Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc
Documents: Time Magazine




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Documents: Time Magazine


Time Magazine
Religion: Massacre of the Pure
Friday, Apr. 28, 1961

"These heretics are worse than the Saracens!" exclaimed Pope Innocent III, and on March 10, 1208, he proclaimed a crusade against a sect in southern France that became one of the bloodiest blots in European history.

The heretics called Cathari (from the Greek word for pure), or Albigenses, from the town of Albi, one of their centers in Languedoc, were stamped out in 35 ruthless years of fire and sword. But as the centuries rolled on, they have had a measure of revenge against the Roman Catholic Church. The hatred generated by the crusade prepared the way for Protestantism. And in modern France, where popular apostasy from Catholicism is today wider and deeper than anything Pope Innocent could have imagined, the ancient heresy of Catharism is enjoying a remarkable revival of interest.

The long-lived tradition of anticlericalism in southern France, which recruited the Huguenots in the 16th century and fueled Communism in the 20th, is finding a new outlet in a spreading bush fire of enthusiasm for the vanished sect whose 750-year-old lost cause against the church gave anticlericalism its biggest beachhead in France. Some 30 books have been published during the last 15 years about their beliefs and practices and their slaughterous persecution-most of them highly favorable to the heretics and critical of the church. Several plays have been written about them, and literary reviews have published long articles. Hundreds of weekenders are climbing the 4,000-ft. rock atop which stands Montségur, the holy citadel of Catharism, where 300 soldiers and 200 unarmed, pacifist Cathari stood off an army of 10,000 for ten months before being burned at one huge stake for their "pure Christian" beliefs.

How to Be Perfect. Catharism was not an isolated phenomenon. It was part of an ancient heresy that flowed like an underground stream beneath the surface of Christianity and burst forth in many forms during the church's first 1,000-odd years. Gnosticism, Manichaeanism, Paulicianism, Bogomilism and the Albigenses all had basic characteristics in common: 1) rejection of the world of matter as a trap imprisoning the divine "spark," 2) the concept of the Saviour as a heavenly being merely masquerading as human to bring salvation to 3) the elect, who often have to conceal themselves from the world, and who are set apart by 4) their special knowledge and personal purity (sexual intercourse is usually forbidden as serving the ends of the evil creator-god).

Thanks to recent research, an increasing amount is known about Catharism. It began to spread through southern France and northern Italy in the 11th century; as early as 1022 in Orléans, 13 Cathari (ten of them canons of the church) were condemned to the stake. The heresy was aided by the corruption of the clergy of the time-against whose wenching and venality the puritanism of the "Pure'' was an attractive contrast. The inner circle of Cathari were the "perfect," who had received the "consolation"-a rite performed by another "perfect" in the laying on of hands and the placing of the Gospel of John on the head of the candidate. The "perfect" eschewed sexual intercourse, taking oaths, practicing war, owning property, eating meat or dairy products (since they are the products of the act of reproduction). Some of them carried their asceticism as far as the endura-suicide by self-starvation. Most of the Cathari, however, remained among the "believers," free to live ordinary lives in the world in the hope of salvation without the rigor of living as a "perfect."

The Cathari built no churches; they worshiped in private houses without the sacraments (being material, they were evil) or the cross (because Christ had no real body and died no real death). They read the Scriptures-especially the Gospel of John-listened to a sermon, said the Lord's Prayer (in native Languedoc dialect rather than Latin) and shared a common meal. The clergy wore black robes-until Pope Innocent's crusade began.

In July 1209, an army of crusaders marched down from northern France into Languedoc and besieged the city of éeziers. When the city fathers refused to hand over 222 Cathari heretics, the crusaders broke in and massacred every man, woman and child-priests included-of Béziers' 20,000 inhabitants. Before the massacre one of the crusaders is said to have asked his leader, Abbe Arnaud Amalric, head of the Cistercian monastic order, how to distinguish between the heretics and the faithful. "Kill them all," was the abbot's alleged reply. "God will recognize his own!" From then on, the crusade became a war without mercy, in which almost any southern Frenchman was assumed to be a heretic. Historians estimate the total number of casualties at 1,000,000.

A Period of Darkness. The enthusiasm of these new-style heretic hunters is being fanned by a number of antiquarians. Dean of them all is tall, gaunt Déodat Roche, 79, a former magistrate of Arques, whose lifelong dedication to spreading the Cathar gospel, organizing pilgrimages to Montségur, and following the strict vegetarian regimen of his heretic ancestors has earned him the nickname "the Cathar Bishop." More active is Sociology Professor René Nelli of the University of Toulouse ("the vicar of Catharism"), who lectures on the subject all over France and has been commissioned by the French government to collect relics and documents for a Cathar museum-in the fortified city of Carcassonne.

Neo-Cathar Nelli explains the growing interest in the medieval heresy: "First the continued retreat of Roman Catholicism. Rome fails to answer people's questions. Secondly, the crusade's sites are admittedly picturesque, and the drama has an appealing epic character. Finally, we are living in a period of darkness, anguish, desperateness, wars, massacres, torture, atomic bombs. Isn't science itself satanic? People will talk about Catharism more and more unless we enter a period of 50 years of peace and prosperity. And that isn't likely.",9171,897752-3,00.html






















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Author: James McDonald MA, MSc.
Title: Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc
Date last modified: 8 February 2017


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