by Judith Mann


from Wendag Website



"At the end of seven hundred years, the laurel will be green once more."

Anon. Troubadour, 13th Century


Text and Photographs by Judith Mann





Cathar Stele at Montségur

HIGH ON A SACRED MOUNTAIN in Southern France, the whitened ruins of Montségur are a reminder of the last actively visible gnostic school in the West, the Cathari.

Below Montségur lies a peaceful meadow, its name, "Field of the Burned", the only indication of a grim event that took place there a little over 700 years ago. In March, 1244, 205 Cathars were burned alive on the site, rather than renounce their creed.


Who were these heirs to Montségur?


Their name Cathari, means "pure" in Greek. Branded heretics by the Church, little remains to speak of them today, other than Inquisition records. Their writings were destroyed along with their earthly bodies.


Yet, in their time their influence was enormous, networking with centers in Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Switzerland and German. There is evidence as well of a deep connection with Moslem Sufi communities in Spain and the Middle East and with Jewish Kabbalist scholars living in surrounding cities.


The Grail legends, the Courts of Love, the troubadours, all blossomed under the benign guidance of the gnostic Cathari. The spirit of the land, then known as Oc, was that of tolerance and personal liberty, most rare in any age.


Detail Cathar Tomb
Descendant, France

Search for the Spirit
Roquefixade, France

Much of their faith rested upon a form of Manicheaism brought to Gaul in the 8th century by missionaries from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.


The close affinity of Druidic teachings, the rallying of the poor to resist Church and secular tyranny, and the appeal of an elite strata of the faith to the aristocracy, made rich soil in which the teachings could take root.


Cathar doctrines, proselytized largely by readings of the Gospel according to John, provided a highly workable alternative to the confusion and misery that existed.


Central to the Cathar creed is the concept of Duality, the opposition of the material world to that of the spirit. For the masses, this translated into a battle between good (Light or God) and evil (Darkness or Satan). However, if we return to the source of one of the many strands of which the Cathar faith is woven, we see in early Zoroastrianism, the root of Manicheaism, a less encrusted form of dualism.


According to Zoroaster, the Supreme Being created twin forces of reality and unreality.


Reality and unreality are seen as essential elements from which our world is created, not polarizations of good and evil. Reality is represented by objective meaning, and unreality is human subjectivity, which only becomes negative when we are enmeshed and blinded by it.

Man, according to the Cathar creed, has three natures:

  • the body, which is the abode of the soul;

  • the soul, which is the abode of the spirit;

  • and the spirit, the divine spark.

Through a life dedicated to ever increasing purity, the composite nature of man can undergo a double death and transfiguration, so that the formed spirit, born of the spark and nourished in the soul, will eventually separate, returning to the Light.


The rigorously ascetic discipline necessary to achieve this state was available on the "Parfaits" (or "perfects"), master adepts, and a lower grade of adepts. The masses, or "believers" as they were called, were allowed to live fully in the ways of the householder, and understood that they were in cycles of reincarnation to be reborn on Earth.


Pic d'Barthalemy

The outer appearance and practices of the Parfaits were simple. They worshipped in forests and on mountain tops, utilizing the strong tellurgic currents of the region.


Their initiations were held in a series of limestone caves, chiefly near the Pic de St. Barthalemy. Renouncing worldly riches, they wore plain dark blue gowns, ate vegetarian foods, and kept strict vows of chastity in keeping with their belief that it was sacrilegious to procreate.


They held to the tenet that Christ was cosmic, (and so could not be crucified), that suicide was sacred (suicide through voluntary starvation or fast, the endura, was a personal right), and that the role of woman was equal to that of man with the only stipulation being that a woman could not preach. Marriage, baptism, and communion were not recognized as valid rituals.

What set the Cathari apart from other gnostic sects was the ritual of the The Consolamentum. This ceremony consisted of the Parfait laying his hands upon the head of the literally dying or upon the head of the believer who aspired to enter the community of the Parfaits. A transmission of immense vivifying energy was said to take place, inspiring to those who witnessed it. The ritual of the The Consolamentum may have strongly contributed to the rapid spread of Catharism.


Cave of Bethlehem

Ritual Table
Cave of Bethlehem

This energy transmission allowed the spirit to continue its ascent towards the Light in safety, to evolve, or if the recipient was on the threshold of death, to make the leap into the cosmos. To not fear death was a crowning achievement.


This courage served the adepts well when they were ruthlessly hunted down. At Montségur, at Minerve, in the dungeons of Carcasonne, it is told that the Parfaits went willingly to their fate, helping others at the same time achieve release without fear or pain.


The sacred caves of the Sabarthez cluster around the small resort town of Ussat-Les-Bains and are known as 'doors to Catharism'.


To reach Bethlehem, the most important of the Cave Churches of Ornolac, one must climb the steep Path of Initiation. The Cave of Bethlehem may well have been the spiritual center of the Cathar world. For it was here that the 'Pure' candidate underwent an initiation ceremony that culminated in The Consolamentum.

Four aspects of the Cave were utilized in the ceremony:

  • A square niche in the wall in which stood the veiled Holy Grail

  • A granite altar upon which the Gospel of John lay

  • A pentagram hewn into the wall

  • Telluric currents emanating from the rock walls and floor

The crusade against the Cathars began in earnest in 1209.


It was one thing for an obscure monk to take vows of poverty and chastity and quite another for a whole people to loosen their ties to the material world.


The very foundations of the Church, and feudalism were rocked by Cathar teachings. Practicing what they preached with great humility, attacking the corruption of the Church clergy, and establishing prosperous, cooperative communities in the land of Oc brought forth the full wrath of the outraged Church and Northern nobility.



When the first rumblings of persecution were heard in 1204, Montségur was rebuilt and fortified with a garrison.


Originally the ancient ruin was used by the Cathars as a meditation site. Now, according to legend, it served an additional function as a refuge for the sacred treasure of the Grail, the safekeeping of which was allegedly part of the function of the Cathari.


Monument to Cathars
Rocquecorbe, France

Attacks on the South of France were led by the fanatic, Simon De Montfort. Whole towns loyal to the Cathars were massacred in the most brutal fashion.


To experience the wildness of the countryside is to understand the depths of De Montfort's obsession. Innumerable men must have been lost as he plunged armies into deep, craggy ravines and up forbidding mountainsides.


De Montfort's vicious attacks on Montségur during 1209 were successfully repulsed. Montségur stood firm as a symbol of hope.

By 1215, the Council of Lateran established the dread Inquisition. During the next 50 years the toll of those killed by this infamous arm of the Church climbed to one million, more than in all of the other crusades against heresies combined.


Throughout these trials, Montségur quietly defied the Church, standing as a bastion of faith. The murder of two Dominican Inquisitors at

Cathar relic found at Montségur: coin

Avignonet was the pretext for resuming attacks against the fortress-temple.


The brave Cathari and their supporters resisted for six months.


But, through an act of treachery, the difficult mountain was scaled, and in march of 1244, Montségur surrendered. Singing, 205 Cathars marched down the mountain and into the large bonfires awaiting the. A memorial solar cross silently testifies to their martyrdom.


Coins and sacred objects left behind by the Cathars were distributed to the conquerors, but according to Inquisition records, the real treasure vanished the night before the capitulation.


Four Cathars and the Cathars' treasure were said to have been let down the steepest side of the mountain by ropes and disappeared.


Speculation still exists about the nature of the treasure:

  • Sacred books, the Grail Stone, or the Grail Cup?

  • And where might it be hidden?

  • In one of the many limestone caves that surround Montségur?

  • In an abandoned, water-logged mine deep in the Ariage?

Mute witness to all, the ruin of Montségur does not reveal these secrets.


Patiently it waits in the brilliant sun for the last sign of the Cathars, the greening of the laurel.