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Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou: Commentary

What Happens in this Passage?

Evidence is given of devotion to the Virgin Mary among the nobility and among the peasant classes of the region. The evidence suggests that some viewed her as of equal importance with the figure of Jesus, rather than as one interceding with him on their behalf.


Adoration of the Virgin Mary is widespread in Catholic countries, though it is supposed to stop short of actual worship, which is reserved for God. If the villagers of Montaillou were indeed worshipping Mary, then it would be taken as evidence of the way their heretical views had departed from the Catholic norm.

What we see here is an exercise in interpretation of evidence. Only Rixende Cortil appears to be talking directly and specifically about praying to the Virgin Mary, though the Testanières might be – one would need to know more precisely what question they were answering; the others all mention devotion to the Virgin in a slightly different context; Clergue the priest buries his mother, Béatrice de Planissoles is giving thanks after having a baby; the women of Sabathès are making exclamations at things that happen; Jean Maury reminds his brother to say the Pater Noster (‘Our Father’, the Lord’s Prayer) and the Ave Maria (‘Hail Mary’), the two most common prayers; the tavern customers in Foix are talking about the execution of a Waldensian (a member of another heretic sect). All of these people mention something relating to veneration for the Virgin and Ladurie, who is here on the look-out for evidence of precisely that, pounces on these references to develop his argument. With the exception of Rixende Cortil, the references to the Virgin are such as might have been found in any Catholic area at the time or indeed since; however Rixende does give evidence of a moment of conflict, when Guillemette Authié reprimands her for praying to the Virgin but Rixende ignores her. This is not proof in itself that prayer to the Virgin as a saviour (rather than asking her to intercede with Jesus) was common practice, especially as we do not know exactly what prayer Rixende was saying, but placed within a pattern of other examples of people honouring and turning to the Virgin Mary Ladurie argues that it could indicate that: ‘This idea was probably quite general, and included the actual Adoration of the Virgin’. He makes it clear where he thinks the evidence takes us without committing himself irrevocably.

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