by Philip Coppens
from NewDawnMagazine Website
Photo courtesy of Andrew Gough
What really happened, and what did
the Cathars actually believe?
But the Albigensian Crusade is unique in history, as the Pope on March 10, 1208 proclaimed a crusade against a 'heresy' that was present inside Catholic Europe itself.
In retrospect, the crusade was one of the bloodiest episodes in European history.
Indeed, the decades-long persecution of
simple folk has often been seen as the event that prepared the way
for the birth of Protestantism, as it awakened ordinary Europeans to
the realization that something was not 'quite' right within the
In the Languedoc, Catharism, endorsed by the local nobility, became a popular alternative to the Catholic Church.
The likes of the Count of Toulouse - one of the most important rulers of Southern France - supported Catharism.
The event, attended by many local
notables, was presided over by the Bogomil papa Nicetas of the
Balkan dualist church (see 'The
Bogomils: Europe's Forgotten Gnostics' by Paul Tice, New
Dawn No. 106, January-February 2008), assisted by the Cathar bishop
of (Northern) France and a leader of the Cathars of Lombardy.
In 1208, Pope Innocent III repeatedly
tried to use diplomacy to stop the spread of Catharism, but in that
year his papal legate Pierre de Castelnau was murdered
(allegedly by an agent serving the Count of Toulouse). The event
pushed him from diplomacy into military action. Some now consider
the death of de Castelnau a false flag operation, engineered so that
the crusade would be declared.
One of the crusaders asked their leader, the Papal Legate Arnaud-Amaury, how to distinguish between the 222 heretics and the thousands of faithful Catholics that lived in the city.
The number of dead that day was between
7,000 and 20,000, the latter figure being the one quoted when
Arnaud-Amaury reported back to the Pope.
Hence, at the end of the Albigensian
Crusade, Catharism wasn't by any means eradicated.
Despite this, René Weis, author of The Yellow Cross, states:
Many Cathar elders realized the lethal dangers they faced and began to take refuge in the fortresses at Fenouillèdes and Montségur, while others were able to incite uprisings, which forced the Inquisition out of Albi, Narbonne and Toulouse.
Count Raymond-Roger de Trencavel
even led a military campaign in 1240, but was defeated at
Carcassonne, surrendered and was exiled to Aragon.
Among the Cathars inside Montségur were
the Cathar bishop of Toulouse and the Cathar bishop of the Razès,
Raymond Aguilher, leading members of the 'heresy'.
Though their life would be spared if they recanted, the Cathars preferred to be burnt, rather than reject their faith - a true sign of their conviction, which is one of the key reasons why Catharism today has such a wide appeal with the local people of Southern France.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Gough
In fact, in the following decades, there was something of a Cathar revival.
The much hunted Cathar Parfait
Pierre Authié even consoled the Count of Foix, Roger-Bernard III, in
March 1302 in the hall of Tarascon castle, even though he was later
buried by the Bishop of Carcassonne. It shows how many local lords
still remained loyal to the Cathar cause.
From 1294 to 1324, the daily routines of
Montaillou's 250 inhabitants are known, as they survived in the
records of Jacques Fournier, later to be Pope Benedict XII. It was
Fournier, then the local Catholic bishop, who unleashed
the Inquisition at Pamiers against
the villagers, even resulting in the arrest of the entire village in
1308. One should, perhaps, be happy they weren't all killed…
Bélibaste's bailiwick was the area
between Rennes-le-Château - known for the mysterious 19th century
priest Bérenger Saunière, who is at the core of the mystery
of the so-called
Priory of Sion and Dan Brown's
bestselling The Da Vinci Code - and the coastal city of Perpignan.
As the Inquisition's stranglehold tightened, Bélibaste settled across the border, in Catalonia, where the political regime did not persecute Cathars, and he was able to make baskets and carding combs, as well as become the mentor to a local Cathar community.
He nevertheless decided to return to his
homeland, but was caught, tried, and burnt at Villerouge-Termenès.
Some, however, argue that Catharism in
France may have disappeared as an organized Church in 1321, but that
as a religion… it remains alive until today.
Hence, a lot of myths and falsehoods now exist about Catharism.
All things material were seen as evil and to be opposed and rejected. Hence, they built no churches, were largely vegetarian and shared both common possessions and ate common meals.
Though it is true that their doctrine
had room for Jesus and the Bible, especially the Gospel of John, and
that they proclaimed Christ had no real body (if he was the
Son of God, how could he have a body of flesh, which was evil?) and
hence also died no real death, all of these accommodations should be
seen as educational tools so that they could explain to those that
had been raised as Christians where both teachings differed.
However, outside of France, his name is
relatively unknown, as is that of his friend and Professor of
Sociology René Nelli of the University of Toulouse (and often
referred to as 'the vicar of Catharism'), who lectured on the
subject all over France.
Together, they formed "La Société du
souvenir de Montségur et du Graal," to promote the forgotten history
of Catharism - but specifically tying it to the Holy Grail - and the
promotion of Montségur, and the region as a whole. It is here that
what is now known as 'neo-Catharism' was born, and it has little to
do with the original belief.
The countess claimed to be a descendent
of Esclarmonde de Foix, who was seen (though historically
inaccurately so) as one of the most esteemed Cathar Parfaits of the
early 13th century and in some accounts held to be responsible for
the rise of Montségur as the 'Vatican' of Catharism. It should be
pointed out that these hilltop castles (like Montségur) were never 'Cathar
cathedrals', as some would have it, but merely refuges for the
Parfaits escaping the Inquisition.
Though the story of this escape is true,
whether they carried anything is a matter of debate. Furthermore, as
the descent was steep and arduous, whatever they carried must have
It is indeed unlikely the Cathars secured a physical treasure, if only because it would have been too heavy, and in their eyes, unimportant:
Authors such as Walter Birks and R.A. Gilbert, as well as Elizabeth van Buren, have suggested the Cathars guarded a manuscript, knowledge - a spiritual treasure.
This manuscript is often said to be the 'Book of Love' and is linked with the Gospel of John, and is claimed to contain "sublime teachings, marvelous revelations, the most secret words confided by our Lord Jesus Christ to the beloved disciple [John the Evangelist].
Their power would be such that all
hatred, all anger, all jealousy would vanish from the hearts of men.
The Divine Love, like a new flood, would submerge all souls and
never again would blood be shed on this earth."
One such village, Arques, near Rennes-le-Château, is where the hunted Parfait Pierre Authié preached and found refuge, and the modern Cathar researcher Déodat Roche was born and lived.
Today there is a museum dedicated to him.
Roche focused on the true Cathar belief.
But the question needs to be asked whether he discovered this, or
whether he knew so all along.
The site holds a statue of the Virgin Mary, and though this might appear typically Christian, the Cathars of the 14th century are known to have made similar pilgrimages to the nearby basilica of Notre-Dame-de-Marceille, which held a Black Madonna.
As in Notre-Dame-de-Marceille, did the
Virgin Mary in Arques have a secondary - dualist - meaning for
Cathars - and Roche?
He never spoke about whether or not he felt that he was indeed the possible reincarnation of Authié.
Roche must have understood that what he
was doing was uncovering what had been buried with Authié. If he did
feel that he was the incarnation of Authié, then it was clear that
upon this Parfait's death, he had after all not entered Heaven.
A dualist religion is primarily seen as a religion that believes in two competing forces, good versus evil, but it is much more than that. An insight into the Cathar cosmography comes from Authié himself. He preached that the Devil had sneaked into Paradise, after waiting 1,000 years at it doors.
Once inside, he seduced the spirits, who all fell from a hole in Paradise for nine days and nine nights. After this Fall, they ended up on Earth. When Heaven had largely become depleted, God immediately plugged the hole.
But the souls on Earth soon were saddened by their loss and the Devil offered them as comfort such overcoats that would make them forget the bliss of Heaven: the human body, which began a series of incarnations. It thus became Mankind's mission to ascend back to Heaven, i.e. break the cycle of incarnations.
By accepting this cosmography and
performing the Consolamentum, one's next death would end the
soul's odyssey and return it to Heaven.
In conclusion, neo-Catharism had little to do with Catharism as such.
The notion of Jesus as a man of flesh and blood was rejected by the Cathars, yet neo-Cathars underline how the Cathars believed that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Christ.
Yuri Stoyanov has indeed confirmed that the Cathars claimed as such and that this belief had no counterpart in Bogomil doctrines, meaning that the Cathars were unique amongst the dualists to have this belief.
Their religion was not at all based on
the knowledge that Jesus and Mary Magdalene created a dynasty but
that, instead, Cathars in Southern France, where Mary Magdalene was
a popular saint, used her in their cosmography, to illustrate the
feminine aspect of the divine duality.
The Church, however, saw it differently, using especially Revelation 20:7, where it is said that after 1,000 years, Satan would be released from his prison.
Seeing Catharism rose approximately one millennium after the death of Christ, chronicler Ralph the Bard and St Hildegard of Bingen - the latter who stated she had a vision in which she saw Satan released from his chains - said Catharism was in fact the return of Satan, there to destroy the Church.
It was the very reason why it had to be destroyed; for many Christians, conquering Catharism meant slaying Satan.
Thus, not only Catharism, but the Cathar Crusade itself, had an innate dualism to it too.