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 Consolamentum, a 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 salvation, often 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 Montfort; it 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!
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
A personal note: Coming Soon! My completely redesigned, reconstituted website~all visits welcomed-stay tuned for launch date.
You can follow me on: