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The Perfect Heresy by Stephen O’Shea

The Perfect Heresy (subtitled The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars) by Stephen O’Shea (2000) has been sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read for several years. Since I read so many religious thrillers, the Cathars and the Knights Templar, and other religious groups both fictive and real, both heretical and orthodox, inevitably come to play a role in these novels. I figured that at some point I should read a non-fiction on the subject of the little-known and highly-interesting Cathars.

O’Shea’s overview of the subject was a popular, easy-to-read history which adequately covered the subject for a first-time reader, and met my needs sufficiently. I enjoyed his wealth of stories covering the entire length of the Cathar’s medieval existence from their glory-days in the French region Languedoc prior to the Catholic Church’s systematic persecution of them, leading to the Albigenisan Crusade, and the formation of the Inquisition to specifically deal with the Cathar problem, until the Cathars were totally annhiliated as a Christian group.
O’Shea who lived in the area for many years has an obvious love of the area and this subject, and sheds much warmth on the many stories he relays. The subject has much relevance in today’s atmosphere of blind religious intolerance. Anyone who is ignorant of the lengths to which the Catholic Church pursued and eradicated fellow-Christians will have an eye-opening experience reading about the Church’s cruelty under the Crusades and the Inquisition.  Anyone who thinks there is nothing to learn from total annhiliation of a people who hold different opinions than the majority, and who hold dear values not necessarily commonly shared, needs only to open a daily newspaper.
O’Shea does not overlook more modern interest in the Cathars and the Languedoc area either, including the romantic and esoteric development of interest in the late 1800 that led directly to the interest in Rennes-le-Château, the mystery of Father François Bérenger Saunière and Mary Magdalene’s significance in southern France, all subjects of the modern bestsellers The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, and The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. 

Funny enough, it was my reading of Baigent-Leigh-Lincoln’s books, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) and The Messianic Legacy (1987), in 2003 that piqued my interest in these subjects and prompted by purchase of The Perfect Heresy, a good year before I purchased and read The DaVinci Code, not knowing at the time about its similar subject matter.

Although the book is a few years old now, I highly recommend it as extremely relevant, and for an eye-opening look at the peaceful religious group that inspired the powerful Catholic Church to create the Inquisition that terrorized the world for hundreds of years.