Gaye Mack’s Blog

13TH CENTURY CATHAR WOMEN-A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Uncategorized, Writer's Work Leave a comment

While noble women of the Languedoc austerely committed to the 13th century Cathar faith, they were also influential women of education, wealth and power– attributes abhorrent to the misogynistic patriarchal Catholic Church and its Inquisitors. So how did the Cathar attitude concerning women evolve?

In general, the women of the Midi had far greater moral latitude than their sisters to the north. For a century prior to the explosion of Catharism in the region, respect for women had been fully grounded especially through the literature of the troubadours, mainly because according to Cathar scholar Zoé Oldenbourg, “Provençal women had long known how to compel men’s respect.” This was helped by the fact that in the Languedoc, family legacies were split evenly, regardless of gender. Land translated into power.

Although the recognition of equality between the sexes wasn’t limited to the nobility, women such as Esclarmonde de Foix, Blanch of Laurac and Geralda of Lavaur who had committed themselves as parfaits, opened their homes and wealth in order to educate children in the faith(particularly girls) as well as providing comfort and support in mind, body and spirit to those who were less fortunate. History also tells us that Cathar women functioned as physicians, nurses and were highly skilled in various crafts.

Spiritually, Catharism was a faith that appealed to women because not since Gnostic times had women been given a voice in affairs of the soul’s journey. Even simple believers (credentes) were made to feel included in the larger picture of spiritual matters enjoyed by their more elevated sisters. In other words, ALL women sympathetic to the Cathar faith were regarded as having equal status in matters of faith. They were not an afterthought of the Divine as implied by the attitude of the Roman Church.

One can only imagine the outrage when Brother Stephen of Minia directed Esclarmonde (who, by the way was sister to the Count of Foix), “go tend your distaff, madam; it is no business of yours to discuss matters such as these.” Insulting, yes. Women of the Languedoc and certainly Cathar women, especially those who were better educated than their husbands and possessed lands, were not accustomed to being so dismissed.

We do not know for certain how many of these powerful women met their end in the secular world. Many legends abound regarding Esclarmonde including the fact that she lived to be seventy-eight with a cult-ish following. While we know little more of Blanche of Laurac, the Grand Dame of Catharism, we do know what happened to her daughter, Geralda of Lavaur.

In 1211, a zealous, ruthless and uneducated Simon de Montfort took his crusade to the town of Lavaur where he had Geralda, Lavaur’s Chatelaine, thrown down a well and stoned to death. This was followed by the marching of Lavaur’s four-hundred parfaits to the river where they were burned…thereby creating the largest bonfire of humanity in the Middle Ages…surpassing that of the massacre at Montsegur in 1244 thirty-three years later. After besieging Toulouse for nine months, Simon de Montfort was killed on 25 June 1218. His head was smashed by a stone from a mangonel, operated, it is said, by the women and girls of Toulouse. A fitting example of karma if there ever was one.

 

 

simon de montfort II

 

ART FROM THE CEILING OF TOULOUSE TOWN HALL-DEATH OF THE LION-SIMON DE MONTFORT AS THE CITY REJOICES

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.

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THE CATHAR TREASURE: CRUSADING FOR GOD, SEARCHING FOR ILLUMINATION OR MINING FOR GOLD?

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Writer's Work Leave a comment

Even though it’s been nearly 800 years since the massive fire at Montsegur when over 200 Cathars were exterminated at the hands of the Catholic Church,  legends surrounding the Cathar Treasure remain.  Through the years treasure seekers and speculators have included the holy crusaders who put siege to Montsegur’s fortress for nine months prior to the fire, the 1930’s amateur archaeologist, Otto Rahn (speculated to have provided the inspiration for Spielberg’s Indiana Jones), literary illuminati, esoteric explorers and even historical fiction writers.  Many have searched; all have wondered. 

In my previous post wherein I introduced the subject of this medieval religious sect, I noted their propensity for eschewing trappings of the mundane world.  This rejection was based on their belief that the physical world and their incarnation in it was not a creation of God but rather a creation of Satan. In adopting this belief, the dedicated Cathars, known as Parfaits, not only rejected the idea of procreation, but they also did not partake in the consumption of any food which was a result of procreation.  As material acquisitions for their own needs were kept to a bare minimum, it begs the question, ‘how did the legend of a Cathar Treasure arise’?  

Among the various authoritative resources on the Cathars, author Zoe Oldenburg, tells us that by the end of the twelfth century, the Cathar movement of the Languedoc had amassed a considerable fortune.  To begin with, the majority of Parfaits were men of substance who turned over their property to the church.  In addition, there were also credentes, ‘rank and file’ members, who left legacies of their entire fortunes to the church. And, while living, many credentes made generous donations of cash, land, houses and even chateaux.  While the Parfaits never broke their vow of poverty according to Oldenburg, they accepted all donations which were then put to the best use in the interests of the church.

 As a Community, the Cathars were known for providing support to the poor and those in need in the cities and surrounding countryside.  They maintained communes which incorporated schools, monasteries and hospitals.  Furthermore they founded working craft guilds, particularly in the art of weaving which not only provided product but also functioned as an educational training ground for the young and ‘novitiates.’ 

While such amassing of property and goods certainly would be considered a ‘treasure,’ and references to ‘The Cathar Treasure’ often imply that it was something of far more importance and legend such as the Holy Grail… which of course has never been found.  Speculative circumstances surrounding the Treasure’s disappearance often tell of it having been hidden some two months prior to the fiery execution. Possessing the secret of the Treasure’s hiding place, three Parfaits and another man, possibly a mountain guide, escaped the flames on the night of March 16 by repelling down the side of Montsegur’s pog.   The men then hid in caves protecting the secret and were never discovered.

 Oldenburg surmises that the Cathar cache consisted of goods for trading as well as gold and silver coins; this certainly makes sense given the atmosphere of persecution and brutality of the times.  However, perhaps even more precious to the Cathars was that for them, the Treasure consisted of their most sacred books and writings which were critical in helping maintain allegiance to their dogma and tradition.  This possibility makes even more sense as literature in the early middle ages onward, was considered as precious as gold in many cases.  Whatever the truth is, to this day the location and substance of the Cathars’ Treasure remains a mystery.  However, legends and myths die hard and certainly this one has much life left in it.

Montsegur-3,400 ft up from parking lot

THE CURRENT REMAINS OF MONTSEGUR

IMG_1453

RENDERING OF MONTSEGUR IN 1244 AT TIME OF THE FIRE

PHOTOGRAPHY©GAYE F. MACK, INC.

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THE MEDIEVAL CATHARS-ROME’S RATIONALE FOR ITS BRUTAL INQUISITION

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Worth the Read, Writer's Work 4 Comments

The scene is the medieval castle at Montségur in the Languedoc region of southern France.  Here in the spring of 1244, one of the most diabolical massacres was carried out against the Gnostic religious sect known as the Cathars.  History reports that on March 16th after suffering a nine month siege by the Seneschal of Carcassone and the Archbishop of Narbonne, some 200  Cathar men and women were marched out of the castle stronghold  to the field below where they were systematically burned to death as heretics.  Such a scene is nearly unfathomable and begs the question for those unfamiliar with this event, what precipitated such unspeakable brutality by Rome on this peace-loving community?

The Cathar history is a complex one that begins in the late 1100′s with esoteric threads that have spilled into the 21st century.  This is a story that recounts relentless persecution by the Catholic Church, but also it’s  one that is deep, complex and fascinating  with many facets worthy of exploration, including legends surrounding the Holy Grail and an illusive‘Cathar Treasure.’   While the movement is believed to have originated in the Balkans, it spread to other parts of Europe, appearing  in the Languedoc region at  the beginning of the twelfth century…and there it multiplied like wildfire.  

The Cathar philosophy was fairly simple, but clearly heretical.  It was a religion of duality that believed God did not create the mundane world, Christ was never embodied, therefore did not suffer on the cross and certainly baptism with water would not bring salvation.  Furthermore, Catharism believed in reincarnation and honored women equally!  Their only sacrament was the Consolamentuma ritual of baptism by the holy spirit.  There was very little hierarchy in  Cathar clergy  of men and women who were  known as Perfects or Perfecti.  Once a Prefect was ordained with the Consolamentum, he or she then abstained from meat and sexual intercourse.  They did not have a high regard for the temporal world believing it to be a creation of evil but nevertheless, they were known for their skills in the arts of medicine, botany and astrology.  At the end of the day the underlying foundation of their doctrine was one of simplicity and peace and in this spirit, lay Cathars were required to receive the Consolamentum in order to reach salvationoften as they hovered on the brink of death, .

Considering these basic facts, it’s apparent why the Cathars were such a thorn in the side of Rome with their blatant disregard for Rome’s dictatorial belief that its priests were the only means to commune with God, the Church’s trappings, money and control.  Going back as far as 1208, once Rome realized  the Cathars were gaining sympathy amongst the powerful  Languedoc lords, the initial crusade against them was launched and led by Simon de Montfortit was a crusade carried out with overwhelming violence and lack of mercy.  Following de Montfort’s death in 1218,  Pope Honorious III then embarked on a second crusade led by King Louis VIII.  The rest is history, as it’s said.  With the final assault on Montségur in 1244, the Cathar heresy was snuffed out and Rome’s Inquisition launched to bring the surviving believers to heel.

While I’ve read about the Cathars for years, early this fall I’ll be traveling to Cathar country in the Languedoc to take in more of the history as a backdrop for my next historical fiction book, Flight of Doves.  In the meantime, I plan  from time to time, to blog more on this intriguing aspect of esoteric history!

Suggested Readings

There is a great deal of information and books written about the Cathars, ironically much owing to the meticulous records kept by the Inquisition!  However, here are a few of my favorites:

The Great Heresy-Arthur Guirdham, MD

We Are All One-Arthur Guirdham, MD

The Cathar View-The Mysterious Legacy of Montsegur-David Patrick, Ed.

Massacre at Montsegur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade-Zoe Oldenburg

 

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