Father Bernard Peyre of Prouille (known as Brother Bernard) is a Dominican friar, living in France in the early 14th century. He had joined the Order of Preachers at the age of 19, and worked his way up, eventually becoming vicar to the inquisitor of heretical depravity at Lazet in France, where he had served for nine years. He had proved a very effective inquisitor, being a highly skilled questioner, and knowing that "a good inquisitor does not need to ask his witness many questions. A good inquisitor already knows the answers."
He confesses to curiosity, sloth, and pride. "You are an intelligent man," his prior tells him, "but you pride yourself too much on your intellect. What merit does it hold, if it is accompanied by sloth and vanity and disobedience?" But he can show determination and courage, and is ready to resort to physical force if necessary.
He is tall and "the kind of the monk a woman might weep over." He is not always faithful to his vow of chastity ('We are all sinners, are we not?'), and quotes Sir Bernard of Clairvaux: "To be always with a woman and not to know her carnally, is not this more than to raise the dead?"
He feels for victims at the stake. Others "would even have watched the final indignity, when the half-burned body was retrieved from the pyre, broken up, and put on a fresh fire of logs until it was reduced to ashes. Many citizens stay to watch this procedure, but it has always made me feel quite ill. Again, I can offer no excuse, my hands are feeble, and my knees as weak as water." And he prefers to avoid the use of torture, as he knows that, under torture, prisoners will say anything. He enjoys the intellectual challenge of tricking them into confession. He is a master interrogator, who understands that "lying is a wearisome business. One needs to be alert and vigorous, if one is to lie convincingly again and again. As the interrogation drags on, it becomes less easy to concentrate, and therefore more difficult to present a faultless arrangement of lies."
He is, according to one of the other characters, "a great man, a very great man, in your own particular way. But I would not describe it as God's way."
Catherine Jinks (1963- ) was born in Brisbane, Australia, grew up in Papua, New Guinea, and then obtained an honors degree in medieval history at the University of Sydney. After working on a banking corporation's staff magazine for some seven years, she married a Canadian journalist and spent a short time in Nova Scotia where she began to write full-time. She now lives, with her husband and daughter, in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales. She is the author of over thirty books, including works for children, and has won various awards, including the Davitt Award for Crime Fiction.
The Inquisition (1999)
The Inquisition is set in France in the year 1318. It is presented in the form of a long report from Brother Bernard of the Priory of the Friars Preachers in Lazet to the Master General of the Order of Preachers. In it, Bernard describes his work in the Holy Office as he pursues heretics, looks into the discovery of his superior's dismembered corpse, and gets involved with a mysterious suspect and her beautiful daughter. He explains how he was himself accused of heresy, and had to flee for his life.
But it does not read like a report, as it is a very long and immensely detailed account of what has happened, complete with verbatim conversations and numerous asides that seem quite out of place in such a document. "But I digress," Bernard admits. "This dialogue has no bearing on the main theme of my narrative." But he still leaves it in.
The strength of the book lies in in its description of life at the time and in the workings of the Inquisition (there are no bloodthirsty torture descriptions). The author really seems to get into mediaeval minds and reveal their way of thinking. It opens our eyes to their world.
Bernard finds himself falling in love with one of his suspect heretics, Johanna. But when he sees her, even this becomes a religious experience: "My life was all- encompassing, so that I felt it was not truly mine, but was flowing through me, around me, into me, and then I looked into the sun, and was blinded by a great delight ... I felt Christ enfolding me, and He was peace, and He was joy, and He was as terrible as death, and I knew His unending love for me, because I saw it in and clasped it and felt it in my own heart ... I know that God was with me, on that hillside."
But he cannot stop worrying about and questioning this experience. "It seemed to me that I had found love, and we all know that God is love. But what kind of love?" He "prayed for enlightenment, but none came ... I spent a good deal of time on my knees, but not enough, perhaps; my duties interfered with my spiritual quest. All the peace had fled from my soul." As he admits, "my nature is far from mystical, and my understanding is limited."
In the end, he has to admit, "I am an ignorant and sinful man. I know only that I know nothing." But unfortunately, it seems to take him a very long time to reach this conclusion, as the story is both unduly long and very slow-moving. It is claimed to be "in the tradition of The Name of the Rose", but despite its real feeling for period, and its insight into the minds of the inquisitors, it falls far short of this.
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