Review of Taking The Cross by Charles Gibson

January 28, 2015

When I kept in my hands this book, I thought to be about for reading a religion book. As soon as I started browsing the pages, I noticed to have between my hands a detailed historical account of the Middle Age, or rather, of the crusades that the Catholic Church ordered against those people charged of heresy. The book, titled Taking The Cross (buy here) is an amazing historical fiction written by Charles Gibson, an established American author passionate about historical tales.

To write this book, the author travelled for long to France, in the region of Languedoc, one of the lands where Taking The Cross is set. The book is closely intertwined with religious topics, because the Crusades, also said “religion wars”, are the main subject of the novel. The work opens with a map which describes the route followed by crusaders and knights committed to defend the borders of lands threatened from the battle. The story begins, instead, with an historical note that introduces the topic of this novel. The main event is set in July 1209, an important date that marked the history of bloody crusades. Every chapter of the book opens by describing the life and the deeds of two characters: Andreas and Eve.

The first is a knight who became the bodyguard of Raimond Roger Trencavel, The Viscount of Carcassonne, Albi and Beziers, three lands inhabited by Albigenses and Valdenses, two French communities that did not comply with the Catholic Church orthodoxy and for such a raison accused to be heretic. The second character of the book is Eve, a 20 year old woman hosted along with her mother in the Beguine community, in Orange, placed in the South of France. Beguines are women who live a simple and wealthy religious life with taking no vow.

Eve is a skilled sculptor of trunks and is hired by the bishop Pietro to decorate the cathedrals in Orange. Through alternate chapters, Taking The Cross tells about the lives of Andrea and Eve, by linking them to the cruelties and massacres occurred during the crusades. Between 1208 and 1209, indeed, Pope Innocent III ordered well two merciless crusades against heretics in France. The previous battles were conducted against Saracen and foreigners, but in this historical lapse of time, Andreas and his lord Ramon are forced to fight their same brothers in the region of Languedoc.

It is to prevent another vain and needless massacre that Ramon attempts to get a meeting with the papal legate Armand Amaury, the monk who is also the commander of the crusading army. The papal army moves in this region of France and Ramon, followed by Andreas and his loyal knights, moves to Montpellier, by going through the woods and grounds where skulls and bones are buried, that are the remains of previous battles. The journey is marked by a random meeting with a villager and his younger son.

The two have been victims of raids perpetrated by crusades and during one of these, the elder son has been murdered. Meanwhile, Eve discovers a secret letter about his father, another man murdered during the crusades. This letter contains upsetting truths that can endanger the life of the girl. The bishop Pietro attempts to protect and avoided her to be accused of heresy. This stage of the novel proves that inside the Catholic Church, not all the priests were agreeing with the crusades.

Unfortunately, Pope Innocent III and the cruel Armand were persuaded of the contrary and to convert heretics, they were even available to kill them! To protect his people, Ramon plans to take the Cross from Armand, this is a medieval expression that meant the will to become a crusader. This is a deceit naturally, planned to allow inhabitants to leave the region besieged by crusaders. In this novel, hence, the Cross also becomes a symbol of oppression and bloodshed. Thank to an effective style of writing, the author also managed to turn the Cross into the inner conflict of those men forced to defend their land and kill their people.

At last, the crusades weren’t then too different of other modern religious wars and it is for this reason that Charles Gibson ends his novel with another final historical note where he also launches a real religious message, namely that God and Jesus are for all human beings and not only for an only religion. Taking The Cross left in our hearts the memory of an historical event that no-one should never forget.

In this highly descriptive novel, the emotional strain is very high and it is possible to feel it during the read of the various chapters, in turn enriched by a description of the languages, symbols and culture of the Middle Age. For this, I think it would be marvelous if someone could get a movie from the book. Waiting the movie, I suggest you to turn off the Television and turn on the reading of Taking The Cross!

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