Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc
Interrogation of Guillemette, Widow of Bernard Benet d'Ornolac


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Source Documents: Interrogation of Guillemette, Widow of Bernard Benet d'Ornolac

 

Guillemette was clearly not a Cathar, but an ordinary rationalist using elementary arguments to cast doubt on, and as she thought, disprove the existence of the immortal soul.

Her position was much the same as that expounded in the Old Testament - that human "life force" was a characteristic of the blood, not an immaterial soul, so her real crime might have been to read the bible.

Her sceptical arguments were not sophisticated, and she had the good sense to repudiate them (as she openly admitted), as soon as the Inquisition took an interest in her. More sophisticated contemorary sceptics appear to have been more subtle - for example attributing their changed opinions to miraculous visions, rather than the terror of being burned alive.

 

CONFESSION OF GUILLEMETTE, WIDOW OF BERNARD BENET OF ORNOLAC

In the year of our Lord 1319, the 11th of May, Alazaïs, wife of Pierre Munier of Ornolac, sworn witness to the event of the heretical words that its is said were uttered by Guillemette, widow of Bernard Benet of Ornolac, said:

 

A year ago, in relationship to the present time in which I am testifying, when the leaves of the elm trees grow, myself and Guillemette, widow of Bernard Benet of Ornolac, were sitting under the elm of Ornolac, and we were talking about this and that. Among other things, I said, "May God guard your soul, and with your body let God do what he will!" Guillemette said to me, "Orca, orca1, what are you afraid of?" I told her that I was afraid for my soul because we sin often, and I asked her: "And you, aren't you afraid?" She responded that she was not. I asked her why she was not afraid for her soul, and she responded: "Arma, arma2, orca, our soul is no more than blood." Hearing this, I told her to never again say such a thing, for it could make misfortune befall her. She responded that she would say it in front of anyone she liked: "And what would happen to me, if I said it?"

"Idiot, idiot!"

That year, around Lent, I was in a house that is next to Guillemette's house, and Raimond Benet, her son-in-law, was in her house, and he was speaking to her (I overheard it). He was saying: "Na pros femma, gardastz la anima"; Guillemette responded: "Orc, orc, e quinha anima? La anima no es mas la sanc3." Afterwards, I spoke of these words to Raimond Benet, who repeated them to me.

"Good woman , preserve your soul!"

"Idiot, idiot, what soul? The soul is nothing more than blood."

Interrogated if it is by hatred…she said no4.

 

The same year and day as above, Gentille, the daughter of the late Guillaume Rous d'Ornolac, witness sworn and interrogated on that which precedes, said:

 

About a year ago, it seems to me, I was in the garden I have at Ornolac, which is next to the garden of Guillmette, the widow of Bernard Benet of Ornolac; she was in her garden, and we began to speak about the dead and the souls of the deceased. She said then: "Arma, arma, yeu no veg re issyr dels homes ni de las femmes can se moro. Que se yeu ne vis ysshir s'alma o calque altra causa, yeu sabera que aquelo fos anima, mays ara non veg reishir, e per acquo non se que es aquela anima5." Based on these words, I believe and I believed that she thought that the soul does not survive after the death of the body.

"The soul, the soul! Personally, I don't see anything come out of men or women when they die. If I saw the soul or some other thing come out, I would know what the soul is, but so far I haven't seen anything come out, and that is why I don't know what the soul is."

In the same place, she said that when men and woman live in the present life, their life is but blood. I understood by these words that she was saying that the soul is but blood.

 
I often heard her making such remarks, in my house as well as elsewhere.  
Have you revealed this to anyone?  
No.  
Do you believe that what she said was true?  

No.

 
Interrogated if it is by hatred…truth6. Standard formula

The same year as above, Raimond Benet of Ornolac, witness sworn and interrogated on that which precedes, said:

 

Less than a year ago, though I remember neither the day nor the season, Guillemette, my mother-in-law, and Raimonde, my wife, were sleeping together in my house, while I slept in another. In the morning, my mother-in-law told me that she and my wife had heard something that cried "ha," and asked me if I had heard it. I replied that no, I had not heard it, but that cats often cry in this way when they fight with each other. She told me that it could very well have been the soul of a dead person, for she had heard tell that when souls are not in a good place, they cry and go in the wind, and that one can see them. I told her: "How can you say that one can see the soul and that it goes in the wind?" She responded: "You don't see that, when men die, one doesn't see them do anything but exhale? This exhalation is nothing but wind. If the soul were something other than this exhalation, one would see something come out of the body. Now, one only sees this exhalation; that is why the soul goes in the wind."

 
I often heard her say, when one asked her to give alms for her soul: "Arma, arma!"  

That year, I had cut the head off of a goose, and that goose lived and cried still, until its blood had left its body. Guillemette said: "The goose cried as long as it had blood, and the same thing would happen for a man or a woman: they would live as long as they had blood." But I do not remember having heard her say that the human soul is nothing but blood.

If I remember anything else, I will come and find My Lord the Bishop, and I will reveal it to him.

 

Interrogated if it is by hatred…truth6.

Standard formula
CONFESSION OF GUILLMETTE, WIDOW OF BERNARD BENET  
The year of our Lord 1320, the 16th of July. Whereas it came to the attention of Revered Father in Christ, My Lord Jacques, by the Grace of God Bishop of Pamiers, that Guillemette, the widow of Bernard Benet of Ornolac, had said in front of divers persons that the human soul, while it is in the human body, is but blood, and that when the man dies, only wind comes out of the body; that after the death of the body, the human soul ceases to exist, and is neither good or evil in its merits or faults, but that it dies at the death of the body; whereas My Lord Bishop had received information on these points, he summoned her to his presence on Monday, the 15th of July.  

On the said day, the said Guillemette appeared before him in the Chamber of the Episcopal seat of Pamiers, and it was asked of her by My Lord the Bishop simply, and without oath, if she had said, in public, or in private, that which was the purpose of taking her into custody, if she had believed it or believed to be true. She said that she no longer remembered, but wanted to think about it until the next day, a time of reflection which My Lord the Bishop accorded to her until the following morning.

 

The next day, at the said hour, she appeared in the presence of the said bishop, in the Chamber of the seat of Pamiers. As she did not wish to admit to any of that which precedes simply, the said Lord Bishop received from her physically the oath to tell the truth, unmitigated by any falsehood, on the above said events and other concerning the Catholic faith, concerning herself as defendant and others, living or dead, as a witness.

 

This oath sworn, the said articles having been explained to her anew in the common tongue, she denied having said or believed them in totality or in part. And immediately My said Lord Bishop, considering her a suspect as a consequence of the information given against her, arrested her, ordering her to surrender herself immediately at the Castle des Allemans, and to go to the dungeons of My said Lord Bishop, and to not leave without his authorization and his order.

 

After which, in the year of our Lord 1320, the 11th of August, the said Guillemette, appearing in the Chamber of the bishopric of Pamiers in the presence of My said Lord Bishop attended by Brother Gaillard de Pomiès, said and confessed:

Three years ago the next grape-harvesting season, I was in my garden at Ornolac, and I fell to the ground from a wall and hurt my nose, to the point that blood came out of it. When I fell, Gentille, the daughter of the late Guillaume Rous of Ornolac, came to help me, and as I saw that blood was coming out of my nose, I said: "The soul, the soul! The soul is but blood."

 

A year ago at the end of April, when the elms were beginning to put out their leaves, I was under the elm of Ornolac, which is near the land of Pierre Bordas of Ornolac, I do believe. We were speaking together, saying that one must do good, life enduring, for one's soul, and that one must fear God for the salvation of one's soul. I said then that the soul of the man and the woman is but blood, and that when the man or the woman dies, their soul dies also.

 

That year, around Easter, Raimond Benet had a newborn child who was dying. He called me, when I was going to the woods in the forest, so that I could look after his dying son. I looked after him from morning to night, and I was watching if I could see something come out of the child's mouth when he died. As I saw nothing come out except an exhalation, I said, in front of Gentille den Rous, already subpoenaed: "Watch, watch, when a man dies, you don't see anything but wind come out of his mouth. If I saw something else come out, I would believe that the soul is something. But since only wind came out, I do not believe that it is anything."

 

Did you say these words about the soul in possession of all your senses, and believing this in your heart, in the meaning of these words?

 

Yes, and I have believed it for two years, although I have not remained continuously in this belief, only intermittingly. It seems to me that it was during a half a year, in those two years, that I was of that opinion, believing that the human soul was nothing but blood when the man lives in his body, and that it would die when the man or the human body dies.

 

At the time when you believed that the human soul dies with the body, did you believe that there was a hell or a heaven, or that souls were punished or rewarded after death?

 

During that time, I did not believe that there was a hell or a heaven, or any other world but the present; I also believed that souls would not be punished or rewarded in the other world.

 

Why did you believe that the human soul was but the blood of the living man, and that it would die with the body?

 

Firstly, I believed it because I saw that when all the blood has left the body of a living thing, it dies. I believed it secondly because I didn't see anything come out of the men who were dying, except wind.

 

During the time when you were in this believe about the mortality of the soul, did you believe that the souls of saint Peter, Paul, and of the other saints and of all deceased men were dead'

 
Yes, except that I always believed in the existence of God, of the Virgin Mary, and of Saint John the Evangelist, for the Virgin Mary and Saint John neither died, nor were killed7. But for the others, some died, and some were even killed. In the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed that Mary or John were not dead, but asleep.

From the moment that you believed that human souls die with the body, did you believe that men would be resurrected or would live again after death?

 

I did not believe in the resurrection of human bodies, for I believed that just as the body is buried, the soul is also buried with it. And as I saw the human body rot, I believed that it could never live again.

 
Did you have someone who taught this to you, did you learn it from someone?  

No. I thought it over and believed it by myself.

 
Do you believe that the soul of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross, is dead or with his body?  

Yes, for, although God cannot die, Jesus Christ died, all the same. Therefore, although I believed that God has always been, I did not believe that Christ's soul lived and subsisted after his death.

 
Do you believe then that Christ was resurrected'  
Yes, and it is God who did that.  

Do you currently believe that the human soul is anything other than blood, that it does not die at the death of the body, that it is not buried with the body, that there is a hell and a heaven, where souls are punished or rewarded, and there will be a resurrection of all men, and that the soul of Christ did not die with his body?

 

Yes, and I have believed it since the last holiday of the Ascension of the Lord because at that time I heard tell that My Lord the Bishop of Pamiers wanted to carry out an investigation against me about it. I was afraid of My Lord Bishop because of that, and I changed my opinion after that time.

The unfortunate Guilemette is clearly not as sophisticated as another rationist woman, Aude, brought before the Inquisition

After which, in the same year as above, the 3rd of September…(the reading of her deposition, the recantation, and the confiscation of her person and her goods, the conclusion)8.

 

Accomplished the same day as above, in the presence of My Lord Bishop; of Brother Gaillard de Pomiès, the substitute for the Inquisitor of Carcassone; of My Lord Jean de Lastours, the rector of the Church of Comus9 in the diocese of Alet; and of me, Guillaume Peyre-Barthe, the notary of My Lord Bishop, who has written that which precedes.

 

After which, in the same year as above, the 5th of March, the said Guillemette, appearing judicially in the presence of My said Lord Bishop and the religious person Father Jean de Beaune of the order of the Preaching Friars, Inquisitor of the heretical deviation in the kingdom of France appointed by the Apostolic Seat, in the Episcopal Chamber, under the faith of the sworn oath, said and recognized that the extract of her confession, read to her intelligibly and in the common tongue, as well as the confession given by her before My Lord Bishop, as it is contained here above, were true and of fact, and contained the truth, that she wanted to continue and persist in these extract, confession, and depositions, never here contravening nor proposing any defenses by which the said extract, confession, and depositions could be broken or in any way revoked. And she submitted herself to the will and mercy of the said lords bishop and Inquisitor, and renounced and concluded as above.

 

And my said lords bishop and Inquisitor assigned her a day to hear her definitive sentence on the aforesaid events, being the following Sunday the 8th of March, before tierce, in the house of the Preaching Friars of Pamiers.

 

Accomplished the year and day above, in the presence of the religious persons My Lord Germain de Castelnau, archbishop of the Church of Pamiers; of Brother Pierre, companion of My said Lord Inquisitor; and of us, Guillaume Peyre-Barthe, notary of My Lord Bishop, and Barthélemy Adalbert, notary of My Lord Inquisitor of Carcassonne, who received and wrote the said confession, in the presence of the witnesses above named at this convened.

 

The which Sunday fixed for the said Guillemette by My Lords bishop and Inquisitor, she appeared in the cemetery of Saint John the Martyr of Pamiers, and they then pronounced sentence to her as it follows: "Know all, etc." See this sentence in the Book of Sentences of the Inquisition10.

Guillemette spent three years immured in the Wall at Carcassonne, after which she was released, but obliged to wear yellow crosses

And I, Rainaud Jabbaud…  
   

 

NOTES:

1. "Idiot, idiot!"

2."The soul, the soul."

3. "My good woman (lit. virtuous woman), preserve your soul!" "Idiot, idiot, what soul? The soul is nothing more than blood." This opinion, which here results in simple disbelief, was introduced by Catharism (already in Alain de Lille, op.cit., P.L., t. CCX, c. 328), according to which the human composite was formed of the body, soul, and spirit, in accordance with ideas already widespread for some time among the Fathers of the Church. The spirit, which is of celestial origin and the work of the Good Lord, will return to heaven at the end of time. That is the soul of everyday language. As for this soul that is only blood, according to Leviticus (17,11), incidentally, it is that which animates the body, the simple vital instinct (cf. see the myth of the ass' head in the deposition of Pierre Maury).

4. Formula T.

5. "The soul, the soul! Personally, I don't see anything come out of men or women when they die. If I saw the soul or some other thing come out, I would know what the soul is, but so far I haven't seen anything come out, and that is why I don't know what the soul is."

6. Formula T

7. According to Catharism, Mary and John the Evangelist were messengers from heaven, even, in Mary's sake, a symbol of the Church. According to very ancient orthodox opinions, which doubtlessly still survived in the Middle Ages, one referred to not the death of Mary and John, but to their "dormition."

8. Formulas A and C

9. A commune in the canton of Belcaire, in Aude.

10. Not preserved. She was condemned at the Wall, her sentence commuted to the wearing of double crosses, July 4th, July 1322 (Hist. Inquisitionis, p. 294). Ed. latine, I, p. 260-267.

 

 


Translation by Dareth Pray, San José State University, 2006 - to whom many thanks for permission to reproduce this text.

 

 

 

 

               

 

 

 

 

NOTES

 

 

   

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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