of souls? Namely, that in beasts and birds there are spirits which come forth from the bodies of men who have not been received into your sect by the imposition of hands?’

‘I do. That is why I cannot kill nor eat the flesh of any beast or foul. Whereas you have killed many good men. Do not believe that you will go to heaven. For you shall return in the body of an ox.’

‘Enough of your pestilent heresy. Recant and be flogged. Persist and perish by fire. The choice is yours.’

‘My fate is in god’s hands. I shall not return to this Earthly realm.’

She shows great courage, standing tall and straight, pale and trembling, with her blue eyes fixed on the sky.

The Inquisitor asks softly:

‘You wish to die a martyr? Shall you thwart the world, the flesh and the Devil by a swift death? No. The pyre is slow and searing agony. Don’t be foolish, woman. Renounce the Cathar faith. Save yourself.’

‘To renounce my faith is to condemn myself to hell. ’Twould be wiser to renounce yours.’

‘And you, an impenitent heretic!’

‘You call me heretic, but the Cathar perfecti set examples of austerity, purity, self-denial, devotion to duty, and service to others. Whereas the Catholic priests are worldly, greedy and immoral.’

‘You have been misled.’

‘And you are steeped in error.’

‘I implore you: return to the fold.’

‘And surrender myself to the enemy? Monsieur, my conscience will not allow it.’

‘Are you not afraid of the flames?’

‘Yes. But your pyre is naught to the eternal flames of hell. The good Lord will deliver me to Paradise.’

‘Alas, you have been sorely deceived.’

‘All men are deceived. We are fallen spirits. Satan provided us with tunics of flesh, so that we might forget our first estate. Death is the wandering from tunic to tunic, until we find a body in which we can be saved. I shall wander no more.’

‘Your faith is folly. I have condemned many Cathars who believed in two opposing gods. But as soon as they felt the flames, they cried out that they had been misled by the Devil, and that the Lord of the universe, whom they had blasphemed, was punishing them with torture, both temporal and eternal. Shall it be so with you?’

‘My fate is in God’s hands.’

‘Your god is not the true god. Confess and renounce your worldly goods. Then you may spend the rest of your days in cloister, there to pray for the salvation of your soul.’

‘I would rather perish in flames than dwell in the cloisters of Satan. The pope is Antichrist, and you his servant.’

‘Blasphemy! You sacrilegious wretch! You viperous heretic! You pervert the truth!’

‘You cannot comprehend the truth.’

‘Your truth is a lie given by the Devil.’

‘No. My truth was given by God and his angels.’

‘Do you speak with angels?’

‘Yes, I speak with them ’oft.’

‘I put it to you, that these angels are agents of the Devil.’

‘No Monsieur. They are holy messengers of God.’

‘And what do these angels tell you?’

‘I feign to repeat their words. Their tongue is not for your ears.’

Not for my ears. Am I not worthy of God’s truth?’

‘I have seen the ghosts of the departed: those restless souls who walk the earth, waiting for a body to inhabit. Their horrible aspect appals me, and the hairs of my head stand on end. Where shall you go when you give up the ghost? Shall you find salvation in the body of an ox? Or return a witch, and be put to the stake?’

‘The Cathar doctrine was writ by devils.’


‘Then enlighten me. You do not eat meat, because you believe that within beasts and birds are the spirits of men. But how do you know this to be true? Have you conversed with these spirits?’

‘You have little conception of your future existence.’

‘Yet you profess to know all about it? I will return in the body of an ox? I find that laughable. Preposterous.’

‘’Tis no laughing matter, Monsieur.’

The Inquisitor ponders for a moment then asks:

‘Pray tell, what happens to the man who slaughters a pig?’

‘He comes back a pig and gets slain by a man.’

‘What man? The man that was a pig?’

‘Perhaps. Or another man.’

‘And what happens to that man?’

‘He too returns a pig.’

‘And gets slaughtered by a man?’


‘So the pig returns a man, to take vengeance on the pig, who was once a man? Correct?’

‘Yes, Monsieur.’

‘That is quite absurd.’

‘How is it absurd? Do pigs not cling to life with the same tenacious love as men? Pigs squeal in terror at the butchers knife. And so the butcher must learn his lesson.’

‘Men take lessons from pigs?’

‘How else will men understand the terror of pigs?’

The terror of pigs. And what Cathar sow is fit to teach a man? My soul recoils upon itself and shudders at the thought.’

‘’Tis written in the scriptures: He that shall kill by the sword must be killed by the sword.[iii] He who slaughters will be slaughtered. The butcher will suffer the same execution as the pig; he will feel the knife at his throat as the pig felt the knife at hers; he will come to know her pains and sorrows.’

‘But who is the man that kills the pig? Was he not a pig in the first place?’

‘How should I know? That is a mystery of God.’

Mystery of God. You know nothing of God! What linked lunacy! We are stuck in an infinite chain of pigs slaying men, and men slaying pigs. Man kills pig, kills man, kills pig. Are they not slaying themselves? Is this not madness? Speak.

‘Madness, yes indeed.’

‘Ah! So you admit it: the Cathar doctrine is mad.’

‘No, ’Tis truth. And if Truth is mad, ’tis because God wills it.’

‘God wills it? How so?’

‘Because this Earth is a fallen realm: the realm of Pandemonium.’

‘Lady, I fear you have lost your wits.’

‘Then why question me?’

‘To set an example, of course. ’Tis not unlawful to eat meat. ’Tis nourishment to the blood and bones. That is why the bishop must have his tithe of lambs – to nourish the body of Mother Church. ’Tis written in Genesis: God gave Man dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.’

‘Dominion to cherish, not kill.’

‘Then what do we eat?’

‘We must live on the word of God alone.’

‘How saintly. Especially for a devil who perverts the dogma of Mother Church.’

‘Satan sent you to destroy God’s people.’

‘Fool. I come to offer salvation.’

‘You have naught to offer but death.’

At these words a brazier is brought forth, glowing with fiery coals. The Inquisitor says:

‘For the last time, I bid you recant at penalty of hell-fire. Denounce the Cathar faith and return to the fold. Satan is not the Demiurge. To believe so is an offence to God, creator of Heaven and Earth. In spreading this abominable heresy, you sin not only against God himself, who is essentially good, but also against the image of God in man, who, by the reception of His grace, becomes a partaker of the divine.’

‘If god is divine, then why did he create such an imperfect world? The hand of the Devil is everywhere. We dwell in the midst of evils, tortures and sorrows. Death and disease only prove that Satan is master of this Earthly life.’

‘You think that Satan has more power than God?’

‘I am confused on that point. Methinks if God were more powerful, He would have killed Satan before He tempted Eve. Yet Satan is free to do just as He wishes. I fear the evil God will reign side by side with the good God for eternity; and they will forever be enemies.’

‘No. God is waiting for Judgement Day, when Satan will be cast into everlasting fire…’

With you and all your devils.

He smiles:

‘Once again, you profess to know my fate.’

‘Many terrors await you after death.’

‘You think that God will punish me? Me? The grand Inquisitor of heretical error?’

‘I cannot speak for God.’

‘But you do. You speak for Him all the time – as if you were His prophet. Whereas in fact, you are herald of the Devil.’

‘I speak for the good God, you speak for the bad.’

‘You believe I will suffer much in hell?’

‘Most certainly, Monsieur.’

‘Tell me, how shall I suffer, as a holy man of God? Will I burn, like you?’

‘I cannot say. Is suffering measured by the enormity of our crimes, or by our conception of the punishment we deserve?’

‘Are you asking me?’

‘Some say that every man finds the Heaven and Hell that he expects. Is it wrong to give a man what he believes to be his just reward? Monsieur, you have wrought much evil. You know your crimes. Judge yourself.’

‘I will not hesitate to burn you and all your family.’

‘Look again at where we stand. Look around these castle walls. Do they not seem familiar? Have you not seen them before? In some remote past or future dream? Ask yourself: who am I in relation to you? Who is the man that kills the pig?’

‘Be careful what you say. The implication is abominable. That I would return a heretic to be burnt by the likes of you!’

She spits in his eye and scorns:

‘Fool. You burn yourself.’

 *      *      *

Margot is telling it…

A masked man came forth with a red-hot iron. Aude called on Christ to save her; three times she called upon His holy name. But Christ was deaf to her pleas. The iron went in, and what she spewed up was all green bile.

We hurried away home, for we could stand no more. The following day, a great pyre was built in the castle yard. The inquisition made us watch as Aude was led from the stables and put to the stake. There was much weeping, for she was loved by all. She was the bravest lady, her head held high as she climbed the stage, tottering on her broken legs. When she was chained, she said to the crowd:

‘My body is rent but my faith is strong. My faith laughs at Death, for my soul knows the will of God. How great is the wickedness of Mother Church! How much evil she does in this world! She brings only sorrow, slaughter and devastation! Who will rise up against the evil doers? Who will stand against the workers of iniquity? Hear what I tell you! The Inquisitor and all his men will return as oxen, to plough the fields of your grand-children! The coming generation shall rise up with sticks and stones, and goad the bishops down the furrows! We live in the last days! Soon Christ will return, descending from the heavens in great glory. Do not be deceived by the Antichrist, nor take the mark of the beast! Mother Church is the whore of Babylon! And those who dwell in cloister are damned to hell! Only the Cathars, who live hidden from this evil world, will dwell with God in Paradise!’

And with these words a torch was tossed into the pyre. The faggots began to smoulder and Aude began to scream. But just as the flames licked her feet, an arrow flew from the battlements and pierced her heart. For the Comte could not allow his daughter to perish by fire, and ordered the bayle to kill her. An act of mercy that cost him his life. By nightfall the bayle was hanging from the gallows tree, along with the Comte and all his men. What fools were we for thinking our good seigneur could save us! The flames raged ’til dawn. Aude was turned to ash and the castle razed to the ground. But the Inquisition was not done yet. They beheaded thirty men of inferior rank, not sparing the wives, then threw the children into a well, and covered them with stones.

The old world was gone, and with it our happiness and way of life. For now we had a new seigneur: the Abbot of Belloc…

The white monks set about our ruin with great zeal, cruelty and hate. Mille diables! Aude’s dying words came back to haunt us. The brethren took our boots and yoked us to the ploughs like oxen; then they flogged us down the furrows ’til our feet bled on the sharp stones. Our tithes tripled and the devil-bishop got his tithe of lambs. He sent a devil-priest and we took the Devil’s Host. For we all lived in fear of the faggot. How Christ tried our hearts and weighed down our spirits! That we, half starved and broken, would spend sleepless nights, praying that Satan might save us!

One night when returning from the fields, my father says:

‘Margot, take off my boots.’

‘But father, you have no boots,’ says I. ‘Just clods on your feet.’

‘Well,’ says he, ‘lay me to rest at the foot of the bed.’

So I lay him down and set about breaking the marl from his toes. And there he passed, a man once proud and strong, reduced to a beggar on a pallet of stalks.

Mother and me were all alone in the world. What could we do against so many wicked monks? And with father six feet under, there was a death duty to pay.

The abbot took our chattel and stole our crops. All we had left was a measly pullet and the few eggs she laid. That winter was cruel and lean. Each day we scoured the woods for food; but the swine had foraged and all we got were mouldy nuts. So we lived off carrion and bracken bread; we ate wild roots and marc, which is grape seed ground into flour. And when the spoils of the wine press were gone, we ate pine bark and almond shells, ground up with broken tiles and mixed with blighted barley. I soon grew white and weazen, and became a bag of bones, instead of the rosy maid I used to be. But still the abbot drove us down his furrows until our feet bled on the sharp stones.

On midwinter’s day we cooked our last pullet. ’Twas a scrawny bird but it made a wholesome broth. Six days later, the steward came knocking for his chicken-rent. Of course, we couldn’t pay, and feared the abbot would seize our home. So we paid our dues in kind. The steward sent us off in gangs with mattocks, spades and hoes, to till the fields and drain the marsh. We worked our fingers to the bone, from dawn ’til dusk, clawing roots, delving ditches and breaking clods.

Now it happened that one day the abbot came riding past with a fine falcon on his wrist. And the steward was with him, proud as a peacock, with pretty feathers in his hat. So we all bowed humbly and went down on our knees. All but mother that is. She stood like a scarecrow, all skin and bone, in the middle of the field. And when the steward saw her, he said:

‘Woman, are you blind? This is your lord and master, show him fealty.’

And mother said:

‘We are his vassals but he shows no love.’

So the abbot said:

‘Bow to me woman, or I will have you flogged.’

But mother just poured a stream of curses on his head. She was frightening, all ranting and raving, pulling at her hair, spitting and twisting her fingers. She scared the horses and the abbot’s steed reared up on its hind quarters. But the abbot gathered reign and soon calmed the beast; then he turned to my mother and cried:


The field went deathly quiet. Mother thought for a moment then said:

‘How can I be a witch, when I can’t even do enough magic to raise a loaf of bread? Whereas you eat plentifully all kinds of flesh and fish. You wear fine woollen cloth and have an abundance of bed coverings in your chamber. You preach Christian charity, but no monk offers, and no monk gives. From east to west, the white monks ravage the land like gulls! Your mighty grange is stuffed with the corn that we sowed and reapt. And all this for the good of our wretched souls!’

When the churls heard this, a great cry went up with sickles and staves, calling for vengeance on Mother Church, and summary justice for all the hurts she put on us. Well, the abbot and steward were outnumbered, so they galloped off to cloister.

That night, the steward stormed our hovel with six monks. They dragged us out by the hair and stripped us naked. Then they took sticks and beat us through the mire. And when we were besmeared with dung, they put ropes about our necks and led us down the street for all to see. We cried for help, but the cowardly churls fled to their hovels like rats. The monks drew knives and pinned me to the well. For the steward was in mind to spoil me. He was mighty and menacing, with eyes like a wolf. Mother wept:

‘I will sluice my veins and cast myself in, but I beg thee, do not hurt my daughter!’

He scoffed and loosened his breeches:

‘I will cast you both in when I’m done.’

Then mother spat in his face and said:

‘Lay one finger upon my child, and by permission of God, I will act this curse upon you from my whole heart… Dare not interrupt me… I wish you to never rest, nor eat, nor sleep for the rest of your life. May your eyes prick with pins, your innards writhe with worms, and your bedding crawl with rats and fleas. May your flesh waste away and fester with loathsome boils, until your body is wizened, brittle and black, so that even the faceless leper will call you unclean. May the wind scorch your throat, the rain never quench you, and your tongue be an urchin of spines. And let no balm, nor sweet confection or ointment ever soothe you, but increase your anguish tenfold. May despair and ruin stalk you like a wolf, and all your works be spoilt by the poisonous worm; may all that passes between your lips be bitter as asp-ridden gall. May you vomit all that you swallow, and your blood be poured out like water. May your bowels swell six times six, until your belly bursts like a hot hog sausage. May your abbey burn to cinders and your brethren crumble to dust, so that they may never eat another loaf, nor spend another penny that we ought to have… Spoil my daughter and suffer this. Punish me, and live…’

The white monks set on her like savage dogs. They flogged her with stirrups ’til the air was thick with her wailing. All my pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears. And to see my poor mother so cruelly beaten was more than I could bare. I hid in the hen-house and covered my ears. Oh for a spear to run them through! Or a great black bear to maul them!

They flayed her flesh ’til the dust flowed with her blood. Yet still she cursed them, six times six, all brittle, burnt and black. So they cut off her breasts and hung her from the gallows tree.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2006

i. Fournier Record. (i. 145.) Pierre Sabatier, a weaver of Varilhes.

ii. In Languedoc, when the Inquisition was founded, the sanbenito and coroza formed one single piece, which was a tunic with a cowl or hood. [Llorente, Anales de la Inquisicion, cap. xi. n. 8].

iii. Apocalypse, 13:10.