New Richard Armitage interview in Collider

So, this was published today. I really appreciate every time Richard Armitage talks about his creative process or how he puts a character together. However — there’s also this:

This story not only deals with faith, but also with the strength of conviction for that faith, as these men protect and fight over a revered relic that seems to just be a lump of rock.

ARMITAGE: I feel like you’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head of it. I’ve been trying to explain the kind of endowment we all give to this piece of stone. Without alienating people that have strong religious beliefs, we endow something, whether it’s a book or a wafer in Communion or the wine that you drink, with power, which is coming out of the human mind. We give it that power and relevance. In a way, that’s the whole point of the movie. We see this stone and we know where it came from, and the journey of that relic is as important as any of these characters. You realize that they’ve given power to this thing and it’s costing people their lives, but it’s just this stone.

Maybe it’s really true what some people say — that being religious is a bit like being able to carry a tune; you either can or can’t, and if you can’t, you don’t really understand people who can.

I don’t believe religious people are automatically better or more moral than others. Although I am a religious person and I can’t any longer imagine not being religious (I tried for about six months, once), I don’t care if other people are religious themselves. Also, although I have spent a lot of time studying the Roman Church and have taught entire lecture and research courses on its history in the period before 1600, I myself have never been Catholic nor have I believed that relics had supernatural powers.

What I do care about: reasonably accurate representations of historical religion. “Historical” is important in that sentence because how people believe today is largely not how they believed eight centuries ago.

Mr. Armitage: when you say “we give it that power,” you’re talking about something that no medieval person did. You’re talking in the language of religious choice, which appeared in Europe in the mid-seventeenth century. “I can give this relic power,” or “I don’t give this relic power”?

So let me ask this: do you feel like you “give” gravity power? The theory of gravity is also a construct, a means of explaining how the universe works that humans came up with.

The notion of the Christian G-d in western Europe in 1200 was like gravity is for us today. It was broadly shared by every social segment from the richest to the poorest, from the most educated to the least, among men, women, and children. Not because of indoctrination (education was a limited commodity in the thirteenth century), but because the Church, its beliefs, and its rituals, had successfully become a part of the landscape and its rhythms, which had always had supernatural components. By 1209, Ireland had been firmly Christian for more than four centuries, in some parts, for more than six — and despite some efforts to eradicate its predecessor, in the end, Christianity wasn’t an alternative to pagan belief; it settled itself on top of and alongside it. Most people weren’t deciding about Christianity any more than they had “given power” to pagan belief in the millennium previous to that transition.

But you say gravity is not supernatural; it’s a natural force. My reply would be that for all that most of the average person knows about gravity, s/he treats it as if it were supernatural, and in the thirteenth century, G-d was part of the natural universe; one of his most important functions was agricultural and climatological.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t spend much thinking about gravity, even if I have been tripping and falling over things my whole life.  True, it was explained to me when I was a twelfth-grader in high school physics, defined as the attraction between objects of differing masses. As the earth’s mass is very large and my mass is comparatively small, my mass will always be attracted to it, absent other forces. When I fall toward the earth, then at the rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. That’s the sum total of my knowledge about gravity — although there is much more to be known. But when I teach this material I often ask my classes what they know about gravity and most of them can’t even come up with as much information as I have. Gravity is fundamental to every step we take but for everyone but a physicist, it might as well be a magical process.

I never made a decision to give gravity any power over me. No one has ever asked me if I wanted to fall when I stumble, or whether I believe in gravity. It’s just there, and since I know it’s there, I try not to act in ways that will make run afoul of it. For instance, I never jump from buildings. Not because that might not be cool, but because I know what will happen if I do: I will accelerate toward earth at 9.8 meters per second squared, and I will seriously injure or even kill myself.

If you said to me, “there’s no such thing as gravity,” I’d tell you that you were nuts. If you told me you were going to start a campaign to enlighten everyone about the deception that is gravity, I’d try to stop you. If you tried to teach that nonsense to my children, I’d try to have you declared insane. People who don’t believe in gravity aren’t just deluded, they’re potentially dangerous.

And where do we learn about gravitation? In an institution with a man (well, in my day, it was almost always a man in science classes) who tells us about it. And I can tell you from personal experience, if you ask, why? why is it that way? why does gravity happen? most teachers will simply say, “it just is that way.” (Some instructors will admit that physics explains how the world turns, but not why, but those people are few and far between.)

So here’s the thing. Sure, religion is a human construct. But in the thirteenth century, Christian belief is so broadly shared that no one constructs it by himself. Even leaving aside the probability that personality structure was significantly different that long ago, Europeans were not in a situation where they were contemplating the universe and asking “does religion fit in here?” That was already a given. So a relic piety is a piece of that.

So when a film suggests, as Pilgrimage does repeatedly, that people are missing the evidence right in front of their faces, that anyone with common sense would notice, it misses the very simple truth that G-d as part of the equation was already part of the assumptions not just for belief but also for troubleshooting. “The relic isn’t protecting me as I anticipated” isn’t a reason to doubt the efficacy of the relic or even the system, because the way that the supernatural is incorporated into the world makes the question a different one from the get-go. The problem isn’t the relic — the problem is the believer. And the believer knows this. The hermeneutic circle was still complete in the Middle Ages.

And when a film suggests, as Pilgrimage does repeatedly, that the relic is “just a rock,” only a symbol, it misses a fundamental quality of the middle ages — that symbols were seen as real. When a king or an emperor underwent an investiture ritual, this wasn’t simply symbolic of his assumption of his office; it was his assumption of the office (read the story of Henry IV and Gregory VII to get a sense of how serious this sort of thing could be). It’s the Middle Ages that comes up with the idea of transubstantiation (that the bread and the wine become the literal, physical body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist). A few centuries later, when some theologians started to suggest the possibility that the elements merely symbolized the body of Christ, it started wars. None of the people involved in those conflicts thought they were giving the Eucharist power, or that they had a choice of what to believe about it.

So I’m not questioning at all the possibility that a group of medieval monks would spend the final, fateful days of their lives chasing a relic. But the point is that they wouldn’t have chased it because it was a symbol, because “they had given it power.” They would have chased it because it was powerful.

We can look at medieval people from our perspective in the twenty-first century all we like, but if the frame through which we understand them is one of religious choice, we’re imposing our prejudices on them. That’s fine, of course; no one is obligated to reproduce history in film. I just wish you — and the other people involved in this film — could be honest that this film isn’t really about the Middle Ages.

~ by Servetus on August 14, 2017.

46 Responses to “New Richard Armitage interview in Collider”

  1. Thanks for this explanation with a really great analogy. I needed that to understand what your problem with Pilgrimage really is. I agree with you that the film is thoroughly anachronistic in its handling of the relic (pun intended). And the most anachronistic character in the film to me is Raymond, whose doubts about the relic seemed very uncharacteristic of a medieval man.


    • He’s an interesting case. There definitely was relic doubt in the Middle Ages. There’s a period before relic piety became widespread when mendicant preachers campaigned in support of relics, for instance (although the literature suggests that this was not a particularly hard sell given generally accepted supernatural views). And there are also documented accounts, mostly from a slightly later period a century or so later, of pilgrims to the Holy Land or Santiago who gradually become more suspicious of the relics they see (the issue with pilgrims is often what they have time and peace to notice — in periods where the way to the Holy Land is less safe the accounts are more occupied with matters of safety than of piety). It’s certainly the case that the streets of Jerusalem teemed with relic merchants, and in the wake of the Fourth Crusade, where the relic collections of the Byzantines ended in the hands of westerners (either by theft or by pawn), the Church does legislate about the probity of relics — Lateran IV. (I was working with a student last week on a research paper and we discovered that Sainte Chapelle in Paris was built to house the relic collection of the Byzantine Patriarch, which was purchased by Louis IX from Venetian pawnbrokers — I find this stuff endlessly interesting.)

      The issue though is that it’s hard to talk about relic doubt as a meaningful problem when it’s not a binding doctrine of the Church (even in the Middle Ages). Most people believed because they never had any reason not to do so; many had experiences after venerating relics that reinforced their beliefs. And even those who are skeptical are skeptical in a limited fashion — i.e., their suspicion about a specific relic or relics doesn’t usually become a suspicion tout court about all relics. I remember reading an account from a Nuremberg merchant who went to Santiago (iirc) in the fourteenth century and he became increasingly skeptical, but his general belief in the Church was untouched; he saw the relic trade as a sort of aggravating side show. The notion that a “non working” relic should make one doubt religion in general, the way the film suggests, also reflects a scientific worldview, but not in a very convincing way, either — the fact of quackery does not disrupt at all my willingness to rely on medicine, even if it also only works intermittently. In the end, it best explains my current situation and it’s better than the alternatives.

      To me there was a fundamental plot problem, if Raymond indeed doubts. If the relic is just a rock, or just a symbol, the need for the whole campaign is more or less obviated. He could have created his own reliquary and rock and given it to King John and insisted that any protest that came from the monks was lies. The fact that he doesn’t do this suggests that there should be some relevance to him in the actual rock.

      For me — the contest over the relic would have made a lot more sense had it been explicitly framed as a competition between Raymond and Geraldus, who are actually in conflict over a problem that was certainly acute in the thirteenth century: the extent and nature of family and dynastic loyalty in light of the church/state problematic. For my taste, this story should have been set either earlier during the Investiture Controversy (in which the nature and power of symbols was at stake), or later, during the western schism (which indeed drew individual families into loyalty conflicts over allegiance to pope or monarch, but would have required some awareness of theology, which is hard for a film to do effectively).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Touché. I think you are right in saying that the fundamental problem of the film lies in Raymond’s character – or in the fact that he seems to doubt the relic, yet doesn’t simply replace the relic with any stone to use it as his bargaining tool.


      • Exactly! Numerous times i found myself telling Raymond on screen: well why don’t you just stick any odd rock in the box and give it to the king who’d bee none the wiser if it’s just some rock. Uff all manner of pointless violence could have been avoided but then we’d have no movie. I also believe there would have been at least more often than depicted an attempt to trade before straight out violence. It makes it out as if people were at war bashing heads every day all the time. Although times were violent and territory/wealth was much disputed and defended people did not just beat the crap out if each other. If for no other reason than to dispute and battle took time and crossing distances. The only one i found believable was the father who was telling legends and stories he heard knew of.


        • I meant to say negotiate/trade before direct combat


        • I’ve been wrestling with myself for a while — part of me wants to dig out my grad school notes on violence in the MA and early modern Europe, but most of me doesn’t 🙂 Ever since Braveheart there’s been this idea in film that medieval people just engaged in nihilistic violence at the drop of a hat.


          • I feel even before that people just think medieval times = violence because it’s been the fodder of movies a million times over. It’s so had to break down that ingrained idea and give more context and put the violence in context as well. I guess i’m just disappointed that this film wasn’t any different. But i am not surprised that people accept this version so easily. The latest controversy and aggressive attacks on Mary Beard about ethnicity in Roman Britain and so on just proved how ingrained all prejudices are and that we are just not used to thinking about the world in different context. I find it endlessly fascinating just how different the world was and the way people behaved and what they believed was the make up of their world. A lot of things we take for granted have only been around for much much less than we imagine. I really wish films would be more adventurous in that respect since archaeological finds only seem to indicate with each new find that ancient and medieval worlds were so much more complex than we imagine. It makes me feel that the world in time has only become more prejudiced and judgmental in spite of thinking of itself as being less so.


            • I agree — the Mary Beard discussion is really relevant here (I mentioned that at Perry’s blog). Maybe we don’t know what we think we don’t know because we weren’t looking for it.

              Liked by 1 person

          • In any case, at least it provided an occasion for interesting debate about what we know and all that we don’t know and still don’t really understand about the past and especially medieval and ancient times. And that for me is in a way the only positive about this project. I guess my irritation is mostly or emotionally driven by my disappointment in a project where i’ve really been unable to draw anything positive out of it for me among all recent projects which have been slim on satisfaction. LLL was the last real fulfilling piece of work for me, everything else was more an exercise in will on my side to find something to enjoy about it. He’s so good at expressing humanity and complex emotions and this was just so bloody one dimensional and in additional in not an enjoyable way. I see what the man can do on stage with an interesting character and then i see this and it just makes me sad. With all the lastest ones i’ve felt the endless frustration of Urban ending i nothing when we could all have had such enjoyment from it. And i’ll stop there praying he gets back on stage in something more complex or that his next character will actually develop a personality with more colours and a story with more to chew on.


            • This was how I felt in 2015 — there’s been nothing to really enjoy lately. I think being able to sink into LLL was really good for me insofar as it really reminded me of what he can do for the first time since The Crucible.

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  2. Thanks for the link to the interview. 🙂

    Does it matter if the people in the film make the conscious decision to believe that it is holy (and so to give the power to it) or if they just “know” it is holy because everybody in the monastry says it is holy (and so to give power to it)?

    Btw, I don’t think the film suggests that the relic is just a rock. I think it leaves it to the viewers to decide for themselves.

    The lightning that struck the relic? Common sense tells me that the box should be damaged but it’s as pretty as before.

    The dead sheep? Is the rotting body poisoning the water – or is the sheep dead because it drank from the water?


    • Yes, it matters, because (besides the huge list of heresy prosecutions in the middle ages over divergent belief, and the fact that it became a huge political issue from approximately 1555-1800) the question of what people choose is a fundamental axis of Christian theology beginning with St Augustine in the fifth century. In essence, you can say that every religion involves a “giving of power” but that doesn’t differentiate it from any other social act, and it implies that there is some option for the individual to choose otherwise, which is a misrepresentation of the Middle Ages. Of course, it’s not a matter of either/or — there are some kinds of choice that are more apparent than others (e.g., politics, where people did think in limited terms of choices in the period, although not to the extent that we do now).

      The film suggests over and over again that common sense is somehow ahistorical. That’s simply not the case. If you look at the list of things that people have considered “common sense” over time, you’ll find many things that don’t seem very commonsensical to us any more. What you’re talking about is common sense as defined by a scientific worldview that is largely although not totally hostile to the supernatural. (For instance, many people today think it’s common sense that if you are infertile and adopt a child, a pregnancy will follow — although there is strong statistical evidence against this “common wisdom”). Common sense in the Middle Ages suggested that relics worked — although, since this film also misrepresents what people thought relics did and how they worked, you can’t really see it in the film.

      re: examples you cite — I wrote about their significance to the narrative earlier: ; they are part of the anti-Catholic screed component of the film.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ja, das hatte ich gelesen.

        Ich sehe jedenfalls kein “anti-Catholic” hier, sondern deute manche Szenen so, dass sie zeigen sollen, dass an der Reliquie eben doch wirklich was dran ist.
        Dein Eindruck ist anders.

        Da wir das nicht zweifelsfrei aufklären können, belassen wir es am besten bei “agree to disagree”, einverstanden? 😉


        • You can agree to disagree if you like, but you’ll have to do it by yourself. Given the current atmosphere in the US, that’s not a distinction I can make any longer. I think the case is pretty well sealed up by Muldowney’s remarks anyway. He lost his faith and decided to make a film about the “historical corruption” of the Church. That there are plenty of things to criticize about the Church is question-free. Unfortunately Muldowney misses all of them in this film and descends into a childish and inaccurate critique of the Church whose aim is to make fun of those who believed what it taught in the 12th century, i.e., practically everyone. That’s the textbook definition of anti-Cahtolicism.


        • You should also see what some Catholic viewers of this film are saying in private, if you don’t think it’s anti-Catholic.


  3. Thank you, you found the words to express what I was thinking and why I become increasingly annoyed with this movie. His as well as the writer’s & director’s prep should have included a chat with a history/theology professor on this subject. To me this becomes more and more obvious with every interview I read. On the other hand, it would appear that “the boys” had no interest in those kind of historical facts anyway, nor did a majority their audience I guess.

    It’s interesting to bear in mind, also for my own projects in terms of dos and don’ts. Although I would always prefer to have research on hand and/or speak with people who have done extensive research, so I really understand a mindset, a time etc. before putting it on paper or film. As a writer I would have done so long before pitching the idea, but hey-ho everyone’s got his/her way of working.

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    • I think his first thought was to remake Yojimbo in Ireland — which would have been cool as a project; I’m not sure why it had to be justified with all this distracting super structure. I’d be asking different questions then. Maybe this is a reflection of the growing tendency of the general public to regard history as just one story among other stories and fundamentally like them.

      I also think they both grew up Catholic and decided they knew enough to write a film on this topic.


    • I too felt that there was no attempt whatsoever to really understand how those peopled lived what the world looked like to them and how it explained their behaviours.


  4. I thought the film had a very mystical quality to it that I enjoyed, yet his remarks seem to cancel the value of that aspect out :/


    • That’s a really interesting / perceptive comment (and one that’s very much in the spirit of the middle ages ) — there’s a level of appreciating spirituality that lies in the uncertainty around certain things. If someone comes around afterwards and says “well, they were all mistaken, it was only in their minds,” that does really remove some of the enchantment.

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  5. Thanks for the very clear explanation. Most of us likely don’t have that much understanding of the religious mindset of the time. But then most of us haven’t written a “historical” film about the time. It sounds like they are looking at the experience through a modern lens but presenting the story as if it were historically accurate. I can see how that could be galling.


    • I was thinking, after a number of conversations with you about various things you’ve seen, how often I say, “nope, not even going to look at that film,” and I realized this last week why that is — if I start to look at a historical film, I’m going to be stuck. It’s not like my experiences with books; if I think a book is dumb I just stop reading it and pick up a different one. But if I invest the effort to trap myself in a movie theater for two hours, and there’s a problem, I’m going to have a hard time avoiding feeling really affronted. What I probably need to do is stop reading these interviews, but that conflicts with another one of my priorities.

      Not sure how a historian really resolves the encounter with bad historical film. I do know, though, from things former colleagues have said, that I am not the only one who has this reaction.


      • Yes, I suspect I have an easier time suspending my disbelief and just going along with what’s presented, precisely because I’m not a historian and don’t have the full robust knowledge to compare against. But I can totally hear and understand how frustrating it is for you when they don’t do the research.
        I’m still holding out for seeing Pilgrimage at the cinema. Get Reel Movies has said in a tweet that the Canadian release date is September 5.


      • I guess the other point about how I look at movies is related to “I’m Feeling This” which is the F part of my MB profile. I’m interested in how a movie makes me feel and I’m less likely to analyse (except at work). But I am interested in


      • (Oops) reading analytical points of view, obviously, or I wouldn’t be enjoying your blog! I find looking at the analytical side of things gets different parts of my brain engaged.


        • Hmm. Well, my love language is “close attention,” so analysis for me is reflective of deep feeling.

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          • Yes I see that. I was thinking more that one of the reasons I can suspend my disbelief at a movie (in addition to not being a historian) is that while I’m watching a movie, I am sinking into the feeling the movie generates and am thinking less about the facts. Any analysis for me comes later. Although there have certainly been movies where I’ve thought “This is really dumb.”


            • I don’t even always know that I’m feeling anything until I feel the tick, tick, tick start. (not just films) That used to be more the case than it is now, but the odds that I will have an emotional reaction to anything that doesn’t arrive simultaneously with the thoughts is pretty low.

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      • I felt irritated watching because it felt lacking in respect and judgmental in ways which remind me about current discussion about ‘foreign religions’ it just doesn’t work if one applies one set if rules believed to be the standard to a world which functions by completely different rules/beliefs. It’s certainly not the path to understanding and mutual respect… i just don’t get what they wanted to tell us about the world depicted? Or i rather think it’s a gross misinterpretation not benefiting anyone.


  6. Very interesting post.
    I thought about a discussion which I led a few years ago with my best friend. We are both scientists and catholic but she is a devout and active believer- I struggled all my life with the church and had massive doubts if my children should receive the first Communion, especially because right to this time all the abuses commited by priests came out. She distinguishes clearly between faith and church, which I cannot, and postulated a ´spiritual gene´ you may have or not. Although she strongly accepts and teaches scientific knowledge she needs this spirituality for her life, to feel complete. I do not need this and I will never fully understand this part of her life.
    I think, Mr Armitage also does neither need nor understand this piety. His description of Raymond as an religious extremist (in another interview) sounds false because in this interview he describes him as a sceptic, which seems to be his own attitude, too.
    I agree with you that this ´modernistic´ perception did not represent the people of the 13th century. The mistakes in the story don´t bother me too much but I wished Mr. Hannigan hadn´t exerted so much time on cruel scenes but had given more substance to the characters.


    • It always bothers me when someone tells me that religion and science are either / or propositions as I know so many scientists who are synagogue or church or mosque members. Most people live their lives somewhere in between (assuming one believes these things are necessarily in conflict). I probably agree somewhat more with your friend (insofar as you relate her story) in that I need the mystical space that religion provides. (Although there are reasons I am not a Christian any longer and I can completely understand the challenge that big institutions with their myriad ills can make to one’s participation in them. The sex abuse scandals put a huge dent in the Church’s reputation that will last for generations or longer.)

      re: Armitage, yes, I think you’re correct. He’s said he’s not religious. While I have no challenge to make to his assertion that in his dreams, Raymond de Merville would be fighting in the next Crusade (and the script says this), I don’t think it’s for religious reasons.

      totally agree re: more time on characters would have been good. Although there are reviewers who felt there was not enough violence in the film (???).


  7. What about converts? Don’t they make a choice to believe in Christianity and relics? And Geraldus’s father – did he not choose to question his beliefs? I found your gravity explanation very interesting and it helped me understand the mind set of the time period but not everyone could be included in that? And if Raymond was on the Crusades and witnessed the practice of false relics for money and the carnage and hypocrisy of what occurred in Constantinople – wouldn’t that affect his beliefs? My knowledge of faith is very small as I was not raised in any religion even though my mother was raised Baptist (and went to Church 2 times a week and my father was raised as non practicing (Irish) Catholic). They parents did not speak of religion at all that I remember growing up, other than my mother say she enjoyed going to Church and now that she is older thinks about returning. They never said anything negative about religion and when I would sometimes question her as to why we didn’t go to Church as children they said it was for us to decide when we were adults. But, not having been raised in any sort of religious belief, practice or learning I have found it difficult as an adult to be anything other than a humanist, or unitarian; so what I am saying is, in asking my questions about the converts and dissenters and Constantinople, please excuse my ignorance or if I come across as rude – it is not intended.


    • It’s very hard to compare pre-modern Christian belief or religion in general to belief today, precisely for the reasons that when people think about belief in the Middle Ages (which some people do a lot of — theologians and such), the terms are so different. It’s not a serious question for medieval people whether G-d exists, for instance; so the extensive discussions of proofs for the existence of G-d are mechanistic / philosophical, and they are mind games that plumb the nature of the universe more than anything else. When Thomas Aquinas (who lived shortly after this film) talks about why we believe in G-d, his reasons are abstract (G-d is the unmoved mover; G-d is the first cause at the beginning of all other causes), and his definitions are consensual (“and this thing all men call G-d” is the regular refrain of his discussion of this issue). There is no room in this world for individual conviction of the sort we know today.

      It’s only in the seventeenth century that Christian thinkers decide — after a century of religious strife — that a personal attachment or emotion or individual reaction must be involved as well. We’re in that second space, where we think about what seems correct to us, vs. what seems correct, period, which is the medieval space.

      If you want to think about pre-modern relligion, the best start is to think about the assumptions about your life that you do not question because they never really come up and no one ever asked you about, but if they were questioned, you could get exercised about. This is why I chose the gravity metaphor, which is not perfect, but it has the advantage of explaining why (a) most people don’t ask questions about it — it is just there and (b) there would be a real problem for me if people in my community seriously believed that gravity wasn’t there and started telling people to test it out in dangerous situations. (Something else that might fit the bill is the belief of some Americans that there is an infinite supply of fossil fuels in the Earth.)

      In other words, to understand the world of the film, we need to let go of “belief” or “faith” as the standard of religious belonging or participation (this is why the film’s repeated discussion of “faith” is so jarring).

      Re your questions: There aren’t really converts in Ireland in 1209. (There’s also a sense in which “Christian” is a legal status that I didn’t get into for the purposes of this discussion.) Any Western Europeans who are converting to Christianity in Europe in 1209 are probably Jews, who also believe in G-d absolutely, just not that one. It’s hard for us to grasp, but everyone in Europe is baptized. By the late middle ages some people are so worried about the potential consequences of non-baptism (limbo, or hell) that they start baptizing fetuses during labor, a practice common among midwives. But conversion, or even being a Christian, in the period before the mid-sixteenth century didn’t demand any kind of examination or confession of belief. You just got baptized (usually at the behest of someone else) and then you were a Christian.

      I think one group that we could ask about re: religious choice in the film is the Ua Mordha — the film tells us (paraphrasing) that they prayed to the Christian G-d for help and when they didn’t get it they “prayed to other things.” They’re a bit out of place in the 13th c. as Celtic polytheism as a meaningful religious practice (i.e., not just remnants here or there) had been mostly eradicated by the 8th century in Ireland. I didn’t want to get on top of this because I’m not all that interested in Irish history and it’s impossible to prove a negative — I wouldn’t throw out the possibility that a group like that existed but it seemed stretched to me. Probably the most accurate moment in the sense of the mixture of pagan and Christian elements as a part of the natural/supernatural atmosphere in the film is the scene where the Irish monks don’t want to drink the water from the fairy fort. This is what I mean when I said that Christianity settled on top of and alongside paganism — there is a Christian overlay of belief that still has space for pagan and or superstitious practices, and that situation doesn’t go away until the English attempt (largely unsuccessfully) to force the Reformation on Ireland in the sixteenth century.

      Geraldus’ father is a heretic — not a non-Christian or an atheist. That means simply that he follows a different strand of the Christian tradition (presumably: Albigensianism) that the leadership of the Roman Church deemed worth of condemnation, not that he questioned whether G-d existed or relics worked. Most of the writings of the Cathars were destroyed by the Catholics so it’s hard to know exactly what they thought, but they were anti-clerical in sentiment (i.e., they didn’t accept the primacy of the Roman Church) and they probably had some ideas about G-d that could be called Manichaean. More info on the beliefs of this group:


      • Thanks Servetus, that was really interesting. Lots to delve into.
        On a side note, when I watched the movie and again when you brought up the fairy fort scene, I remembered reading this article about a highway construction and elves in Iceland which was quite fascinating to me –


      • Vos analyses très poussées sur les non vérités et les anachronismes historiques donnent à réfléchir sur la valeur intrinsèque du film.
        * Est-ce un navet ou bien un chef-d’œuvre?
        * A t-il un intérêt pédagogique pour la connaissance de l’Irlande aux XIII°siècle ou est-il un film publicitaire touristique avec un caractère épique exotique?
        * N’est-il qu’ un moyen pour discréditer les croyances catholiques et les extrémistes ou un moyen pour faire de l’argent avec des combats armés, du sang et des horreurs?)

        Aujourd’hui certains catholiques se permettent de choisir les thèmes qui leurs conviennent, dans leur adhésion au dogme du catholicisme. Autrefois et encore plus au Moyen-Age l’adhésion était tout ou rien, pas de catholicisme à la carte (OK pour Jésus Christ mais pas pour Dieu, OK pour les miracles mais pas pour l’Immaculée Conception, OK pour les prêtres intègres mais pas pour la richesse de l’église…) cf les Cathares… les écarts étaient durement sanctionnés. La connaissance de l’histoire des religions est fondamentale pour présenter l’état d’esprit des croyants à un moment donné précis. Il n’y a pas d’à peu près sinon la vérité du propos est discréditée.
        Cela me remet en mémoire ma visite au Vésuve ou le guide se trompait sur le nom des fleurs pionnières qui colonisaient les coulées de lave récentes. Aucune personne ayant des connaissances en botanique ne pouvait laisser dire n’importe quoi. Comme vous je n’ai pas pu tenir ma langue et je l’ai discrédité. Le guide m’en a voulu, mais il s’est méfié de moi et m’a respectée jusqu’au dernier jour du voyage. L’honnêteté intellectuelle gagne toujours.


        • well, I hope you’re right about intellectual honesty.

          [I apologize, this comment went to spam and I’m not sure why.]

          I personally felt like the film was just a way to confirm its director’s / writer’s prejudices, and the middle ages were a tool for that. But even that could have been done much better — in a way it was almost a throwaway. You’re probably right that the action / adventure / violence part was more important.


  8. The movie is not just shown through a modern lens but I think through an anti-religion one as well…


  9. I’ve watched the movie twice now, but also realize, after reading through the post and comments, just how many posts related to Pilgrimage I have missed. This one was so interesting, partly because it forces us to examine some pretty basic assumptions in a way we/I seldom actually do. Thanks for all the historical context you provided! I agreed with Guylty’s comment about the anachronism of Raymond’s character, as that was my immediate reaction as well. I probably will have to watch the movie one more time now (twist my arm, right? :D)

    Two things struck me about this quote from the interview. Even looking through a current cultural lens, I guess I’m surprised that he seems to describe faith only in terms that basically equate it with superstition. It seems much less nuanced than what I typically expect from him.

    I’m also disappointed when people (especially those who are readers, like him) speak of any “holy book” in the same breath with rocks or wine, because faith DOES have content & basis, which is normally found definitively in the inspired writing of that faith. Different people, theologians or sects may interpret it differently, but it’s still typically considered the final source. Even more deeply and, imho, obviously, words have power of a sort, whether they’re seen as precisely “inspired” or not. If you read literature of any kind, you know that. Power of a sort, whether they’re even TRUE or not- if you use social media or watch the news, you know that too. And I realize these ideas aren’t unique to him, but the way they were expressed somehow just doesn’t fit him, to me. But what do I know, in the end? Lol


    • I guess I’ve seen it twelve times now? Not hard to twist my arm, either.

      I’m sure that faith has been explained to him in that way (it’s not that uncommon a view) and maybe he hasn’t bothered to think about it very much. In the 1990s I used to irritate the hell out of my professors when I’d write papers about religious experiences in history and their accepted interpretations and ask the question: “why is the one interpretive POV we can’t take on this subject the one that the historical actor expresses — that there is something religious going on here?”

      re: the book — in Catholicism direct revelation (the Bible) and the magisterium of the Church have equal authority, so the Bible is not the necessary endpoint. In Islam, the hadith of the Prophet, which were orally transmitted, are considered more important for some questions than the Quran. And in traditional Judaism, the Bible isn’t meaningfully separated from the Talmud, i.e., all Torah is also oral Torah. So I think it’s probably a reduction to say that the final authority is usually the book. Nonetheless, there is a difference in many faiths between things that are seen to be ordained divinely (i.e., direct revelation — the Bible) and things that are part of human tradition. Relics are pretty firmly in the camp of human tradition.

      And / but frankly: if he truly wants not to be offensive to a devout Catholic, he should not say that the wafer is only a wafer that humans give power to. To a devout Catholic, the bread becomes the literal physical body of Christ in the Eucharist through the words of institution. For that audience this is not a human tradition. It is divine ordinance. Catholics are fairly used to being either misunderstood on this point or ridiculed for it so I doubt that this made anyone in his audience truly angry. But it was also a completely clueless statement.

      Liked by 1 person

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