ABOUT TAKING THE CROSS
In the Middle Ages not all crusades were fought in the Holy Land. A two-pronged threat to the Catholic Church was growing within Christendom itself and Pope Innocent III called for the crusade against heresy to eliminate both the Albigenses and Valdenses, two movements that did not adhere to Church orthodoxy.
Andreas, a knight who longs to go on crusade to the Holy Land, finds himself fighting against one in his French homeland. While Andreas wages war for the lives and religious freedom of his people, a battle rages within his soul.
Eva, a young woman of a new religious order, discovers a secret message within a letter about the death of the father in the Holy Land. As she learns more of her father, she is forced to confront a profound and perilous spiritual inheritance for which she must fight.
Filled with battles of the flesh and the spirit, Taking the Cross reveals a passionate aspect of Medieval times where some fought ardently for the freedom of others.
EVA THE BEGUINE
One of the challenges I faced in writing Taking the Cross was my wish to have an independent female character. During the Middle Ages, women outside of the nobility had, for the most part, little freedom and little power. I knew when I started writing Taking the Cross that I wanted two main characters. Andreas would be a knight of some prominence. Eva would be a young woman of Provence.
I wanted Eva not to be tethered in any way. Women in the Middle Ages, and most women throughout history, were generally tied down in some fashion, whether to parents, to a husband, or to a religious order. My desire was that she would be a woman who was free to make choices about her life. If Eva was going to bind herself to a man, it would be out of her own choosing and not out of parental arrangement or economic necessity. But her ability to make decisions concerning the course of her life had to be rooted in historical reality, otherwise the novel moves away from historical fiction and into fantasy.
That is why I was surprised and delighted during the course of my early historical research to come across the Beguines. The Beguines were a movement that began in Flanders—what is now Belgium. The first communities of Beguines were established around 1180, about thirty years before Taking the Cross, which is set during the summer of 1209. The Beguines were the wives and daughters of the men who had been killed on Crusade.
The First Crusade was called for by Pope Urban II in 1095. By 1209 there had been four Crusades and tens of thousands of fathers and husbands slain in the Holy Land and the lands in between Jerusalem and Europe. A movement rose up in the late twelfth century among the widows and orphans of those men to form communities for mutual provision and protection.
Initially the Beguines received the permission and blessing of the Catholic Church. By the early thirteenth century, the movement had expanded outside of Flanders into other parts of Europe, including France. The Beguines did not have to take a lifelong vow, only a vow of celibacy, which they could break to enter the marriage bed. When we first meet Eva in the second chapter of Taking the Cross, she is a Beguine living in a community outside of Orange, France. Her father had been killed during the Third Crusade nearly twenty years before.
The Beguines had extraordinary freedom for women living during the Middle Ages. In his excellent book on the Beguines, called Cities of Ladies, Walter Simons writes that Beguines could earn their own income, could often read and write, and could even purchase land. In Taking the Cross, Eva has her own profession (she is a woodcarver). She is literate in three languages. She also owns her own lands just outside of the community of Beguines where she has a pear orchard. In short, she is highly educated and able to support herself. She is also able to postpone marriage, and has turned down many suitors as a result.
The result is a situation unprecedented for a woman in Medieval times, one that gives Eva’s character a broad range of possibilities. We know that even if she does end up pledging herself to Andreas, the other main character, she will do so by her own choosing.
Charles first started reading about history and geography when he was seven. He wrote his first short story at the age of nine. He continues to read and write whenever he can. It is not uncommon to find him pulling off the road into a park or parking lot to record some sublime thought (or try to write down his to-do list) before it slips into oblivion.
Charles has spent many years researching the Middle Ages and the Crusades, and has traveled to the Languedoc region in France.
He has combined the passions of history and geography and prose to finish his first novel, Taking the Cross. It takes place during the summer of 1209 in France.
Charles Gibson has previously written for the inspirational book series God Allows U-Turns as well as for a Twin Cities newspaper. In his spare time (i.e. his day job), he works as a technical writer for a medical device company. He also loves travel writing, and would like to start his own magazine some day about travel as a journey through life.
The dominant theme of his writing is freedom: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
He lives in Minnesota with his lovely wife and energetic sons. For more information about Charles Gibson, go to his website at CHARLES GIBSON, AUTHOR OF TAKING THE CROSS.
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