On a beautiful Saturday a few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the medieval fortress city of Carcassonne, which is about an hour south of Toulouse by train. Carcassonne is in the Languedoc region of south-western France. It is famous for the role it played in the Cathar Wars.
The Cathars were a religious group that did not have the same beliefs as the Catholic church. They believed in two principles, a good creator god and his evil adversary (much like God and Satan of mainstream Christianity). Cathars called themselves Christians; their neighbours distinguished them as “Good Christians”. The Catholic Church called them Albigenses, or less frequently Cathars. During the 12th-13th Century the religion was becoming more and more popular in the region.
In open debates with leading Catholic theologians, Cathars seem to have come out on top. This was embarrassing for the Roman Church, not least because they had fielded the best professional preachers in Europe against what they saw as a collection of uneducated weavers and other manual workers. Worse still, a number of Catholic priests had become Cathar adherents (Catharism was a religion that seems to have appealed especially to the theologically literate. Whole Cathedral chapters are known to have defected, as they did for example at Orleans). Worst yet, Cathars refused to pay tithes to the Catholic Church. The Catholics accused Cathars of heresy and said they belonged to the “Synagogue of Satan”. The Catholic side created some striking propaganda. When the propaganda proved only partly successful, there was only one option left – a crusade. It became known as the Albigensian Crusade, was declared by the Pope Innocent III, and backed by the Roman Church with promises of remission of sins and a guaranteed place in heaven. The crusade lasted from 1208 – 1244, and during the later part, the French king became its leader, making it a “Royal Crusade”. The counts of the cities of Foix, Montségur, Albi, Toulouse and Carcassonne (to name a few) were all defeated and their lands seized by northern Frenchmen (the Languedoc region did not consider themselves as French, and saw the French as invaders). The region’s language of Occitan was largely wiped out, and the last vestiges of Cathars were eradicated by the first Inquisitions. Today the Cathars are seen as martyrs and Occitan has seen a revival and is even taught in some schools.
So now that you’ve completed today’s little history lesson, enjoys the pics!