So Great a Light, So Great a Smoke

So Great a Light, So Great a Smoke: The Beguin Heretics of Languedoc

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    So Great a Light, So Great a Smoke
    Book Description:

    In So Great a Light, So Great a Smoke, Louisa A. Burnham takes us inside the world of a little-known heretical group in the south of France in the early fourteenth century. The Beguins were a small sect of priests and lay people allied to (and sharing many of the convictions of) the Spiritual Franciscans. They stressed poverty in their pursuit of a Franciscan evangelical ideal and believed themselves to be living in the Last Days. By the late thirteenth century, the leaders of the order and the popes themselves had begun to discipline the Spirituals, and by 1317 they had been deemed a heresy. The Beguins refused to accept this situation and began to evade and confront the inquisitorial machine.

    Burnham follows the lives of nine Beguins as they conceal themselves in cities, construct an "underground railroad," solicit clandestine donations in order to bribe inquisitors, escape from prison, and venerate the burned bones of their martyred fellows as the relics of saints. Their actions brought the Beguins the apocalypse they had long imagined, as the Church's inquisitors pursued them along with the Spirituals and began to arrest them and burn them at the stake. Reconstructing this dramatic history using inquisitorial depositions, notarial records, and the previously unknown Beguin martyrology, Burnham vividly recreates the world in which the Beguins lived and died for their beliefs.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5841-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VII)
    (pp. VIII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XI)
    (pp. XII-XII)
    (pp. XIII-XV)
  7. [Map]
    (pp. XVI-XVI)
    (pp. 1-6)

    When you drive across the Midi, you are swiftly made to understand that the important heretics of Languedoc are the Cathars. The département of the Aude calls itself the “Pays Cathare,” as it is home to Carcassonne, Fanjeaux, and several of the exceedingly popular “Châteaux Cathares.” While the historian may quibble about the “catharicity” of some of the monuments promoted by the departmental commission on tourism, there is no question in the mind of the tourist: the Midi is Cathar Country. There is also little question in the minds of local governmental officials. When plans were in the works in...

  9. CHAPTER ONE POVERTY AND APOCALYPSE: Their Patron “Saint” and His Cult
    (pp. 7-50)

    In April of the year 1313, Angelo Clareno, an Italian Franciscan friar of radical tendencies, was in Avignon, having just returned from a midwinter voyage to Majorca.¹ When he wrote a letter to some of his equally radical confrères, he told them about a celebration he had attended in Narbonne only three weeks before: the feast of a locally venerated Franciscan, Peter Olivi, celebrated on March 14. The memory was clearly still fresh and vivid. The people of Narbonne, and the entire region in fact, had come in droves to visit the site of Olivi’s tomb. Doubtless, the church of...

    (pp. 51-94)

    As the Beguins themselves became the targets of the inquisitors, the initial shock and dismay was transformed swiftly into action. A network of safe houses grew up around the region, and sympathizers assisted fugitives with considerable ingenuity. Though opposition to the inquisitors was rarely overt and never violent, it is nevertheless possible for us to observe the tactics of the Beguins’ resistance movement in the years following 1318. In this chapter, we examine the stories of four men and women who exemplify three of the tactics of resistance tried by the Beguins, tactics that we might call the “weapons of...

  11. CHAPTER THREE AN URBAN UNDERGROUND: Heresy in Montpellier (1318–1328)
    (pp. 95-133)

    Once the Beguin networks in places like Cintegabelle, Clermont l’Hérault, Lodève, and Narbonne had been cracked by the inquisitors of Languedoc, the resistance moved to Montpellier. Montpellier must have seemed like the perfect place to hide, because it was one of the last cities any inquisitor would have expected to have heretical sympathies. In so many ways, medieval Montpellier was an anomaly among the cities of the Midi. Unlike Narbonne or Nîmes, Carcassonne or Marseille, Montpellier had no august Roman or Greek past to boast about, no marble antiquities or ancient walls and traditions. Montpellier was the self-made man, the...

    (pp. 134-178)

    Heresy is in the eye of the beholder. When Esclarmonda Durban withstood her death at the stake so patiently, she did so because she did not think of herself as a heretic, but as a faithful Christian who died to protect and preserve the true faith of Christ. Many Beguins told inquisitors that they believed the inquisitors themselves (and the authorities behind them, up to and including the pope himself) to be the real heretics, in that they unjustly persecuted and condemned those who were only struggling for good. Peire Guiraut, for instance, told Bernard Gui that “he believed the...

    (pp. 179-188)

    Though the plight of the Beguins of Languedoc has not been of great interest to historians until now, the larger context of the poverty controversy within the Franciscan Order within which we have found ourselves is well enough known that it has even provided the ingenious setting for two modern novels. The best known, of course, is Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, set in November 1327, though the poverty controversy no doubt seems to many merely a rather lengthy and tedious introduction to the story of the mysterious killer haunting Eco’s Alpine abbey and the search for the...

    (pp. 189-194)
    (pp. 195-212)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 213-218)