Cover image for The treasure of Montse̓gur : a novel
The treasure of Montse̓gur : a novel
Burnham, Sophy.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
San Francisco : HarperSanFrancisco, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 276 pages ; 24 cm

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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The year is 1209: A baby girl, dressed in a white silk dress strewn with pearls, is found in a meadow outside the smoking city of B#65533;ziers, where 20,000 people have just been massacred. Adopted by Lady Esclarmonde, the fiery Jeanne is educated in the ways of the Cathars -- the "pure ones," pacifist, vegetarian, chaste followers of Christ. But war is raging, and the Inquisition is charged with exterminating the Church of Love. It is a time of terror, with neighbor pitted against neighbor, and religious passions running high; a time of suspicion, burnings, and systematic genocide. Against this turbulent background, Jeanne of B#65533;ziers finds herself embroiled in the resistance, fighting for freedom alongside William, the man whom she loves -- and who is married to her best friend.

Trapped with William and more than 200 Cathars at the fortress of Monts#65533;gur, Jeanne is asked to sacrifice her convictions for the security of the Cathar legacy. As the only person who can save the legendary Cathar treasure, Jeanne is propelled on a journey through the dark days of the Inquisition, eventually to a place where she discovers the true treasure of Monts#65533;gur and her own destiny in keeping it alive.

This stunning novel of the Cathars, populated with real historical figures and accurate in its historical details, tells Jeanne's story of sexual passion, intrigue, mystery, and the search for love and God. This extraordinary woman will linger with you long after the novel's haunting conclusion.

Author Notes

Sophy Burnham is currently completing a two-year course in spiritual direction at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. A prolific speaker and writer on angels, faith, and the spiritual path, her work has been translated into twenty languages. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Set in the early thirteenth century, Burnham's novel focuses on the struggles of the Cathars, deemed heretics by the Catholic Church and pursued relentlessly by the Inquisition. Jeanne is found as a child in a field filled with massacred people, and she is taken in by Lady Esclarmonde, a woman devoted to the Cathar ideals. As a young woman, Jeanne longs for the worldly luxuries forsaken by the Cathars, and after going into a jealous frenzy when the man she longs for chooses her friend, Baiona, she is sent to Montsegur. To her surprise, Jeanne finds great happiness there, both in her solitude and in a handsome Englishman. Years later, when the Cathars have been ambushed and all but wiped out, Montsegur comes back to haunt Jeanne, when she returns to seek the treasure there. But the Inquisition dogs her and threatens her new love and even her life. Like Charmaine Craig's Good Men [BKL N 15 01], Burnham presents a sympathetic depiction of the Cathars and the insurmountable challenges and persecutions they faced. Kristine Huntley.

Publisher's Weekly Review

The extermination of the Cathars, a medieval religious sect settled in southern France that condemned the Catholic Church, provides heavy historic drapery for this somewhat lightweight novel. Having barely escaped burning on a pyre along with hundreds of fellow Cathars and Cathar sympathizers following a brutal year-long siege at the mountain fortress of Montsgur, Jeanne is on the run from the Inquisition. Posing as a homeless madwoman, Jeanne recalls her past as an impulsive, sexually driven young woman raised by the saintly Cathars. When a stranger, Jerome, risks his life vouching for Jeanne to the inquisitors, Jeanne is forced to live with him, or else both will face heresy charges. Predictably, romance ensues. This contrivance allows Jeanne to tell her life story, including her survival at Montsgur, amid snuggles and pillow talk. Jeanne's mood swings from brash, intelligent and determined to innocent and meek make her seem more disjointed than complex. Burnham, author of a number of books on spiritual phenomena, including the New York Times bestseller A Book of Angels, is at her best describing mystic and spiritual matters. Jeanne's spiritual transformations ("The soldiers grab me, strip me to the waist: my breasts exposed. They beat me with their leather whips, but oh, my Lady! Each blow brings only exquisite joy. I am transported, for I am filled with Christ and yet I gaze into the glowing eyes of Christ") feel vital and immediate. Despite its flaws, Burnham's novel is an energetic, psychological imagining of the Cathar legend. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

There seems to have been an explosion of novels about medieval women in the past year or so (e.g., Susann Cokal's Mirabilis, Kate Horsley's Confessions of a Pagan Nun), and this contribution by Burnham (The Book of Angels) is a fine addition to their ranks. Jeanne is a foundling taken in by the 13th-century French Cathars and raised as one of their own. After growing up in the Cathar tradition, she must turn her back on her order for their own safety, for they were considered the worst of heretics in those dark days of the Inquisition. She is asked to guard the treasure of the order - not jewels or gold but a Bible written in the vernacular. This was the real sin of the Cathars and many other sects defined as heretics in the Middle Ages: bringing religion down to a level that could be understood by all and thereby demystifying the hierarchy of the medieval Church. Jeanne is a fierce yet tender heroine, and the quality of the writing makes what could be an obscure topic - the Albigensian Crusades - enjoyable to read. For all public libraries. - Wendy Bethel, Southwest P.L., Grove City, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Treasure of Montsegur Chapter One They say I am mad. Listen, I have seen enough to drive anyone mad, and when the townsfolk see me now, straggling down the street in my ragged gown, sometimes leaning on the rough stone walls of a house or stopping at the fountain to look in the water, when they find me leaning on both hands on a fence to catch my breath before picking up my pack again and hobbling on, then I feel them ease away. The children come out of the byways, calling, "Witch, witch!" They throw stones at me. They are like rats or buzzing flies swarming at some undisclosed signal to my plight; they throw mud and stones at the poor madwoman, with her wild gray hair, which is me. They hoot and point and run in circles round me, touching my torn gray dress and making me forget who I am and what I came out for. I cover my face with both hands and weep, because I am afraid; because I am a clod of dirt and should have been burnt with the others. I told them so. "Burn me," I cried. I ran to the two Dominicans, the Preaching Friars in their black robes and stark white hoods, who like our perfecti live in poverty. There were two of them begging outside the cathedral doors. I threw myself on my knees, there on the flagstones, and made obeisance as I used to do to the perfectus bishop Bertrand Marty, bowing in adoratio at his feet. "Burn me," I begged the friars, I am not worthy," and held out both my hands to show the rope-burns on my wrists. But they pulled away, repulsed. I could see the younger one curl his lip at my smell. "I am not worthy to live," I cried. "In the name of Christ! I have lied. I have sworn oaths. I have drunk, fucked, killed. I am unclean." They gathered their garments and scurried away from the cathedral, away from me. Then I sank in the dust, leaning against the heavy wooden doors. Not a large cathedral, this one beside the monastery. Not a large monastery either -- only ten or fifteen brothers living there. I scratched my fingers in the dust as our Lord did once when passing judgment on the adulteress, and I thought of all that had happened to bring me to this pass, and all my lovers gone, my friends, a way of life wiped out, and I, the wanderer, lost and trying to do right and trying to serve Christ. Esclarmonde used to say that misery and self-pity are the lies of the demon. "Take control," she would command in that firm, impatient way she had. I laugh out loud, remembering. "Esclarmonde," I whisper. I can see her crossing the square in her long black habit with a white cord at the waist, and the way she used to cock her head and purse her lips at scrawny me, one reproving eye trying to push some sense into my head. Her socia, Ealaine, would be at her side. Es-clar-monde, the light of the world. "Jeanne, you don't let horses run away with you," she used to caution me. "You rein them in. The same with the wild horses of your mind. Take control of your thoughts. Curb the dismal thoughts, and force forward those of blessings and thanks. They are horses at your own command." After a time I picked myself up from the cathedral stones and took my cane and let my feet lead me slowly over the cobblestones, out of the town, past the vineyards and into the woods. My feet knowing where to go. They took me right through the forest into the pastures where cattle grazed, tended by two little boys. There were some geese too, I remember, and one little goosegirl about six years old with hair as black as night. It fell into her eyes like a straggly pony's mane. I stopped to stare at her for a long time, leaning on my stick. But she was not mine, that girl, for mine would have been much older, I think, maybe grown by now, though I cannot say for sure, for time has flooded through my brain, days into nights and seasons into seasons, and I don't know how long I've been like this or even what year it is anymore, and maybe my daughter's older than I am now; it's not impossible. I went on a few steps, carried by the inner spirit that was guiding my feet, and then I sat on a stone by the side of the road and cried. I cried first for my dead daughter, and then for Esclarmonde, whom I miss so much, and Baiona and William, then for all the children of Montségur, and finally for all the children everywhere, including myself, that other child, who was also born in war. She wore a white dress with little pearls sewn down the front. I used to turn it in my hands. I watched it shrink smaller and smaller every year, until it seemed impossible that I'd ever been so tiny, no bigger than a kerchief, it seemed. One day I put it on my own child, and tried to ignore the brown bloodstain that ran all down the front. I should not have done it. Baiona claimed it didn't bring a curse, but I buried my baby soon after. She died of pox, not war. She lay in my arms, that cold little form. That's not a thing a mother can forget. I suppose if she hadn't died, she would have been burnt up too. Guilhabert de Castres said the first burnings took place two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1002. Three men burnt here, ten there. They hunted witches too -- and still are doing it. They would burn me for... The Treasure of Montsegur . Copyright © by Sophy Burnham. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.