This is not quite another Montaillou. Professor Ginzburg's book deals with an isolated heretical individual, not with a heretical community. But it shares some of the qualities of that marvellous book. It reveals an almost equally startling body of wholly unorthodox ideas existing within a nominally Roman Catholic society. The Middle Ages, it has been unkindly said, appear to be 'the age of faith' because nearly all the evidence which survives was written by monks and priests. We might extend this to the couple of centuries after the invention of printing: they appear to he centuries of faith because priests controlled the censorship. It is very difficult to find out what ordinary people thought. They may have accepted the orthodoxy of their betters, though there are many indications that this was not the case. But if they did hold unorthodox views there was no prospect of getting them printed, except when the orthodox refuted and denounced them. Only in the present generation have historians like Robert Mandrou and Peter Burke seriously attempted to ascertain what was going on beneath the surface. In Montaillou Le Roy Ladurie utilised one lucky cache of evidence. Professor Ginzburg has found another.
LRB 6 November 1980 | PDF Download