Books: Brave Old World

MONTAILLOU: THE PROMISED LAND OF ERROR

by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie;

translated by Barbara Bray;

Braziller; 383 pages; $20

The plot is absurd. A parish priest says Mass, hears confessions, baptizes, performs weddings. Yet his sympathies lie with a bold underground of heretics, Cathars who see the world as the realm of Satan and the church as a device of hell. The cleric actively supports these zealots who will neither touch women nor eat meat, men who preach heresy to his parishioners. At the same time he uses his powers of flattery and persuasion to...

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