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Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou: Extract

This section considers the religious beliefs of the villagers and especially the hold the figure of the Virgin Mary had over them.

In Montaillou itself, the small elite, both noble and clerical, honoured the Virgin, at least with the external signs of piety. Clergue the priest had his mother buried under the altar consecrated to Mary. Béatrice de Planissoles, though she might sometimes forget to go to Mass on Sunday, did not neglect, when she rose form childbed, to dedicate a coloured candle made with her own hands to the local Virgin (i.223). The Assumption of the Virgin was the occasion for feasting among the nobility of the region.
‘Sancta Maria’ was a common enough exclamation among the women of Sabathès (i.191, 194, 463), perhaps indicating the direction of their devotion. Among the peasants, it may be that some of them knew the Ave Maria as well as the Pater Noster. Some of them actually prayed to the Virgin. I often reminded my brother Pierre that he ought to say the Pater Noster and the Ave Maria, said Jean Maury, a shepherd of Montaillou who had learned the prayers in question from his mother, while his father represented heretical influence in the family; Jean himself remained half Catholic (ii.446, 449).
In 1334 Rixende Cortil, daughter of a villager of Vaychis and wife of a villager of Ascou, recounted an experience dating back sixteen years (ii.308): One holiday, I went to the church in Ax and knelt at the altar of the Blessed Mary and began to pray to her. Guillemette Authié (now dead), was behind me. When she heard me praying she said: ‘Stop praying to Mary. Pray rather to Our Lord.’
But I went on praying to Mary!
We do not know whether Rixende’s prayer was actually the Ave Maria. In Montaillou, according to the Testanières, mother and daughter, the Virgin Mary was not limited to her orthodox role of intercessor, and could also be a redeemer in her own right (i.457, 461). This idea was probably quite general, and included the actual Adoration of the Virgin. The customers in a tavern in Foix, discussing the burning at the stake of a Waldensian, commented (i.174), ‘He commended his soul to God and to the Blessed Mary … he adored them both in courtly fashion; so he is not a heretic.’

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French Village 1294-1324 (London: Penguin 1980) pp.306-7

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