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Photographs of sites of action in The Ordeal of Fire  trilogy

Photographs courtesy of Philippe Dutrenit, Lussac Gironde.

Besiers (Occitan) or Beziers(French)

The Apostles of Satan opens in Besiers, at the workshop of a goldsmith. The city was a feudal holding of Viscount Trencavel, who, like most nobles in the Midi, sympathized with so-called heretics. Bridged by the Romans, the river Orbe flows into the Mediterranean.

    When the Albigensian Crusade began, Besiers was the first city the French invaders attacked. The city was sacked and burnt, killing twenty thousand men, women and children according to the chroniclers of the time.

Olivier de Mazan is the patriarch in the trilogy. In the 13th century, most  towns in the Midi were encircled by walls punctuated by gates like this one in Mazan.

   Besides a heavy door, the gate was protected by a portcullis, a grate made of heavy timbers studded with iron on the outside. The portcullis slid up and down vertically in grooves built into the gates. The power to raise the portcullis was provide by men operating a capstan  on the second floor of the gatehouse.  .

        Mazan is located about 4 miles from Carpentras, the capital of the Department of Vaucluse and also the long-time capital of the Comtat Venaicin (Occitan) or Veneissin (French). The Comtat (county) is named after the town of Venasca (Occitan) or Venasque (French).


 Mazan, the hero's hometown

Carcassona( Carcassonne)

In The Apostles of Satan, Olivier helps defend Carcassona from the crusaders. It was another feudal property of Viscount Trencavel.  Before Besiers came under attack, he sent its  Jewish population to Carcassona to protect it from  massacre. When Carcassona came under siege, Trencavel's men held the French at bay, but had to capitulate from lack of water, because the French controlled  the river Aude outside the walls. The people had to leave the city with only the clothes on their backs.


Fontfroide Abbey

Located outside of Narbona (Narbonne), the abbey plays an important role in The Apostles of Satan.  One of its monks, Brother Pascau, is involved with copying the mysterious scrolls that threaten the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as that of the so-called heretics.

   Two other monks are historical figures.  Pope Innocent III appointed Brother Peire Castelnau and Brother  Raoul  as Papal Legates to help reform the Roman Church in the Midi, and, at the same time, to discipline the high nobles who ignored the Pope's admonitions to stop heresy in their domains. The murder of Peter Castelnau was the match that ignited the Albigensian cruusade.

   The door at the end of this cloister arcade could be the library  where Brother Pascau copied the scrolls.

Albi, on the river Tarn

Albi gave its name to the Crusades that brought French-speaking invaders to the Midi looking not just for salvation, but for plunder and property. A famous debate between Roman prelates and Cathar heretics took place in Albi, and the notoriety of this debate dubbed the entire population of the Midi as Alibigensians.

    The cathedral that crowns the city is the biggest brick building in the world and arguably the ugliest. It didn't exist at the time of the crusades.

Fanjaus (Fanjeaux)

In the heart of the region of Languedoc called the Lauragais, at the beginning of the 13th century, Fanjaus had a large population of Good Men and Good Women, preachers for the Friends of God, as they called themselves. The Roman Church called them Perfects. In The Apostles of Satan, Olivier Mazan's mother Aude is ordained as a Good Women in this town, and we also meet Olivier, his wife Micaela, and his friend Camille at the ceremony called the Consolation. 

A 13th century covered market place

Located in Bram, roughly midway between Fanjaus and Carcassona, this structure kept the patrons, the merchants  and the produce dry during rainstorms.Bram is the town where Simon de Montfort, the military leader of the Crusade, cut off the noses and the lips of one hundred men of the town and gouged out their eyes.  One man lost only one eye, so that he could guide his less fortunate comradess to Cabaret, where the local garrison could see for themselves what happens when the native population resists the Crusaders.



Mirepeis (Mirepoix)

Another market town in the Lauragais, with arcades sheltering people from the weather.  It is located on the Grand Hers river that rises from the mountains just south of Montsegur, the refuge of the Friends of God , and flows northwest to the Garona, which carries its waters into the Gironda Estuary and thence to the Atlantic. Many of the rivers in Languedoc flow from east to west and most are tributaries of the Garona. A well-known culinary seasoning is named after Mirepoix.

Entrechaud (Entrechaux) in Provence

In The Apostles of Satan,  Entrechaud belongs to  Olivier's son-in-law Christophe and his wife, Isabel. Located on the flank of the Mont Ventor (Ventoux) between Vaison and Malaucene in the Comtat Venaicin, it  plays a prominent role in The Fiery Furnace, the second novel of the trilogy. By calling towns and rivers by the original Occitan names followed by the modern French equivalent, the author hopes to remind the reader that the Midi was not French at the time of the of the Crudsades.

Memorial to crusaders in Montgey

The plaque reads "Here and in the vicinity lie

6000 crusaders surprised in ambush at the end of April, 1211." Today, historians feel that the number was far less than 6000. Perhaps 1000 to 1500.  The ambush was one of the few battles of the Crusade that was not a siege. The Apostles of Satan has a detailed  description of how the Count of Fois planned and executed the ambush, with Olivier's help. The doomed crusaders were a contingent of Germans on their way to join Montfort. Before carrying out the ambush, the Count's forces had been repulsed in an attack on Fanjaus, which the French crusaders under Montfort had captured.

Site of the ambush?

In this view n from the tower of Chateau Montgey, you can see the rolling terrain and the copses  that still exist. At the time of the crusades, forests were the rule and fields were the exceptions. In the middle distance on the left, a road windsg around a tree-covered hill. Is that where the crusaders were annihilated? Pierre Boyssou, the current castellan of Chateau Montgey, has written a history of the town. He says the exact site of the massacre has never been established.

The Black Mountain

From the Lauragais, the northeast horizon is dominated by the Montagne Noire, actually an entire mountain range, like the Alleghenies or  Vermont's Green Mountains. Its heavily wooded slopes give rise to its name. With its deep ravines, it was a favorite hiding place for those fleeing the inquistion. In  The Fiery Furnace, the second novel in the trilogy, Olivier de Mazan chooses to live in Saissac on the south side of the range.

The Count of Fois' Castle.

Raimond-Roger, who ruled as the fifth Count of Fois(Foix) from 1188 to 1223, was the strongest supporter of Good Folk in the Midi and the ablest military commander to fight against the crusaders. The King of Aragon was his suzerain, but in the fall of 1209, the Count took arms against Montfort,  and constantly harassed the crusaders .  His wife and sister both became Good Women. At the Fourth Lateran Council, he defended the Count of Tolosa  against the Church. When the Pope accused him of  murdering priests, he said his only regret was that he hadn't killed more of them.  He was renowned for chivalry, fidelity, and for his patronage of troubadours, of which he himself was one.                          

Surface of a Roman Road

A section of the Via Domitia , which was built in 118 BC to connect Rome with its Hispanic colonies, can be seen in the center of Narbona (Narbonne) which was once the capitol of Gaul. From Italy, it climbed over the Alps then followed the valley of the Duranca River to Beaucaire on the Rose (Rhone ), passing through Nîmes, Montpelhier, Besiers, Narbona and on into Catalonia.  At Narbona, it intersected with the  Via Aquitania, which turned northwest to  Carcasssona, Tolosa. and Bordeu . Between the cities  it linked, the Romans main-tained relay stations to provide  shelter, provender and fresh horses for officials. The stations were spaced at day's journey with a loaded cart. During the Albigensian Crusades, both sides used these Roman roads to move their troops expeditiously.

The Archbishop's Palace in Narbona

The Archbishop of Narbona was the most powerful prelate in the Midi.  Arnaud-Amaury, the papal legate who was also the head of the Cistercian Order, aspired to become Archbishop of Narbona, and finally succeeded.  At the start of the crusade, he was the overall leader, and backed Montfort as the military commander-in-chief. The two had a falling-0ut over who would become the Duke of Narbona, and ended up political foes. He is a good candidate to be the villain of the Apostles of Satan.


The author encountered these "crusaders" in Narbona while touring the Midi with his cousin Philippe and his wife Annick  at the end of May, 2014. The "crusaders are wearing mantles over sur- coats and swords hand from belts at their waists. The surcoats help keep muck from rusting their chainmail hauberks. In the Holy Land, crusaders often wore white surcoats to reflect the hot sun, but many of those who invaded the Midi wore surcoats emblazoned with the heraldry of their liege lords,  with crosses sewn on.

 Cordage makers.

These domaiselas(demoiselles) of Narbona are demonstrating the technique of making rope. Several coils of the finished product can be seen at the right.  They seem to be using five double lengths of twine.  They will turn the big wheel which will spin the wood block at the rear, thereby twisting the strands tightly together.

   Almost as interesting as the rope-making are the costumes the young women are wearing. In the first place, note the caps, or head coverings. In the 13th century, everyone -- men, women , and children--  wore caps to keep their hair clean and perhaps free of lice.

   The women are wearing at least three basic layers.  An ankle-length chemise worn next to the skin served as underwear. In the photo, the woman with the brown cap has a brown hem on the sleeve of her chemise. The next layer was the kirtle. You can see it (reddish brown) peeking out from beneath the third layer in the photograph.  It can  be sleeveless or sleeved like the other women are wearing.  It is essentially a gown.  The outside  layer is the surcoat, and serves to keep the kirtle clean. Today we would call it a smock.


Ramparts of Avinhon (Avignon)

The Romans built walls around the city, and med-ieval masons improved them. They were razed in 1226 after a 3-month siege by King Louis VIII of France and rebuilt twenty- years later. Today's walls were constructed by Pope Innocent VI, who resided in 14th century Avignon. Twenty-six feet high,  their towers  are almost twice as high. The battlements have gaps called crenels. The  over-hangs on the towers  -- called machiolations -- enabled defenders to throw rocks,  boiling oil, and other nasty things on attackers below.

Nimes Temple to Augustus' Grandsons

This elegant temple was built in 16 B.C.  according to the plans of architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, who was also a designer of  ballisteria, siege weapons that were still in use at the time of the Albigensian Crusades.  Note how  the porch  occupies almost one third of the total length of the building, thereby reducing the size of the room housing busts of the emperors which were changed as emperors came and went. Most of the corinthian columns are embedded in the walls. The temple was part of a large forum in Nimes.

Detail of the entablature of the Temple

At the bottom, the architrave bears three panels

in the ratio of 3:2:1. Above a line of egg-and-dart  carvings is a frieze of rosettes and acanthus leaves

surmounted by dentils between egg-and-dart rows. The cornice above the frieze is  the most  complex  of all, with leaf clusters alternating with rosettes on the underside, and a geometric design running beneath the vertical fluting and the heads of male lions on the cornice proper. For Romans, Venus -- not the devil -- was in the details. In contrast, medieval Gothic chuches boasted gargoyles.


Waiting for Do-Do.

In The Fiery Furnace, the second novel in the trilogy Ordeal by Fire, the cousins Odon and Rainier have agreed on a rendez-vous at the roman temple in Nimes.  Odon, whose baby name is D0-Do (like the extinct bird), arrives first and is impressed with the its magnificent architecture and the decorative flourishes that were carved  some 1250 years before his time.  Then, while waiting for his cousin Rainier, he sits down on the steps and  watches the pretty women and girls pass by in the market place.

   Almost eight centuries later, the author is sitting on the penultimate step of the same temple, in this photograph taken by his cousin Philippe. He is undoubtedly thinking that  his delightful week spent journeying through  the Midi with his cousins is coming to an end , and that soon he 'll be on his way home.


The Roman Castellum in Nimes

In Roman Nimes,  water from Uzes -- 15 miles away  -- arrived via an aquaduct and was distributed via this castellum to different parts of the city by ten pipes. You can see the holes where the pipes connected to the tank.  In medieval times, the aquaduct was no longer in use, so Gerard and his companions didn't even get their feet wet when they snuck into Nimes at night.  They passed through the square aperture  at the  rear of the tank to gain entry into the city, and rescue its population from French freebooters.


The Pont du Gard

The Roman aquaduct from Uzes to Nimes runs across the valley of the Gardon River, and it is a tourist mecca.  An article in the Scientific American described its construction in awe of the Romans, who maintained a tiny  fraction of an inch of declination per yard over a fifteen mile distance without the tools or even the math that we now have at our diposal.  It remains a real mystery how they did it.

The Arena at Nimes

Built in 70 AD by the Romans, this arena in the center of Nimes still stages two bullfights a year. It presently seats 16, 630 spectators.  During the middle ages, it provided seven hundred people with living quarters. In The Apostles of Satan, Gerard Castelnoudari catches the brigand chieftans napping in their apartments inside the arena, and delivers the city back to its consuls.

Interestingly, Nimes isn't known for its temples, its amphitheatres, or its aquaducts, but for the fabric it developed. Because it comes from Nimes (de Nimes), the fabric is called denim: .

Photo courtesy of Peter Vronsky

Montsegur, the Good Folk's refuge,

means "safe mountain."  It is 3,900 feet high. This is how it might have looked in the summer of 1243 when the French besieged it.  We are looking north  at the south side of the "pueg." It falls away to the right, or east, at an angle of about 30 degrees.  Its eastern end (out of sight in the photo) is also precipitous, although only about a thousand feet above the valley.  Gascon mountaineers scaled those cliffs at Christmas 1243, and you can see they literally had an uphill battle to get to the top. The usual way up to the fortress is up the southwest slope which had ramparts across it in 1243. The author can attest that it is a very steep climb with many switchbacks.

The Fortress at Montsegur

This artist's conception of  the citadel (castrum) of Montsegur in 1243 captures the spirit of the original structure.  The keep at the rear has the same footprint as the ruins today, but we know those ruins were built after the French destroyed the  original fortress.  However the idea of dwellings built into the wall is undoubtedly true.

   We are looking at the citadel  from the east. The path leading along the crest descends to the left in picture, and then heads downward to the cliffs.

The Pueg's Achilles Heel

At Christmas time in 1243,  Gascons serving with the French climbed around the huge monolith (tor) at the tail of the pueg (lower left)  The novel The Fiery Furnace describes the desperate fighting that ensued and the steady advance of the French. In the final stages of the battle, their trebuchet became a decisive weapon, even though the defenders used a smaller catapult -- a mangonel -- to try to repel  the French  assaults. Today, the missles thrown by this siege artillery can be found all over the pueg. In the novel, the French fear the son of  Robin Hood's dead eye as much as they do the large stones thrown by the mangonel.

Photo Courtesy of Peter Vronsky

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