We thought we were done with the hackneyed clichés of this poor Middle Ages, constantly reduced to religious fanaticism, violence, plague, mud, filth, and obscurantism in general. The new summer series of France 2, Inquisitio, manages to bring together not only all the worst received ideas about the Middle Ages, but also to give a vision of medieval Catholicism that is just as caricature, even dubious, provoking reactions on the net, including very funny and full of self-deprecation ... fiction, because it is, can it allow everything? And is she "innocent"?
Inquisitio, medieval-esoteric thriller?
Here is the summary of the series according to allocine: "1370 [1378, in fact…]. It is the period of the inquisition in France, but also of the Great Western Schism with at the head of the Catholic Church, two Popes: one in Avignon and the other in Rome, struggling to impose their legitimacy. Another rivalry takes place between two men when the plague arises and decimates the populations. One, Barnal, is the Grand Inquisitor in the service of the Pope of Avignon, convinced that this plague is a divine punishment. The other, Nicolas, is an idealistic doctor who believes that this disease can be fought and is nothing mystical. But this confrontation will bring back buried memories that will upset their relationship ".
The character of the Inquisitor is the most interesting, in particular on the origins of his vocation, partly summarized in a prologue which foreshadowed a sympathetic continuation: incestuous temptation, fratricide, rejection by the father, plague, self-mutilation, ... far from Game Of Thrones, Unfortunately…
The series is therefore roughly divided into several camps, sometimes undermined by internal rivalries: the Church (Inquisition, pope, antipope, bishop,…), the Jews, the witch, the rector, the people. All as caricature and simplistic as each other.
As for the context, it is intended to be that of the beginnings of the Great Schism, with the Urban VI / Clement VII conflict, but it is much more vague than that, and mixes up a number of anachronisms, whether about the Inquisition, the witches and many other things. But unlike the Borgia series, the goal here is not to look for historical errors (the series does not claim to be "historical", it is a thriller), but the received ideas on the image of the Middle Ages in as a whole, and on medieval Catholicism in particular.
Poor Middle Ages ...
The France 2 series is therefore a fiction. But, for all that, are we obliged when we make a fiction to bring out all the possible clichés, already worn out, about the Middle Ages? The creator, Nicolas Cuche, says his vision of the medieval period is more "Science fiction and video games" than historical reality. Certainly. But, at the same time, he says: "The Middle Ages is the distorting mirror of a current reality which refers to community withdrawal and religious obscurantism"... By taking the framework of the Middle Ages, even by fitting into the fictional framework, the director thus wants to speak of religious obscurantism and of the community withdrawal of today. Fiction is therefore not "innocent" ...
We are then entitled to everything. First, the medieval atmosphere: it's cold, it rains, the plague ravages everything, the rats are omnipresent, the peasants are really very dirty and rather cowardly, ... you almost smell the mud and the stench which are, apparently, an indelible mark of this era. Another cliché from the Middle Ages is present: the witch. She is red, she has a wolf, and lives in a cave deep in the woods, surrounded by bones and vials filled with suspicious things ... Finally, the Middle Ages are of course the time of political chaos: Great Schism (even if its presentation is more than vague), hardly identifiable temporal power (the rector of Carpentras has tendencies a bit authoritarian, obviously), war which threatens, ...
And then, the Middle Ages were above all a Church and an inquisition, centuries-old symbols of religious obscurantism.
Sadistic inquisitor, erotomaniac pope, drug addict and libidinous bishop ...
The blogosphere quickly reacted to the series' vision of medieval Catholicism. Hostile reactions from some Catholics, but also often humorous (see links below), which is rather reassuring. The newspaper The cross is rather benevolent, despite some criticism, and does not see a "Anticlerical rant". The director himself claims not to want to attack the Church. However, the blunt presentation of the 14th-century Church is sobering.
First the Inquisitor. Admittedly, he has a rather traumatic past. He also has a certain rational culture, as you can see when he dismantles the Catherine of Siena show. But like any self-respecting Inquisitor, in his hunt for the heretic (motivated by a painful and oedipal past) he is fanatic, sadistic, ready to do anything to achieve his ends, including torture (which would be the Inquisition without the torture ?). Catherine of Siena, in fact, has nothing to envy her in fanaticism, since she is ready to spread the plague to achieve her ends, that is to say, to restore the rights of Urban VI against Clement VII. Besides, his stigmas are quirky! The Pope of Avignon would pass Alexandre Borgia off for a Jesuit, since he is seen almost permanently in his harem, surrounded by undressed young girls. And like a good cynical politician, he is ready to sacrifice a few Jews to calm the people. The bishop of Carpentras, for his part, is addicted to drugs and obsessed with the intimacy of the young witch who serves as his dealer ... This painting of the 14th century Church is constantly put in opposition to the Jewish community of Carpentras, rather united, and represented by two progressive doctors (father and son) who help their neighbor (a pregnant woman), even Christian, and despite the risks, while investigating the spread of the plague by dissecting rats.
Inquisitio, a sham?
So of course, we could say that the show is just harmless fiction, and go our way. Some will just put up with these clichés and, despite the fairly predictable storyline, mediocre direction and patchy performance, may be hooked on the plot and want to go through with it.
Yet, especially when one is a fan of the Middle Ages, it becomes boring to always see one's beloved period reduced to religious obscurantism and violence. We would like, especially on public service, something else to be offered, including in the area of fiction. Already, the distressing series The Commandery we had despaired, but here we are hitting rock bottom.
Finally, while here we have criticized certain abuses of programs glorifying Catholicism, we can just as much worry about an opposite vision and just as caricatured as the one presented in Inquisitio. And imagine the possible recoveries ...
We prefer in the evocation of Christian obscurantism and references to today another work of fiction, much more successful (despite some flaws): Agora.
The France 2 site on Inquisitio.
The Inquisition for Dummies.