Elena Maria Vidal, a native of Frederick, Maryland, studied the enigmatic Cathars at the State University of New York at Albany before receiving a Master’s Degree in European History. She was inspired to write The Night’s Dark Shade after a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. Elena is also the author of the historical novels Trianon and Madame Royale and blogs at http://teaattrianon.blogspot.com.
Donna-Marie: Elena, thank you for taking the time out to do this interview with me. Your book looks great! I can’t wait to find some time to sit down and read it. I’m sure it will be fascinating, based on the reviews I’ve seen and the pages I’ve scanned through already. Elena, you received a Master’s Degree in European History. When did you begin to become interested in the subject?
Elena: I was interested in European History, especially the Medieval Era, from the time I was a small child. I have loved St. Joan of Arc from as long as I can remember. Knights, ladies, castles, and chivalry always captivated me as well. I read everything about the Middle Ages I could get my hands on.
I first heard about the Cathars in a high school religion class. In college I studied them a bit more. Their strangeness captivated me in that I could see many of the same aberrations which characterized the Cathar lifestyle happening around me. It was the early eighties, and the radical feminist movement was in full swing….In school and even at home, I often felt like my heroine Raphaëlle does in the story, the only practicing Catholic surrounded by Cathars, and Cathar sympathizers. In graduate school, I decided to pursue the topic further, and did a paper on the Albigensian Crusade. Providentially, I saved the paper, with my notes and bibliography, which helped me get a good start into the novel.
Donna:Marie: Ah, good thing you saved the paper! Elena, your first two novels were about the French Revolution. Why have you now written about Medieval France and the Albigensian Crusade?
Elena: Although The Night’s Dark Shade takes place several centuries before Trianon and Madame Royale, all three books deal with the theme of revolution and its destructive effects. Heresy, which figures prominently in the new book, is a form of revolution, of spiritual revolution. The Cathar heresy was a form of the gnostic, Manichean belief system, which has surfaced again and again throughout history, often mixing with Christian beliefs and causing no end of mischief.
Donna-Marie: Who exactly were the Cathars and what did they believe in?
Elena: The Cathars were essentially a gnostic sect, who insisted upon calling themselves the “Good Christians,” adopting a lot of Christian terminology. They believed that there were two gods, one good and one bad. They believed that the evil god had created the entire material world, and therefore to them all matter was evil. The Good God, Whom they did not hold to be omnipotent, created only the spiritual world. The Cathars denied most of the major tenets of the Creed, including the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. They shunned the sign of the cross, and rejected the Old Testament. They rejected baptism by water and only believed in a “baptism of light.” They denied the Eucharist, the Real Presence, and all the sacraments, holding matrimony to be an abomination because it regularized the sexual act, leading to the procreation of children. Cohabitation as well as homosexuality were considered preferable to marriage. They practiced suicide in a ritual known as the endura, in which they would starve themselves to death. They also thought that there was nothing wrong with abortion and contraception.
Donna-Marie: It sounds like the Cathars had a great deal in common with many of our contemporaries.
Elena: Yes, their times are a distant reflection of our own.
Donna-Marie: Elena, it says on the back cover of your new novel that you were inspired to write the book after a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
Elena: Yes, in the summer of 1994 I made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, seeking guidance from the Blessed Mother. As I have written on my blog, I was intrigued by the castle there. I took a tour of the castle and then went to the town library and read about it. I discovered that it had been a Cathar stronghold during the Middle Ages. A story began to take shape in my mind. However, I did not begin writing it down until the winter of 2000-20001, after the publication of Trianon and Madame Royale. After eight more years of writing, research, and rewriting, it all came together at last. I am pleased that the novel is finally published and being read and enjoyed.
Donna-Marie: Yes, I noticed The Night’s Dark Shade has been getting some very positive reviews.
Elena: Well, the book has something for everybody – romance, history, war, and theological discussion. It is suitable for teenagers to read and yet has an underlying complexity so that adults will be able to sink their teeth into it. There are many issues which the characters must face which we must deal with today. It is a book for now.
Donna-Marie: Thank you, Elena, for sharing your literary journey with us. May God bless your work so that many hearts will be moved even as they are caught up in your fine story-telling. One last question – where can your book be purchased?
Elena: The book is on Amazon or it can be purchased from Lulu.com: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-nights-dark-shade/5931214 And through my blog, on the sidebar: http://teaattrianon.blogspot.com/
Donna-Marie: Thanks again, Elena! I’m looking forward to reading your book!