Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc


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CATHAR TERMINOLOGY

A Cathar Glossary

The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the eleventh century, their origins something of a mystery though there is reason to believe their ideas came from Persia or the Byzantine Empire, by way of the Balkans and Northern Italy.  Records from the Roman Catholic Church mention them under various names and in various places.  Catholic theologians debated with themselves for centuries whether Cathars were Christian heretics or whether they were not Christians at all.  The question is apparently still open. Roman Catholics still refer to Cathar belief as "the Great Heresy" though the official Catholic position is that Catharism is not Christian at all.

As Dualists, Cathars believed in two principles, a good creator god and his evil adversary (much like God and Satan of mainstream Christianity). Cathars called themselves simply Christians; their neighbours distinguished them as "Good Christians". The Catholic Church called them Albigenses, or less frequently . Cathars.

Cathars maintained a Church The hierarchy and practiced a range of ceremonies, but rejected any idea of priesthood or the use of church buildings. They divided into ordinary believers who led ordinary medieval lives and an inner Elect of Parfaits (men) and Parfaites (women) who led extremely ascetic lives yet still worked for their living - generally in itinerant manual trades like weaving. Cathars believed in reincarnation and refused to eat meat or other animal products. They were strict about biblical injunctions - notably those about living in poverty, not telling lies, not killing and not swearing oaths.

Basic Cathar Tenets led to some surprising logical implications. For example they largely regarded men and women as equals, and had no doctrinal objection to contraception, euthanasia or suicide. In some respects the Cathar and Catholic Churches were polar opposites. For example the Cathar Church taught that all non-procreative sex was better than any procreative sex. The Catholic Church taught - and still teaches - exactly the opposite. Both positions produced interesting results. Following their tenet, Catholics concluded that masturbation was a far greater sin than rape (as mediaeval penitentials confirm). Following their principles, Cathars could deduce that sexual intercourse between man and wife was more culpable than homosexual sex. (Catholic propaganda on this supposed Cathar proclivity gave us the word bugger, from Bougre, one of the many names for medieval Gnostic Dualists)

In the Languedoc, known at the time for its high culture, tolerance and liberalism, the Cathar religion took root and gained more and more adherents during the twelfth century.  By the early thirteenth century Catharism was probably the majority religion in the area, supported by the nobility as well as the common people. This was yet another annoyance to the Roman Church which considered the feudal system to be divinely ordained as the Natural Order (Cathars disliked the feudal system because it depended on oath taking).  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. A significant number of Catholic priests had become Cathar adherents (Catharism was a religion that seems to have appealed especially to the theologically literate).  Worse, the Catholic Church was being held up to public ridicule (some of the richest men in Christendom, bejewelled, vested in finery, and preaching poverty, provided an irresistible target even to contemporary Catholics in the Languedoc). Worst yet, Cathars declined to pay tithes to the Catholic Church. As one senior Churchman observed of the Cathar movement "if it had not been cut back by the swords of the faithful I think it would have corrupted the whole of Europe."

The Cathar view of the Catholic Church was as bleak as the Catholic Church's view of the Cathar Church. On the Cathar side it manifested itself in ridiculing Catholic doctrine and practices, and characterising the Catholic Church as the "Church of Wolves". Catholics accused Cathars of heresy or apostasy and said they belonged to the "Synagogue of Satan". The Catholic side created some striking propaganda. When the propaganda proved unsuccessful, there was only one option left - a crusade - the Albigensian Crusade.

The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Innocent III, called a formal Crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc, appointing a series of military leaders to head his Holy Army. The first was a Cistercian abbot (Arnaud Amaury), now best remembered for his command at Béziers: "Kill them all. God will know his own". The second was Simon de Montfort now remembered as the father of another Simon de Montfort, a prominent figure in English parliamentary history.  The war against the Cathars of the Languedoc continued for two generations. In the later phases the Kings of France would take over as leaders of the crusade, which thus became a Royal Crusade. among the many victims who lost their lives were two kings: Peter II King of Aragon cut down at the Battle of Muret in 1213 and Louis VIII King of France who succumbed to disentry on his way home to Paris in 1226.

From 1208, a war of terror was waged against the indigenous population of the Languedoc and their rulers: Raymond VI of Toulouse,  Raymond-Roger Trencavel, Raymond Roger of Foix in the first generation and Raymond VII of Toulouse, Raymond Trencavel II, and Roger Bernard II of Foix in the second generation. During this period an estimated half-million Languedoc men, women and children were massacred, Catholics as well as Cathars. The Crusaders killed the locals indiscriminately - in line with the the famous injunction recorded by a Cistercian chronicler as being spoken by his fellow Cistercian, the Abbot in command of the Crusader army.

The Counts of Toulouse and their allies were dispossessed and humiliated, and their lands annexed to France.  Educated and tolerant Languedoc rulers were replaced by relative barbarians;  Dominic Guzmán (later Saint Dominic) founded the Dominican Order and soon afterwards the Inquisition, manned by his Dominicans, was established explicitly to wipe out the last vestiges of resistance. Persecutions of Languedoc Jews and other minorities were initiated;  the culture of the troubadours was lost as their cultured patrons were reduced to wandering refugees known as faidits. Their characteristic concept of "paratge", a whole sophisticated world-view, was almost destroyed, leaving us a pale imitation in our idea of chivalry. Lay learning was discouraged and the reading of the bible became a capital crime. Tithes were enforced. The Languedoc started its long economic decline to become the poorest region in France;  and the language of the area, Occitan, began its descent from the foremost literary language in Europe to a regional dialect, disparaged by the French as a patois. 

At the end of the extermination of the Cathars, the Roman Church had proof that a sustained campaign of genocide can work. It also had the precedent of an internal Crusade within Christendom, and the machinery of the first modern police state that could be reconstructed for the Spanish Inquisition, and again for later Inquisitions and genocides. Voltaire observed that "there was never anything as unjust as the war against the Albigensians".

Catharism is often said to have been completely eradicated by the end of the fourteenth century.  Yet there are more than a few vestiges even today, apart from the enduring memory of Cathar "Martyrdom" and the ruins of the famous "Cathar castles", including the spectacular castle at Carcassonne and the hilltop Château of Montségur ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Montsegùr).

there are many echos of influences from the Cathar period, from International geo-politics down to popular culture. There are even Cathars alive today, or at least people claiming to be modern Cathars.  There are historical tours of Cathar sites and also a flourishing, if largely superficial, Cathar tourist industry in the Languedoc, and especially in the Aude département.

As we see the eight-hundredth anniversary of important events, more and more memorials are springing up on the sites of massacres, as at Les Casses, Lavaur, Minerve, and Montségur. There is also an increasing community of historians and other academics engaged in serious historical and other academic Cathar studies. Interestingly, to date, the deeper scholars have dug, the more they have vindicated Cathar claims to represent a survival of an important Gnostic strand of the Earliest Christian Church.

Arguably just as interesting, Protestant ideas share much in common with Cathar ideas, and there is some reason to believe that early reformers were aware of the Cathar tradition. Even today some Protestant Churches claim a Cathar heritage. Tantalisingly, weavers were commonly accused of spreading Protestant ideas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, just as their antecedents in the same trade had been accused of spreading Cathar ideas in Medieval times.

It can even be argued that in many respects Roman Catholic ideas have shifted over the centuries ever further from the Church's medieval teaching and ever closer to Cathar teaching.

Pope Innocent III excommunicates a group of Cathars. From the fourteenth century, Chronique de France (Chronique de St Denis), British Library, Royal 16, g VI f374v.

 

Defensless Languedoc Cathars are cut down by French Catholic Crusaders. From the fourteenth century Chronique de France (Chronique de St Denis), British Library, Royal 16, g VI f374v. This is the right hand side of a two panel illustration (The left half is shown above). In this panel The leading crusader can be identified by his coat of arms as Simon de Montfort .

 

The Battle of Muret (1213), a turning point in the Cathar Crusade depicted in Grandes Chroniques de France, Manuscrit français 2813, fol. 252v. (created 1375-1380), in the Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Auto Da Fe Presided Over By Saint Dominic Of Guzmán (1475); Pedro Berruguete (around 1450-1504) commissioned by fellow Dominican Torquemada, Oil on wood .
60 5/8 x 36 1/4 (154 x 92 cm).
Now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.

 

The Aude departement brands itself as "Cathar Country"

 

Château Comptal, Carcassonne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


GUIDED TOURS OF CATHAR CASTLES OF THE LANGUEDOC

You can join small exclusive guided tours of Cathar Castles
led by an English speaking expert on the Cathars
who lives in the Languedoc
(author of www.cathar.info and www.catharcastles.info )

Selected Cathar Castles. Accommodation provided. Transport Provided.

Cathar Origins, History, Theology.
The Crusade, The Inquisition, and Consequences

Click here to visit the Cathar Country Website for more information

Around 1250 Alphonse de Poitiers wrote to Pope Innocent IV asking him to issue a bull against heresy. This document is known in the form of a draft, on the back of which is a sketch showing a man being burned at the stake.

 

Alphonse's draft letter is held in the French National Archives, in a dossier called "Grands documents de l'histoire de France; Florilège", No notice 00000192, Fonds MUS, Cote AE/II/257 (Cote origine J428/1): described as "Projet de texte rédigé pour Alphonse de Poitiers, comte de Toulouse, afin d'obtenir du pape Innocent IV une bulle sur les poursuites contre les hérétiques. Au verso figure le dessin d'un hérétique livré aux flammes. Document non daté, en latin."

 

Bible moralisée Oxford-Paris-London
BNF Lat11560 f1v (Job) showing Franciscans watching a Cathar Consolamentum

 

Franciscans watching a Cathar Consolamentum

 

Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921)
La Délivrance Des emmurés de Carcassonne, 1879
oil on canvas ( 115 cm c 150 cm)
Musée Des Beaux Arts, Carcassonne, France

 

Trencavel seal reproduced in stone in Béziers

 

Road sign commemorating a Cathar Council at Pieusse

road sign in Pieusse, Aude
 

Carcassonne - Château Comtal

 

Villerouge Termenes - staircase built within the thickness of a tower wall

 

Medieval window seat at Villerouge Termenes where the last known Cathar Parfait in the Languedoc was burned alive for disagreeing with Catholic theology.

 

Montsegur, where around 325 Cathars were burned alive for disagreeing with Catholic theology

The famous castle at Montsegur
 

Saint Augustine of Hippo - an ex Manichaean
Sometimes called the "Father of the Inquisition"

 

Donjon d'Arques

 

Capitol, Toulouse

 

Commemorative plaque at Lavaur where around 400 Cathars were burned alive for disagreeing with Catholic theology.

 

Pope Innocent III with Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse

 

Memorial at Les Casses where 60 Cathars were burned alive

 

Figure on the Basilica at Carcassonne

 

The King of Aragon wearing his "Coat of arms"

 

Cité of Carcassonne

 

Lotario di Segni became Pope Innocent III in 1198

 

Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse
submitting to Louis IX, The King of France

 

Seal of Jeanne of England,
wife of Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse
mother of Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse

 

Seal of Jeanne of England,
wife of Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse
mother of Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse

Note the Cross of Toulouse

 

Seal of Jeanne of England,
wife of Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse
mother of Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse

 
 
 

The Counts of Toulouse are popular
among medieval re-enactors

 

Trencavel seal reproduced in stone in Béziers

 
 
 
 
 

A woman (allegorically representing the Gospel) with a thunderbolt triumphing over Heresia (Heresy) and the Serpent (Satan). Church of King Gustaf Vasa, Stockholm, Sweden, sculpture by Burchard Precht.

Auto Da Fe Presided Over By Saint Dominic Of Guzmán (1475); Pedro Berruguete (around 1450-1504) commissioned by Torquemada, Oil on wood . 60 5/8 x 36 1/4 (154 x 92 cm).
Now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
detail - Cathars to be burned

 

Burning Cathar "heretics" at Montsegùr

 

Road sign in Béziers

 

Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921)
The Agitator of La
nguedoc, 1882
oil on canvas ( 115 cm c 150 cm)
Musée Des Augustins, Toulouse, France

(depicting the Franciscan Bernart de Liegosi, better known by French version of his name Bernard Délicieux, facing the Inquisition)

 

Puilaurens

 

Tours of Cathar Castles & Cathar Country

 

Memorial at Minerve where 140 - 180 Cathars were burned alive for disagreeing with Catholic theology.

 
 
 

Villerouge Termenes where the last known Cathar Parfait in the Languedoc was burned alive for disagreeing with Catholic theology.

 

Barbican, Aude Gate, Carcassonne

The Chateau Comptal at Carcassonne
 

Donjon d'Arques

 

Toulouse

 

Commemorative plaque at Lavaur where around 400 Cathars were burned alive for disagreeing with Catholic theology.

 

"Kill them all. God will know his own"

 

Painting in the Halle des Illustres at Toulouse depicting the death of Simon de Montfort

 

MedievalTrebuchet stones (at Carcassonne)

 

Raymond IV, window (detail)
in the Cathédrale Notre Dame & Saint Castor, Nimes

 

The King of France wearing his "Coat of Arms"

 

Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse
submitting to Louis IX, The King of France

 

Montsegur

 

Burning Heretics

 

Dominicans copied many aspects of Cathar practice, including the wearing of black outer rober

 
 
 

Cathars and Catholics Expelled
from Carcassonne by the Crusaders

(Expulsion of the Albigensians from Carcassone, Grandes Chroniques de France, c. 1415, British Library)

 

Confrérie Des Chevaliers Cathares

 

Commemorative Road Sign at Minerve where 140 - 180 Cathars were burned alive for disagreeing with Catholic theology.

 

Cathars (Catari) flourished in Italy too
Road sign in Sirmione, Italy

 

Arnaud Amaury, other Cistercian abbots and St-Dominic. (with a halo) crush helpless Cathars underfoot - a sanitised version of the persecution of the Cathars

 
 
 

Cathars and Catholics Expelled
from Carcassonne by the Crusaders

(Expulsion of the Albigensians from Carcassone (detail), Grandes Chroniques de France, c. 1415, British Library)

 

Auto Da Fe Presided Over By Saint Dominic Of Guzmán (1475); Pedro Berruguete (around 1450-1504) commissioned by Torquemada, Oil on wood . 60 5/8 x 36 1/4 (154 x 92 cm).
Now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
detail - Cathars being burned

 

Queribus

 

Carcassonne

 

Puilaurens

 

Barbican, Aude Gate, Carcassonne

 

Eastern (Uyghur) Manichaeans writing (with panel inscription in Sogdian). 8th or 9th century Manuscript from Gaochang, on the northern rim of the Taklamakan Desert in what is now Xinjiang, China

 

Saint Dominic and the Albigenses, 1480, Pedro Berruguete (Museo del Prado).

 

Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse

 

Nicola Pisano, Cathar "heretics" before Saint Dominic the (fictitious) Dispute of Fanjeaux

 

Béziers where the Abbot-Comander Arnaud Amaury reported killing 20,000 without regard to age, sex or rank.

Flags in Béziers

 

Road sign in Béziers

 

The Count of Toulouse wearing his "Coat of arms"

 

A modern recreation of the Cathar Ceremony of the Consolamentum

 

Montsegur

 

Catholic sources report a number of incidents of Cathars and others worshipping satan in the form of a cat, which then climes a rope and disappears leaving a foul smell.

 

The Counts of Toulouse are popular
among medieval re-enactors

 

Battle of Bouvines, 1214

 

Imprisoned

 

Dame Guiraude being murdered by the Crusaders at Lavaur

 

Devil and the cat worshippers kissing the cat’s backside Jean Tinctor, Traittié du crisme de vauderie (Sermo contra sectam vaudensium), Bruges ca. 1470-1480 (Paris, BnF, Français 961, fol. 1r)

 

The Languedoc Cross (from the armourial bearings of the Counts of Toulouse). Offten erroneously referred to as the "Cathar Cross"

The Languedoc Cross (from the armourial bearings of the Counts of Toulouse) may be seen everywhere in the Languedoc

 
 

Saint Augustine of Hippo - an ex Manichaean
Sometimes called the "Father of the Inquisition", debating about death of living creatures with the Manichaeans (Augustine, La Cité de Dieu, Books I-X (translation from the Latin by Raoul de Presles), Paris, Maître François (illuminator); c. 1475-1480. Volume II: Nantes, BM, fr. 8 Fol. 25r, Book 1, 20)

 

Château of Foix, seat of the Counts of Foix

 
Montsegur
 

The Counts of Toulouse are popular
among medieval re-enactors

 
 
 
 
 

Illustration from the illuminated manuscript Grandes Chroniques de France depicting the burning of Amalrician heretics before King Philip II of France. In the background is the Gibbet of Montfaucon and, anachronistically, the Grosse Tour of the Temple fortress. Jean Fouquet (1455-1460), Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Territory of the Count of Toulouse shown in purple

 

Le Count of Tripoli accepting the capitulation of Tyre in 1124
Alexandre-Francois Caminade

 

First page of Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews - Cathar Bible in Occitan, from Lyon

 

Siege of Carcassonne (as imagined by Gordon Napier)

 
 
 
 

The Counts of Toulouse are popular
among medieval re-enactors

 

Raymond IV, window
in the Cathédrale Notre Dame & Saint Castor, Nimes

 

Figure on the Basilica at Carcassonne

 
 
 
Muret Château
 

Medieval image of Saint Augustine of Hippo, an ex Manichaean,
confounding devilish heresies

 
 

 

 

 

 

Further Information on Cathars and Cathar Castles

 

 

 

If you want to cite this website in a book or academic paper, you will need the following information:

Author: James McDonald.
Title: Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc
url: http://www.cathar.info
Date last modified: 15 September 2014

 

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 The Cross of Toulouse. Click to see information about it.

 

Click on the following link for recommended Books on the Cathars Next.

Click on the following link for the (imaginary) role of the Cathars in the various mysteries of the Languedoc Next.


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