Sibilla Peyre of Arques: The Motivated Construction of Experience and Self in an Inquisitorial Deposition

Sibilla Peyre of Arques: The Motivated Construction of Experience and Self in an Inquisitorial Deposition

Paul, Florence

York Medieval Yearbook, ISSUE No. 1, (2002)


By the end of the thirteenth century Languedocian Catharism had been almost entirely eradicated, but the first decade of the fourteenth century saw what is often referred to as the “Autier revival”. Pierre and Guillaume Autier, two perfecti instructed in Lombardy, indeed succeeded in reaching a remarkably large audience around the county of Foix with their “underground” preaching between 1299 and 1310, when Pierre was finally sentenced and burnt – they could not have failed to attract the attention of the Inquisition, and both Geoffroy d’Ablis and Bernard Gui took an active part in hunting down these heretics and their companions. The year 1310 did not, however, see the end of inquisitorial attempts to uproot the heresy, and Jacques Fournier, bishop of Pamiers and future Benedict XII, investigated between 1318 and 1325 a number of cases of heresy, many of which can be considered as remnants of the Autier revival.

The depositions recorded in the Fournier register have proved of great interest to historians since, in addition to the actions recorded in thirteenth century depositions, they contain an extraordinary wealth of detail pertaining to social beliefs and practices, and reflect the Inquisition’s new-found interest in personal beliefs and motivations. Amongst these depositions, one finds that of Sibilla Peyre, from Arques, deposing in November 1322, accused of the “crime of heresy”, and more specifically of having tried to escape from the attention of the inquisitor of a neighbouring county. Though she had, some time before, confessed her past involvement with heresy to the Inquisitor of Carcassonne, she did so again to Jacques Fournier. Her deposition principally relates episodes pertaining to her and her husband’s involvement with the Cathars, running from the beginning of this involvement to her husband’s voluntary confession at Lyon. Some of its most striking features, its detailed recall of the Autiers’ sermons and an incident involving the consolamentum of her baby daughter, frequently appear in points about, respectively, the Autiers’ preaching, and the practise of endura in the period or Cathar attitudes to women. This essay aims to consider Sibilla Peyre’s deposition in its entirety, since a “fragmentary” approach cannot apprehend the place, meaning and significance of particular episodes or remarks within the text.

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