ESSAY Jim Perrin

NWR Issue 94

Slate Country Fictions

Mewn gweithfeydd sydd yma’n Nghymru,
Gwelir Saeson yn busnesu;
Rhaid cael Cymry i dorri’r garreg,
Nid yw’r graig yn deall Saesneg.
Dewi Dywyll, 1840

BY MONTSEGUR ON A MAY MORNING, I STOOD AT THE BURNING-PLACE to contemplate. Not just the fate of 220 Cathars who died here preoccupied me: the Albigensian Crusade and its manifold atrocities; the desperate miscalculations that led to the Cathars’ last stand in the castle above; the story of how 25 of the garrison in the days before surrender took the consolamentum perfecti, signed thus their own death warrants and on a March morning in 1244, instead of walking free, were burnt with those they had striven to protect. This wild landscape of Languedoc, where saw-toothed ranges of the Pyrenees cross a watershed and jag down to the Mediterranean, dark gorges intersecting, vultures and eagles spiralling high on thermals, was an apt setting for the savage power politics and bloody faith-wars of eight centuries ago. What seizes my attention now is the defending soldiers’ elective moment – choosing community-in-faith despite certainty of violent consequence.

As an expression of the desire to belong, it is psychologically alien. To be British in the twenty-first century is to be of the diaspora. We’d not choose to burn, though we seek tribes and alliances, explore
antecedents, weigh histories, qualities, characters, maybe ourselves ultimately elect to take some cultural version of the consolamentum.

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