rying into a village of 250 diseased souls
IT IS NOT my job here to review books, but I do rather self indulgently occasionally recommend one that has given me delight or some sort of edification. I have just read an astonishing one.
It is called Montaillou. It has been written about a great deal in all the serious and even in one of the light hearted newspapers. It is, to begin with, Fairly hard going, but once you are in you are lost in a world of about 1300 which, without motor cars, seems the same as ours. Everyone keeps messing about and having the most extraordinary ideas. They have, in addition, lice which as a courtesy they pick out of each other. They also have a privileged civil service which keeps excellent records but doesn't half PrY• The whole thing is based on a , detailed inquisition into a remote village in the Pyrenees between 1318 and 1325. It was ordered and conducted by the Bishop of Palmiers, Jacques Fourner. And, dash it, if he didn't become Pope as Benedict XII. He started the great, roaring, gothic papal castle at Avignon. He would have liked to have gone back to Rome, but he was elected on the Avignon Ticket. despite some faults in his parentage, his poverty and his lack of good connections.
He was a good Pope and a bad politician, and a Cistercian monk. But within his diocese he had this extraordinary heresy; its followers were called either Cathars or Albigensians. They were also called far ruder things. They were extirpated by a "crusade" led by Simon de Montfort who was the father of our Simon de Montfort who is unjustly credited with having started Parliament.
But these Cathars believed in the God of Christians, not in Baptism, not in the Mass, not in marriage or the priesthood. They believed in the power of evil almost equal to that of good. So all physical things were evil and so it did not much matter what you did.
So anything went until you took the consolamenrunr. which was a baptism by the book. Then you were a perfectus. No sex. The strictest diet. They were a moral elite, Dying, others could achieve the same, but then. in the endura. would starve themselves to death and be certain of paradise. Two weeks was a long time for them to last. Our latter day political and social suicides last much longer.
But Bishop Fournier kept the most detailed records of this village of about 250 diseased souls. It was dominated by the peasant Clergue family. of whom
one, Pierre, was the parish priest.
He was a Cathar himself. He was an informer to the Inquisition. He was a lecher of the most boring compulsive sort. He had a woman's tongue cut out — her name was Mengarde Maurs — for bearing witness against his do/Has, his family unit, It was not a class heresy. It was not intellectual. It included clergy, nobles, intellectuals, It was capable of the heights of courage and the last of the Cathars died in a castle in Languedoc called Mont Segur to the last man. woman and child. Horrible story.
From the village of Montaillou, one was burnt for his heresy. Many of the villagers died in prison. No torture was used. But prison survival was impossible. It's all extremely odd and as a Catholic it restored a little of my belief in the activity of objective evil.
1 never thought I would ever write such a thing, but I felt a slight sympathy for the Inquisition towards the end. And the Holy Office was started to face this heresy and intellectualised by St Dominic.
This is too complex for a paragraph in a newspaper. Try the book.
God help the Prince of Wales
I THINK IT was Lord Macaulay who said that the most ridiculous sight in the world was the English having one of their periodic fits of morality. And right fools we are making of ourselves just now, though, as safe morality (i.e. morality that does not affect your behaviour) always does it has been giving a lot of mean and hypocritical pleasure.
The matter, of course. affects the Prince of Wales' marriage. It was said, as if you did not know, that he would like to marry the Princess Marie-Astrid of Luxembourg who is not only enchantingly beautiful in a rare and delicate way. but she is a Catholic. There would seem to be no pretty, protestant princesses. I would not know. I would do nothing so crude as to case the palaces.
Now by the Act of Settlement (1701) passed to make sure of the Protestant Succession after poor Catholic James II any Royal who even marries a Catholic — unless she abjure her faith — is utterly excluded from even a lowly place in the succession stakes. He can marry a Moonie or transcendental meditator or an animist or a paid up member of any version of the Communists hut then he is not likely to meet many of these. And they tend towards plainness.
So there has heen a lot of high minded and learned correspondence about the affair. And yet the whole idea is a storm in a gossip writer's tea cup or perhaps his in his cup of the real stuff.
Indeed I have seen it suggested that the whole thing was thought up as a tremendous jape by Mr Nigel Dempster who is or was the egregious tattler on The thiik Mail had seldom even heard of most of the people he wrote about — and Mr Auheron Waugh who is the most creative surviving tease in Britain and does not mind causing a little distress as the price of a laugh.
Certainly there has been nothing official about it and the Palace, which like the Vatican, cannot be accused of garrulity,
has been reduced to issuing shaming little denials that border on had manners and anyway never convince anyone.
Mrs Thatcher has put her feet unnecessarily into this constitutional mire. And two silly MPs have tried to get some publicity mileage out of it.
Clergymen — .even bishops who should know much better up and down the country have staunchly and unnecessarily been demonstrating either their Protestant orthodoxy or their ecumenical liherlism. And yet the young man does not even have to marry a royal.
Personally I hope the subject will never seriously arise, Princesses and princes tend today to slide easily from one religion to another to suit the exigencies of a royal marriage. It always looks a hit squalid. even the bargaining over the faith of the children.
I don't think Catholics in Britain are affronted by the Protestant Succession. especially since Good Lord Hailsham made it possible for them to become Lord Chancellors. And we have grown tired of grievances.
Actually in 1930, the Apostolic Delegate to Bulgaria. Angelo Roncalli (yes, for it was he!) obtained from the Vatican approval for the marriage of the Orthodox King Boris to the Italian princess, Giovanna of Savoy.
The Bulgarian King made the proper promises of the time. They were married quietly at Assisi. Then when he got home, the promises became confetti at the ceremony which was repeated with the full glory of the Orthodox pomp and the children were brought up in that tradition. It was a black mark for Roncalli • which he only erased during the war. It probably got the Archbishop the punishment posting to Turkey. But that sort of thing could not happen here.
And if Charles were disbarred for marrying a Catholic, there would come such a roar of incredulous mockery from the rest of the world — who do not understand us —as even England has never yet heard. A religious theocracy — us! And Charles reduced to the ranks of the Ayatollahs. From Royal religious complications, Oh! Lord deliver us!
I HAVE READ a strange story from Ipswich. It appears that in the town of Nettuno, on the coast, midway between Rome and Naples, there is a much revered statue of the Virgin known locally as The English Lady. It is enshrined above the high altar in a large and expensive and modern and dominating church.
There is a likely theory that this is the pre-Reformation statue of Our Lady of Ipswich who had a shrine outside the walls and came second in acclaim only to that of Walsingham.
At the Reformation these major statues were all taken to London, stored in the house of
Thomas Cromwell and then burned on a fire at Chelsea. Of this Bishop Latimer, that heroic but hard man who died with Archbishop Cranmer at Oxford, wrote in 1538, "I trust your Lordship will bestow our great sibyl! (sic) to some good purpose ur perear mentor-la cunt sonitu. She has been the devil's instrument to bring many, I fear, to eternal fire: and she herself and her old sister of Walsingham, with her young
sister of Ipswich would make a jolly muster at Smithfield. They would not take all day burning."
The reference to the "great sibyll" was to a huge statue of Our Lady of Worcester. The burning reference is to the burning to death of a Franciscan, Blessed John Forest, a confessor to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Latimer had preached at the death but the wood would only smoulder with the result that the Friar "was so long in dying and suffered so much agony that the crowd became enraged."
But the Italian story is that English sailors caught in a storm brought the statue ashore. There are many versions and variations of the story. But in 1718, a visitor wrote, "The Blessed Virgin ... loathing to remain in that profane climate, deigned to come to live by her Statue in ... Nettuno." Everyone agrees this happened in 1550. a Jubilee year.
Nettuno is joined to Anzio and got a terrible bombardment in that disastrous landing. In war cemeteries there are 7,862 American dead and 3,368 British.
In the course of this the statue was badly damaged. It used to be bedizened with crowns and jewellery and to the uneducated eye (mine) it looks late baroque, i.e. early 18th Century.
But it is made of wood and had been often repainted. The Baby has been made to recline instead of sitting bolt upright in the medieval hieratic manner. It shows the Virgin giving him an apple. Her head may have been re-done. And then the Baby lies on the right knee whereas on the continent it usually lies on the left. (That is a new idea to me but it is proffered by an expert.) The English statue may have dated from 1152. It may have been stolen from Cromwell's store of potent images.
When it was restored in 1959 under the right foot was found the inscription IU(?) ARET GRATIOSUS You can run the alphabet through the missing letter and it makes no sense in Italian. Latin, French or Spanish. It has been interpreted as "ancient and coarse English" meaning, "Thou art gracious." I do not know, but the general verdict is that it probably came from the shrine on a furniture shop site in a street called Lady Lane in Ipswich. If so the statue is splendidly housed, cared for by Passionist Fathers and is much loved locally.
I got all this from a book called The Madonna of Ipswich (published, East Anglican Magazine Ltd, Ipswich, Suffolk) by Stanley Smith.
If you come from Silly Suffolk, which insolence comes from a corruption of the Danish word Selig. meaning holy, (even the Vikings were impressed, and no doubt well rewarded by the number of churches and chapels they found in this part of England), there is a vigorous Guild of Our Lady of Ipswich, which is non-doctrinaire and loving and sounds rather fun, my sort of fun anyway.
Confused my politics
ONE PERCIPIENT reader wrote to me about my feet, which were killing me, after the celebrations for St Benedict between Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. I wrote of haring down Queen Victoria Street.
Mrs Papp de Janosi wrote with a lapidary precision: "Wasn't this rather a long way round? No wonder your feet ached!!"
The trouble is that The Observer office is off Queen Victoria Street while the Cathedral is off Victoria Street. So I get a bit confused.
So I tend to genuflect as 1 enter the office and shout: "Who's going to buy me a drink?" When 1 go into the Cathedral.