Travels through History – France

Extract from the book ‘Travels through History : France” available here

Catharism was an austere religion following the gnostic philosophy of God and Satan as two separate beings – God was associated with purity and Satan with every aspect of evil. Catharism encouraged its followers to adopt asceticism and celibacy even after marriage. Those who wished to serve became Perfects (Parfaits) after a demanding ceremony called a Consolamentum. This ceremony was deemed unnatural by the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope issued a Papal bull decreeing it as sacrilegious. In 1095 the Roman Catholic Church started crusades in the Middle East. After the embarrassment of the 4th Crusade (1202 – 1204) that had ended in the Sack of Constantinople – which meant most soldiers on the Crusade didn’t reach The Holy Land – Pope Innocent III turned his attention closer to home and became particularly interested in the Languedoc, where some of the people practiced a separate sect of Christianity called Catharism.



Why I swapped investment banking for Buddhism in Bhutan

In Bhutan, humans are not dominant, but a small part of the whole’ says Emma Slade on the Himalayan kingdom she regards as her spiritual paradise

Sveti Jovan at Kaneo, Ohrid.

     The prettiest church in Ohrid can be found by the lake and dates from the 13th Century. The church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo sits on a promontory above Lake Ohrid, from where you can see most of the lake and a lot of the lakeshore. In one direction there are boats, restaurants, and the waterfront of the town of Ohrid, and in the other trees overhang the clear azure waters.

     It’s a peaceful, contemplative place. As I sat under a tree and stared into the waters to a depth of about six metres, a calmness descended on my mind as the sunlight reflected off the water and patterns played on the stones, rocks, and fish at the bottom. I could just imagine a monk sitting here and finding much spiritual fulfilment from the view I had, because I know that nothing much has changed in this place for hundreds of years, except for the fish. There is a clearness and a cleanness to the light that reminds me of the Greek light found in their Mediterranean islands.     

Car Samoil’s Castle in Ohrid, Macedonia

     Car Samoil’s Castle is named after the Bulgarian Tsar Samuel, who ruled the Bulgarian Empire from 997 to 1014. The fortress dates from his reign and the ramparts on the high walls offer wonderful views in all directions. This fortification couldn’t prevent the Byzantine Empire defeating the Bulgarian forces at the beginning of the 11th Century, and then the Ottomans took over the area from the Byzantines in the 14th Century.

     The real low point for Ohrid though came in 1767, when due to Greek intrigue – still a grievance for Macedonians and for Bulgarians – the archbishopric of Ohrid was abolished. Happily, the archbishopric was restored in 1958 and continues to this day as the Macedonian Orthodox Church’s highest office.

Miracles and Idolatry

I have just finished reading the book “Miracles and Idolatry” by Voltaire.

I am genuinely impressed that someone can place so much knowledge about religion, history, philosophy, and the human condition on so many different subjects, ranging from ‘Apocalypse’ to ‘Martyrs’ and ‘Cannibals’ to ‘Luxury’, into such a short book.

His summation of the various important religious councils from Nicaea to Trent is funny and thought-provoking given that some councils overturned decisions made by previous councils relating to the true nature of Jesus.

The chapter on Apocalypse (Book of Revelations) gives an indication of how the authorship of this book was doubted and shows that the book wasn’t included in some of the earliest Bibles.

This is a book for people who enjoy an intelligent author lampooning believers who believe for the sake of belief rather questioning those beliefs and the assumptions held in those beliefs.



Armenia – the treasury at Echmiadsin

I headed to the Treasury to see some of the less palatable objects associated with religion, namely reliquaries containing the body parts of the apostles, Thaddeus, Peter, and Andrew. These parts are called relics and are venerated by people who visit Echmiadsin, but I have always found it hard to believe these relics can be ‘original’. As far as I am aware, St Peter never came near Armenia, as he was busy in Rome, so how did part of his arm make it here without the rest of him? St Andrew did visit Georgia on his apostolic quest to convert the peoples of Russia, but it’s hard to believe he left an important part of him behind for the Armenians to worship. However, after Andrew was crucified in Patras in Greece, there seems to have been quite a trade in his skeleton, so it’s possible a finger or toe made it to Echmiadzin.