King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 27, 28, 29, 30

The bishop of Carcassonne, who had made great efforts to collect all such material entering his diocese and root out all transmitters of it, finally sent all he could find together to his Archbishop in Lyons, and asked for help against the spread of heresy in writing. He was condemned severely for allowing such material to exist. No other bishopric had recorded so much, and most none at all, he was told. His see must be rotten with loss of faith. And if the sheep are poxed and scabby, railed the Archbishop, who shall we blame but their shepherd? Look to Besançon! You will find no heresy there.

The bishop of Besançon, indeed, had obtained not only the Occitan but also the Latin version of the pamphlet, and had read both through with care, several times. The bishop was poor, by now, having had to pay a year’s revenues into the Emperor’s coffers for the brawl with the baron of Béziers. Besides that, his back still smarted from the days of scourging he had had to endure from a grinning German prior, till the money arrived, money acquired at a ruinous rate of interest to put an end to the scourgings. In any case the bishop had not one widow mistress, but a small stable of young women. Their constant pregnancies were almost a despair to him, so many children to be provided for, left for adoption in the church if the mother would agree, but so often she did not, found in food and clothing while they were young and furnished with dowries or apprentice-payments as they grew up. The thought that pleasure might not lead to children, even with young women, and that young women might be pleasured satisfactorily even by a man past the flush of youth, if that man knew the secrets of the carezza—this fascinated the bishop to a degree that no fear of heresy might quash. The fate of his brother of Carcassonne only rubbed the point home.

The truth was that in the whole of the Langue d’Oc, as in their kindred realm of Catalonia beyond the mountains, Christianity had shallow roots. At the first coming of the Faith in Roman limes, the Church had taken hold in the towns, where the urban classes followed the fashions of Rome and of the Empire, and where bishops could be appointed from noble families who saw the Church as another way of consolidating power over land, through its written leases, its acceptance of donations which paid no tax to the secular authorities but still might be kept within the family. Outside the towns were the pagani, in Latin, those who dwelt on the pagus, the land. In Italian the word became paesano, in French paysan—the peasant, the one who dwelt on the land, the one outside the Church. The three meanings were at bottom the same meaning. The Church meant little to the country-people, except as a force from the towns that from time to time disrupted their lives. In Northern France, in Germany, one might meet the enthusiasm of the convert or the Crusader. In the South, Mary was hard to tell from Minerva of ancient Rome or the three nameless Ladies the Celts had worshiped generations before, before the pagani were made to learn their poor and garbled Latin. Nor was the Easter procession easy to tell from the age-old weeping for Adonis, the legionary cult of sacrificing the ram, or lamb, to Mithras. In a land where written books were rare, and what they said was taken literally as gospel, there was little inherited resistance to the seeds that Shef and Solomon and Svandis had sown: but there was fertile soil in abundance.

In Andalusia, a different situation, but no more stable. Islam had not set foot in the Iberian peninsula till the year 711, when the Ummayads landed at Gibraltar, or Jeb el-Tarik in their tongue, burned their boats, and were told by their leader, “The sea is behind you and the unbelievers in front of you. Truly you shall conquer or die!” And conquer they did, overthrowing the short-lived rule of the Germanic Vandals who gave Andalusia its name and taking their place as rulers. Beneath the veneer of Vandal or Arab aristocracy, however, the mass of the Iberian population remained the same. Most of them were converted from the Christianity of the late Roman Empire without great difficulty, attracted by the benign rule of Islam, which remained free of the desperate and deadly theological squabbles of Rome and Byzantium and demanded no more than the shahada, the five daily prayers, abstention from wine and from pork.

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