by Jim Marrs
Through the centuries of its power, the church—then an irresistible attraction to corrupt officials, scalawags, and conmen as well as the pious—often instigated bloody massacres against its enemies, which eventually came to mean anyone who failed to acquiesce to its authority. For example, between the years 1208 and 1244 tens of thousands of people were killed by a papal army sent by the Vatican to the province of Langue-doc in southwestern France, the long-standing home of the Knights Templar—as well as home to some very unorthodox ideas.
The object of this papal attack was a people known as the Cathars, forefathers of the Italian and Scottish Carbonari, who so influenced the Illuminati. They were followers of the earlier Gnostics, who were more committed to matters of the spirit than material wealth.
The Cathars, whose name meant Pure Ones as they believed their religious views were more "pure" than those of the Catholic church, were ideally situated for acquiring unorthodox beliefs. The Languedoc, formerly known as Occitania, encompassed the Mediterranean coast west of Marseilles, the Black and Corbieres Mountains and the Pyrenees, which separated the area from Spain. An independent state, the region was more closely tied to the Spanish frontier and the vestiges of the old Septimanian kingdom than to the newly forming French nation. Languedoc was a crossroads where travelers passed to and from the Middle East via Muslim Iberia and the sea.
With the breakup of the Carolingian empire created by Charlemagne following his hard-won conquest of the area in A.D. 801, this corner of the old Roman Empire fell under the control of various kings of the Franda or Franks, the name of which soon would be applied to the entire nation—France.
Languedoc was home to a number of ancient towns, many of which traced their origin to the Greeks and early Romans. It had its own traditions, culture, and its own language. The language of Occitania or Langue d'Oc gave the area both its identification and its name.
Perhaps due to this convergence of ideas and traditions, the Languedoc was more cultured and prosperous than its neighbors. "Prejudice against Jews was common, but. . . persecution was not," noted Michael Costen, Senior Lecturer in Adult Education at the University of Bristol and author.
The Cathars also got along reasonably well with the Cistercian monks, the predominant church representatives in the region.
After a visit to Rennes-le-Chateau in the Languedoc, authors Picknett and Prince said they "found evidence for a complex series of connections that led back to a Gnostic tradition in the area, a place that has been notorious for its 'heretics,' be they Cathars, Templars or so-called 'witches.'"
According to Costen, Catharism was "the most serious and widespread of all the heretical movements which challenged the Catholic Church in the 12th century." Until very recently, little was known of the Cathars other than that they were considered heretics. This was because the only available information on them came from their implacable enemy, the Roman church, which saw that any material supporting the Cathars was destroyed.
The Cathars were known widely as bons hommes or good men who led simple, religion-centered lives. They preferred to meet in nature rather than in elaborate churches. Cathar priests, known as perfecti or the perfect ones, dressed in long dark robes and were very ascetic, having pledged to forgo worldly possessions.
Costen said it would be wrong to simply accept the official view that the Cathars were dangerous heretics.
Dr. Guirdham explained that Catharism was a form of dualism, a belief which "has existed from time immemorial" and connected to the ancient sects of Mithras and the Manichaeans. The Cathars also viewed Jesus as the spiritual Son of God.
In their dualist theology, the Cathars believed that good and evil are opposites of the same cosmic energy force and that a good god created and rules the heavens while an evil god created man and the material world.
Other researchers thought the Cathars' only problem was a lack of proper obedience to the church. Picknett and Prince wrote, "The overriding reason why the Cathars fell afoul of the Church was that they refused to acknowledge the Pope's authority."
Author Gardner agreed, writing,
However, Gardner also saw a connection between the Cathars and the Knights Templar potentially dangerous to the church.
Something about the peaceful, if unorthodox, Cathars was certainly upsetting to the Vatican. Interestingly enough, in 1145, Pope Eugenius III sent none other than that Templar patron Saint Bernard to preach against Catharism in Languedoc. According to Gardner, Bernard instead reported, "No sermons are more Christian than theirs, and their morals are pure." Did this mean Saint Bernard was oblivious to their theology? Or did his defensive words add substance to the allegation that he and the Templars secretly held Cathar beliefs?
The answer is immaterial since, justified or not, the Vatican began laying plans to eradicate the Cathars. And it is quite clear that some of the Cathar beliefs were directly opposite those of the church.
The beginning of the Cathar heresy is hard to pin down. Some of the Languedoc clergy traced their predecessors back to the earliest days of Christianity, which may have resulted in their belief of a more pure interpretation of church origins. Others believed the Knights Templar had passed along knowledge they gained while excavating in Jerusalem. Then there is the fact that even today in that area of France one may still find traces of a remarkable belief—that Mary Magdalene, viewed as either the wife or consort of Jesus, migrated to the area following the crucifixion. It was said that the Cathars had knowledge of a tradition that spoke of Jesus as both a husband and father.
The concept of Mary Magdalene and Jesus as a couple is one supported by the Gnostic writings discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. In the Gospel of Philip, named for the apostle Philip and believed written in the second half of the third century, it is written,
Jesus answered them with a lengthy discourse on how "Great is the mystery of marriage!" and how it was "a great power" necessary to the existence of the world.
There is an important connection between the gospels only discovered in 1945 and a tract published in the 1330s reportedly by the German mystic Meister Eckehart under the name Schivester Katrei or Sister Catherine. According to authors Picknett and Prince,
Picknett and Prince see this tract as evidence that documents identical to the recently discovered texts were known to the Cathars, most probably through the discoveries of the Knights Templar.
Another real possibility is that the Cathars already had an oral tradition of an intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary but lacked any substantiation of their theology until the Templars returned to Languedoc from Jerusalem with their newly found scrolls. The Templar discoveries may have only reinforced and intensified an existing belief.
Another factor may be a connection made by authors Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, between the Jesus bloodline and the Merovingian kings of southern France.
Author Laurence Gardner, as an internationally recognized expert on sovereign and chivalric genealogy, was permitted to study the private records of thirty-three European royal families. He confirmed that the Merovingians were related to Jesus, but through his brother James, who Gardner claimed was the same person as Joseph of Arimathea.
Gardner also made a persuasive argument for Mary Magdalene as the spouse of Jesus in his 1996 book Bloodline of the Holy Grail.
The early church was fearful not only of Jesus' descendants but of women in general. Women were prohibited from teaching or becoming priests—a prohibition only now being relaxed. Clergymen were required to be celibate and never marry, despite the clear admonition by Paul in I Timothy 3:2 that a bishop or church leader should have a wife.
According to Gardner and other recent authors, women were denigrated by the early church in order to preserve the power and authority of its insider "old boy" network of cardinals and bishops. Today many diverse Bible scholars are taking a second look at the role of women as defined by the early church. "Most Christian movements we know to have been characterized by the prominence of women were ultimately judged heretical," observed University of Pennsylvania scholar Ross S. Kraemer.
To discourage any attention toward Mary Magdalene, Gardner said church fathers made much of New Testament scriptures which described Mary as a "sinner," the original word being a mistranslation of the word almah, actually meaning a virgin undergoing a ritual prior to marriage. "The duplicitous bishops decided, however, that a sinful woman must be a whore," commented Gardner, "and Mary was thereafter branded as a harlot!" Other scholars, such as Jane Schaberg of the University of Detroit-Mercy, concluded that the persona of Mary Magdalene may even be a composite of other biblical women and that such conflation was deliberate.
According to the traditions of southern France as well as William Cax-ton's 1483 work Legenda Aurea or Golden Legend, one of the first publications of England's Westminster, Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus and sister Martha, with her maid Marcella and the children of Jesus, journeyed by ship to Marseilles, France, after the crucifixion. The party then moved farther westward where "they converted the inhabitants to the faith."
Gardner wrote that Mary was "nine years younger than Jesus.... Mary was aged 30 at her [symbolic] Second Marriage, during which year—33 A.D.—she bore her daughter Tamar. Four years later she gave birth to Jesus the younger, and in 44 A.D., when she was 41 years old, her second son, Joseph, was born. By that time Mary was in Marseilles— Massilia—where the official language was Greek until the 5th century." By these same reports, Mary died at what is now Saint Baume in southern France in A.D. 63 at age sixty.
Returning from the Seventh Crusade with King Louis IX, one Jean de Joinville in 1254 wrote they "came to the city of Aix in Provence to honor the Blessed Magdalene. . . . We went to the place called Baume, on a very steep and craggy rock, in which it was said that the Holy Magdalene long resided at ë hermitage."
There is a tantalizing hint that perhaps in that same region was evidence more tangible than stories about the Magdalene. According to Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln, the very same Joinville wrote that his friend Louis IX once told him of a time when Cathar leaders had approached the commander of the papal army and cryptically asked if he would "come and look at the body of Our Lord, which had become flesh and blood in the hands of their priests."
In addition to the traditions regarding Mary and reincarnation, the Cathars also were greatly persuaded by the beliefs of an itinerant preacher named Peter Valdes of Lyon. His followers, or Waldensians as they were known, read from scriptures translated into their own vernacular Occitan and believed that a personal calling to preach was more important than church training. They also disdained bloodshed, even that instigated by the church or state. When the Waldensians refused to stop preaching openly, they were excommunicated and expelled from Lyon by local church officials.
Many people believed the Cathars originated with a Bulgarian priest named Bogomil, whose Bogomilism sect was widely spread through the Byzantine Empire. Bogomils rejected many aspects of the orthodox church, such as mass, the Eucharist, Old Testament miracles and prophesy, baptism, marriage, and the priesthood.
However, authors Picknett and Prince argued that all of the Cathar beliefs could not have come from the Bogomils. They quoted the research of Yuri Stoyanov, who wrote,
Whatever the truth of their origins, these Cathar beliefs had evolved over a long period of time, as did the decision to move against them. Despite whatever agreements might have been made, papal authorities must have finally decided that something had to be done about whatever relics, treasure, or writings might be concealed in the Languedoc.
THE ALBIGENSIAN CRUSADE
Proclaimed heretics by King Philip II of France at the insistence of Pope Innocent III, beginning in 1209, the Cathars were hunted down and exterminated during what became known as the Albigensian Crusade. The Cathars were sometimes called Albigenses for their large presence in the central Languedoc city of Albi. This was an operation in which the much vaunted Knights Templar were conspicuously absent.
It was a long, bitter, and bloody affair, which ended in 1229 but was not fully concluded until after the fall of the fortress of Monsegur in 1244. Even then, the church did not entirely extinguish the Cathar heresy. In Languedoc today there remains some instinctive wariness and distrust of both church and state, according to several authors.
For some time after becoming pope, Innocent III had tried to bring ecclesiastical pressure to bear on the Cathars with notable lack of success. A man whose fondest dream was spearheading a great Crusade to capture the Holy Land, this pope had to settle for a Crusade in Languedoc, where the nobles as well as the general population saw little to be concerned about in the simple and gentle Cathars.
In an effort to subdue the power of the Crusader knights, the church had long instituted a policy known as the "Peace of God." Based on an alliance between the church and the military powers, this "Peace" was intended to place church authorities in firm control of any military activities.
Proving unsuccessful in the use of anti-Cathar preaching and Templar suppression, Pope- Innocent III by 1204 decided it was time to act. I le began writing to King Philippe Auguste of France urging a move against the southern heretics. He also reinstated Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, who had been excommunicated by a predecessor, after Raymond rather reluctantly agreed to support his Crusade. Despite Raymond's agreement, little action was taken.
Raymond was again excommunicated for failing to act against the Cathars, and when a representative of the pope met with him over Christmas 1207 in an attempt to revive the issue, he was murdered by one of Raymond's men. Thoroughly fed up with the situation, Pope Innocent III set his Crusade into motion.
Although seen today as a war by Christians against Christians, at the time, many people, particularly outside the Languedoc, supported the war as one against a deadly enemy in their own midst. To Pope Innocent, the Crusade was necessary not only to subdue heresy but to demonstrate the power of the church over recalcitrant secular leaders like Raymond.
Innocent promised the status of a Crusade to anyone joining his army. This meant both absolution of any sins committed in the process as well as a share in any loot. "Many saw an opportunity for plunder and profit and were not to be entirely disappointed," said Costen. "On the whole, though, the Crusaders were primarily motivated by religious zeal."
Soon the pope's army, "the biggest ever to assemble in the Christian world," gathered at Lyon under the leadership of Arnald-Amalric along with a number of noblemen and bishops.
As this massive force—about thirty thousand strong—moved down the Rhone valley, Raymond had second thoughts and decided to join. After pledging to join the Crusade, Raymond was reconciled with the church and promised immunity from attack.
The first major attack came at the city of Beziers. Here, despite their bishop's call to surrender, the townspeople decided to resist. According to Costen, the army's loot-hungry camp followers stormed the city's gates and were soon joined by the soldiers acting without orders. "Both church and town were looted and the inhabitants massacred, with clerics, women and children being killed inside the churches," he wrote. "When the leaders of the army confiscated booty from the camp followers the town was fired and burnt down." According to the official report, twenty thousand inhabitants were slain.
It was at Beziers that Arnald-Amalric, when asked how his troops should distinguish between Catholic and heretic, replied, "Kill them all, God will know his own."
In view of the massacre at Beziers, town after town throughout the Languedoc fell to the papal army without a fight. Internal strife was rampant as inhabitants outdid each other in handing over known and suspected heretics. At the town of Castres, Cathars handed over to the army were burnt at the stake, a practice which was to continue throughout the Crusade.
By 1229 the campaign was effectively ended by a Treaty of Paris. Though the treaty ended the independence of southern French royalty, it did not stop the heresy. Cathar perfecti retreated to the mountainous redoubt at Montsegur, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Beginning in the spring of 1243, the papal army besieged the fortress for more than ten months. According to Picknett and Prince, here,
The Cathars certainly must have possessed something to commend their beliefs to these veteran soldiers.
Finally, in March 1244, the siege of Montsegur was ended by the Cathars' surrender. Picknett and Prince noted several "mysteries" connected with the fall of Montsegur. One was "for reasons that have never been explained [the Cathars] were given permission to remain in the citadel for another 15 days—after which time they gave themselves up to be burned. Some accounts go further and describe them as having actually run down the mountainside and jumped into the waiting bonfires in the field below." Costen supported this story somewhat, noting, "There is no suggestion that the Cathars of Montsegur resisted the massacre."
The Cathars, many of whom were wealthy, did indeed have a considerable cache of gold and silver. But, according to Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln, this pecuniary treasure was smuggled out of Montsegur and lost to history three months before the massacre of the fortress's Cathars.
No one knows for certain what secret knowledge or "treasure" the Cathars might have fell to be sent from Montsegur at the last minute, but it is generally believed that it was writings concerning the perpetuation of the Jesus bloodline after Mary's arrival in southern France, a subject closely connected with the Knights Templar.
Blanchefort, who headed the Templars from 1153 to 1170, was,
There is evidence that many other Templars were themselves Cathars, and it has been established that the Templars hid many Cathars within their order and buried them in sacred ground. Along with their failure to participate in the Albigensian Crusade, Picknett and Prince found the fact that the close connections between the Templars and the Cathars were not brought up in subsequent charges against the order, evidence that such connections were an embarrassment to a church hierarchy wanting nothing more than to forget both the Cathars and their beliefs.
Following the Albigensian Crusade, those Cathars that survived either fled to neighboring countries—Italy was a favorite for ironically this home nation of the pope was not strenuous in hunting the heretics—or went into hiding with the aid of sympathetic neighbors.
As the result of the Crusade, "The Church retained its monopoly of religious activity, its control of belief and strengthened its control over the private lives of individuals. The new French State gained the Church as an ally in strengthening control over towns and nobility," wrote Costen, noting that as recently as the 1920s, much like suppression of Native American languages during the past century, children in the region were punished for speaking the old Occitan language on public school playgrounds.
The extermination of the peaceful Cathars was also a foretaste of what church leaders had in mind for their rivals in power, the Knights Templar.