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Esclarmonde the Great: A Powerful Supernova in France's History

This article is about the amazing and extraordinary Esclarmonde the Great from France and was inspired by Glen Craney's book, The Fire and the Light.

Just like the journey in my book, The Hidden Camino, Glen Craney's journey began with a dream. His dream, was about Esclarmonde the Great (1155-1215), a woman who Anne Baring described as:

"a supernova from the starry background of history."

Esclarmonde was a leader in her own right, a Cathar and Archdeaconess (equal to a Bishop) of the Cathar church. She was born just outside the beautiful Foix in the Languedoc region, France.

When I stood atop Monteségur (picture below) for the first time, in Southern France, I was deeply moved and felt a special connection to this historical place.

The famous Cathar castle in Monteségur, France
The famous Cathar castle in Monteségur, France

I had read a lot about the Cathars and their beliefs and that this mystical place was their final refuge. Montségur was a place of both universal power and overbearing sadness. Almost like a temple of Memories. That for their faith they willingly walked down the mountain to a horrible fiery death. As I stood there, with the low clouds drifting through the present day ruins, I could sense their very presence and as I walked down the pathway, it was as if I was walking with them into the fires.

I needed to learn more about those times and the people who lived there and one day, Esclarmonde the Great came into my life. She was one of the most powerful women of the 12th and 13th centuries in Europe. You can see Chateau de Foix on the photo below, where Esclarmonde was a leader and Archdeaconess (equal to a Bishop) of the Cathar church.

Chateau de Foix where Esclarmonde was born and lived. Shutterstock.
Chateau de Foix where Esclarmonde was born and lived. Shutterstock.

It was this meeting that led me to read Glen Craney's book about her life, and the times in which she lived. Craney has woven historical events and persons into a spellbinding novel that gives great insight into those medieval times, a time of great religious intolerance and genocide, perpetuated by the State and Church.

The captivating character of Esclarmonde is what binds it all together, with her symbol of the White Dove, of love, peace and religious tolerance, revealing the true teachings of Christ and The Holy Spirit - as seen embodied in the Cathars and their way of Life.

It was difficult to put the book down as I became immersed in the story. The Fire and the Light is a story of exciting adventure but also a feeling of great loss and sadness. But there is so much more to Esclarmonde than what Craney reveals in his book.

My main criticism of this book would be, that making this story a nominally romantic novel, the author sacrificed the truth as to just how extraordinary Esclarmonde and her life, was.

She was brave, intelligent and a heroine for so many people during her lifetime, and for centuries to come. Today, she is still an inspiration and a great Light. Glen Craney's book has been called 'a sweeping epic of crusading fanaticism, courtly romance and esoteric mystery.' But it is so much more than that for those of you who can read between the lines, and understand our failure to see how history repeats itself and how we keep disempowering women's true place in history.

If you would like to learn more about Esclarmonde the Great of Foix, Jung analyst Anne Baring, has written a lengthy and very interesting article called Esclarmonde de Foix, Cathar Parfait. If you are interested in the Cathars, you will enjoy her website too.

You can also listen to a famous Cathar hymn in the video here or via the link below. It's a newly recording by Patrick Lenk.

You can also listen to the great composer Jules Massenets opera, called Esclarmonde. Esclarmonde was first performed in Paris on May 15th 1889 and was recorded with Dame Joan Sutherland in the 1970's.

Esclarmonde is largely unknown as only very few opera singers are able to sing the part of Esclarmonde. And because of that, this opera has only been performed a few times in history. However, it is one of the most powerful and beautiful operas I have ever heard and it sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it.

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