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A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom (Pivotal Moments in World History) [Hardcover]

By Mark Gregory Pegg (Author)
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Item Number 100686  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   288
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.4" Width: 6.3" Height: 1.1"
Weight:   1.3 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Jan 31, 2008
Publisher   Oxford University Press
ISBN  0195171314  
EAN  9780195171310  

Availability  0 units.

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Hardcover $ 25.00 $ 21.25 100686
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Item Description...
In January of 1208, a papal legate was murdered on the banks of the Rhone in southern France. A furious Pope Innocent III accused heretics of the crime and called upon all Christians to exterminate heresy between the Garonne and Rhone rivers--a vast region now known as Languedoc--in a great crusade. This most holy war, the first in which Christians were promised salvation for killing other Christians, lasted twenty bloody years--it was a long savage battle for the soul of Christendom.
In A Most Holy War, historian Mark Pegg has produced a swift-moving, gripping narrative of this horrific crusade, drawing in part on thousands of testimonies collected by inquisitors in the years 1235 to 1245. These accounts of ordinary men and women, remembering what it was like to live through such brutal times, bring the story vividly to life. Pegg argues that generations of historians (and novelists) have misunderstood the crusade; they assumed it was a war against the Cathars, the most famous heretics of the Middle Ages. The Cathars, Pegg reveals, never existed. He further shows how a millennial fervor about "cleansing" the world of heresy, coupled with a fear that Christendom was being eaten away from within by heretics who looked no different than other Christians, made the battles, sieges, and massacres of the crusade almost apocalyptic in their cruel intensity. In responding to this fear with a holy genocidal war, Innocent III fundamentally changed how Western civilization dealt with individuals accused of corrupting society. This fundamental change, Pegg argues, led directly to the creation of the inquisition, the rise of an anti-Semitism dedicated to the violent elimination of Jews, and even the holy violence of the Reconquista in Spain and in the New World in the fifteenth century. All derive their divinely sanctioned slaughter from the Albigensian Crusade.
Haunting and immersive, A Most Holy War opens an important new perspective on a truly pivotal moment in world history, a first and distant foreshadowing of the genocide and holy violence in the modern world.

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More About Mark Gregory Pegg

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Mark Pegg is Associate Professor of History at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245-1246.

Mark Gregory Pegg was born in 1963.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
A Most Dangerous Book  May 26, 2008
A Most Holy War, Mark Pegg's chronicle of the Albigensian Crusade, is a most dangerous book. More than 60 pages of carefully researched notes, charts, glossary, and bibliography attest to his scholarship, and 188 pages of engaging text demonstrate his skill as a storyteller. Yet his narrative is misleading: many a sentence starts with actual recorded rhetoric and ends with his own embellishments. On the one hand, the author cites the medieval Church's insistence that its mass murder of "heretics" was "an irrevocable moral obligation," because such people were "cancerous to civilization," while failing to acknowledge that the Church itself was riddled with greed, corruption, and ignorance. On the other hand, Pegg asserts that the very movement the crusade was sent to crush - Catharism - never existed.

It is true that the Bon Chrétiens (Good Christians) and their teachers, the parfaits and parfaites, did not call themselves Cathars: that appellation was used later. It is also true that some people today are profiting from the resurgence of interest in the Cathars. Yet Pegg's eagerness to "jettison the fiction of Catharism" ignores a wealth of evidence to the contrary, including substantial medieval inquisitorial documentation by Bernard Gui and Jacques Fournier, among others. There is excellent present-day scholarship by Jean Duvernoy, Anne Brenon, and Michel Roquebert; and René Nelli's Centre d'Etudes Cathares in Carcassonne is a serious research center. Furthermore, although many original Cathar castles were destroyed and rebuilt, sites and symbols are still in evidence, and there is a rich oral tradition among the local people.

In order to substantiate his argument, the author is selective in the events he narrates or the way in which he narrates them. He mentions preaching in the public square in Servian by the Bishop of Osma and Dominic de Guzman in 1206, but he omits the far more important debates between Church and Cathar, especially that same year's Colloquy of Montréal at Pamiers when the churchmen were soundly defeated. In 1209 on the Feast of the Magdalene, the women, children, and infirm who sought sanctuary from the crusaders in the Church of the Magdalene in Béziers were not "slain by knives and cudgels"; they were barricaded into the church, which was then set on fire under the orders of Arnau Amalric, who declared, "If they choose to take refuge in the house of a whore, let them die like whores." The "good men" did not, as Pegg asserts, accept "all the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the seven canonical Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse"; rather, inquisitors constantly complained that the Cathars revered only what they called the Gospel of the Beloved Disciple (thought to be John).

The Albigensian Crusade was bloody and barbaric genocide: Pegg's own archival material makes this point. Medieval inquisitorial records and collaborating chroniclers, such as William of Tudela, used incendiary language. Pegg seems to want the reader to believe, as did the medieval Inquisition, that heretics should be "wiped out," and that "great and small holocausts between the Garonne and the Rhone were necessitated by the love of Christ." In whatever century it occurs, genocide is inexcusable; it is never an "irrevocable moral obligation." Those who would destroy what they can neither understand nor control are dangerous people, as are those who condone such destruction.
A Most Fascinating Book  May 7, 2008
Mark Gregory Pegg has written an excellent history of an episode that is often neglected in crusade polemics- the Albigensian Crusade. "A Most Holy War" was released on January 14, 2008, the 800th anniversary of the event that precipitated the crusade, the murder of a Papal Legate in Toulouse, France. Pope Innocent III was furious, and became convinced that the whole area was swarming with heretics, and that the Duke of Toulouse, Raimon VI, was protecting them. The only way that the Duke could exonerate himself from this charge was to "expel the followers of heresy from the whole of his dominion." Until then, the Pope said, "all those signed with the cross, the crucesignati, `in the name of the God of peace and love' and with `our promise of remission of sins,' must strenuously `root out perfidious heresy' and purify the land. `Attack the followers of heresy more fearlessly than even the Saracens,' was Innocent III's thundering conclusion, `since heretics are more evil!'" (p. 7)

This obsession with heresy did not happen in a vacuum. Pegg gives a brief background of a new obsession with heresy that started in the 11th century. With a widespread belief in the end of days, there arose an eschatological vision that saw all heretics as linked in time and space. Of course, the concept of heresy hardly arose in the Middle Ages (see "There is No Crime For Those Who Have Christ"), but in the 11th century it took on a new apocalyptic significance.

In the Toulouse area, there was a distinctive Christian sub-culture that, among other things, rejected the bodily resurrection, original sin, and baptismal regeneration. These people were seen as a plague that threatened Christendom, and so there was a moral obligation, according to the Pope and his crusaders, for mass murder. Pegg shows how a fanatical insistence on purity of thought and doctrine led to a turning point in history, that ushered genocide into Western thought. "The most holy war is a story of grand expeditions, heroic sieges, village insurgents, kings trampled to death, children set on fire, heaven and earth remade- it is the epic story of the battle for Christendom." (xiv) Pegg's work is essential for anyone wanting a work on a forgotten crusade, which pitted Christian against Christian.
Fascinating  Feb 15, 2008
This book tells the story of the Crusade launched against the Cathars in the 13th century by the Pope who delcared his intention to whipe out slavery. Accused of being Arians or alternatively influences by the Zaroastrians, the Cathars were a people that lived in southern France and were Christians but not adhering to the Pope. The Crusade led to their destruction. Like other books such asA Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from Their American Homeland, this book examines the notion of genocide and ethnic-cleansing today in a past example of it. THe truth is, however, that these historical episodes are not progentiors of the Holocaust. They are interesting, but mass ethnic-cleansing was a fact of history. The movement of peoples had made them a fact of life. The desturction of the Albignian crusade was not unique. Nevertheless, when one gets around the preaching and theorizing about its impact, this is an interesting subject.

Seth J. Frantzman

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