Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition - The Suppression Of The Cathar Heresy
by Ian R Thorpe.
CREATIVE COMMONS: Attribute, non commercial, no derivs.
KEYWORDS: religion, faith, belief, catholic, cathar, christian, jesus, creed, dogma, spanish, inquisition, history, Rome, pope, innocent, languedoc, Oc, Occitan, France, Besiers, Carcassonne, Montsegur, Burgundy, Duke, crusade, albigensian, genocide
Above, The ancient and now reconstructed city of Carcassonne in southern France, centre of the Cathar society.
Nobody expects The Spanish Inquisition, said the classic Monty Python sketch. When they do now but in the thirteenth century they certsainly didn't until it arrived in people's lives.
The Roman Catholic Church carried out many atrocities against those who did not conform to its teachings. The Inquisition was the umbrella name that covered must of them. One that stands out however was the genocidal Albigensian Crusade carried out against the Cathars This must rank as one of the worst genocidal campaigns of history. During the Papacy of Innocent III a movement arose among more fanatical senior clergy that called for the extermination of all heretics. Fanatical followers of Christianity have for a long time found if there is one pastime they enjoy more than killing people for not being Christian it is killing people for being the wrong sort of Christians.
The first three Crusades were more or less fit for purpose; the noble Christian lords of Western Europe pursued the goal of reclaiming the Holy City, Jerusalem from the Infidel and for a little R and R on the way, sacking the golden jewel of Christendom, Byzantium and anywhere else on their route that possessed anything worth liberating into their own private treasuries, whether the rightful owners owners were heathen, Jewish, Orthodox Christian, Christian but not important enough to be worth a ransom or Muslim. The 4th Crusade or Albigensian crusade as it became known was different however. It's aim was not to drive the insurgents out of a city they and their ancestors had occupied for thousands of years by surging in and killing enough of them to make the others understand running away would be a really good idea. The Albigensian Crusade however was called for by the Pope and his Cardinals to pursue the aim of ridding 'Christendom' (the parts controlled by the Pope that is, The Holy Roman Empire) of heretics, i.e. the wrong sort of Christians.
One sect of non Catholic Christians were the people we only know as The Cathars. As far as we know the followers of this belief system, whose centre was the area around Carcassonne 1 in southern France were not truly a sect but from what we know of their beliefs and way of life were more like the modern Quakers having no creed and no dogmas other than that one should strive to live a good and just life. Like the eastern orthodox, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian churches they did not believe that Jesus was the divine child of God and thus a part of the Trinity, but only that he was a great teacher, a Mahatma (Great Soul) as Hindus or Buddhists would say.
The Cathars were a heretic sect without a name then.The word Cathar is a slang name, used by Catholics as an insult. Other appellations given them were Perfects, the elect,Credentes, all similarly mocking and belittling and all taken from the annals of the Inquisition. They called themselves Good men, Good Women or
Good Christians (Bons Chretiens).
They Good People as we shall call them this being an era of inclusive nouns, were, undeniably dualists who believed that there were two Gods or two aspects of God; the good God of the spiritual world and the Bad God of the material world. Accordingly the material world was of no interest to them. They believed that you had to reach a spiritual enlightenment in order to finally reach and become part of the Good God.
The Catholic Church with its sacraments, relics, rules and prohibitions, its saints and gilded statues was seen as, at best, an irrelevancy to the Cathars. Catholics, they believed had simply missed the point of the gospels.2
It is important to understand that at the time of the Albigensian Crusade France, as we know it today did not exist. The modern political nation really only came into being after the revolution and Napoleonic Wars. South east France from the River Rhone to the Atlantic coast, Occitan or Languedoc (the modern department of Languedoc is the hinterland of France's eastern Mediterranean coast) had it's own language, the Lingue d' Oc (language of the west), was mostly ruled by the Dukes of Burgundy and was closely allied culturally and politically with the Kingdom of Castille in north east Spain.
The Catholic Church in Languedoc 3 was a chaotic mess of corruption and vested interest in the late 12th Century. Greedy Archbishops and Bishops preached the gospels but involved themselves in usury, extortion and political manipulation. These hypocrisies extended right down to the average village priest, who probably had a few concubines and was woefully ignorant of the theology or underpinning philosophy of Christianity. In comparison the humble, non materialistic Good People were ascetic, saintly men and women who ate no meat, were temperate learned and lived as simple artisans and farmers. No wonder then their community attracted many new followers.
Dualism, a heresy in itself as far as the Catholic Church was concerned, was rife throughout southern Europe there were special reasons for its success in the Occitan; as mentioned, the Church was corrupt and exploitative while the feudal system had not thrown up the central
organisation it had in Northern France and England. The ancient custom of dividing land equally between all children, men and women, had seen to that. Thus many of the peasants were living in abject poverty, trying to feed a family from the produce of a tiny plot of land. The Good People believed in community and mutual support and practiced communal farming while their leaders, the Perfects (who could be either women or mean, another heresy in the eyes of The Vatican) organised things to ensure nobody went hungry with others had plenty.
Having little use for money The Good People were not popular with the Bishops or noblemen who imposed extortionate taxes and sent out hired thugs to collect them.
Because a Cathar Perfects could be either women or men, many of the community leaders of Catharism were noble women of limited, but independent means. Occitan was a fragmented, independent state, not easily controlled or regulated and so the self regulating Dualist faith thrived.
In many rural areas The Good People were in the majority while in towns like Carcassonne or the region’s capital, Toulouse, Cathars and orthodox Christians (and indeed, Jews, remarkably enough) rubbed shoulders happily, each content to worship their own deity in their own way. It was in fact an example of anarchy in operation, anarchy being used here in its true sense rather that given the corrupted modern meaning of violent disorder.
Naturally such a bucolic situation could never be permitted to continue by those who believed in the unbreakable power of central authority. Lovers of Big Government have always feared communities in which individualism and self reliance are free to flourish. The local Church felt it was not getting enough income in taxes and tributes from the people and implored The Pope to intervene.
Innocent III was an activist Pope and was only too happy to respond to the entreaties of his Bishops. Like so many modern political leaders whose anxiousness to secure their place in history he thought that a racial or sectarian purification followed by a rewriting of history was the best way to go about it. Just as an aside, it was in Innocent III's papacy that the maxim, "Give me the child to the age of seven and I will give you the man for life," was coined.
The Cathar heresy was to Pope Innocent (was there ever a ruler so ironically named?) an insult to the Church and to God. He was determined to avenge that insult and wipe out the heretical belief system of the Cathars.
The local Lords , Raymond, Count Trancavel, Raymond VI of Toulouse and Raymond Roger of Foix were wankers. They caved in to the bullying of the Bishops, and pledged their support for a Holy Crusade to eradicate the heresy in their lands. In fact they did nothing, squandering an opportunity to warn the peaceful Cathars to keep a low profile, attend Catholic Church services and blend in with the community.
Time and again the Barons promised action which they never took. A missionary expedition saw the Pope’s legate ridiculed for his high
living by a simple Perfect.
Innocent sent a message via his emissaries to the Lords of Languedoc; No more Mr. nice guys, tell them it's nothing personal, just business. At the time the French monarchy was disputed and while the claimants distracted each other the powerful Duke of Burgundy fancied his chances as unifier of the nation. The Pope knew it was in his political interests to have a King in Paris who owed him bigtime rather than one who like The Duke of Burgundy, thought The Vatican should stick to spiritual matters and not meddle in the political affairs of nations.
Playing politics to perfection Pope Innocent promised the King of France his support if the King would back the Crusade against the Heretics. To prove his good faith and ensure the King knew what the price of failure would be, the Pope appointed his personal legate, an out and out bastard named Arnold Amaury to be Vatican's representative in the Crusades command structure. Though the King was nominal leader of the campaign every one knew Arnold was pulling the strings.
A massive army marched on Occitan to the astonishment of the local inhabitants. Sieges were mounted, the huge attacking force were pitted against local militias. The result has lived to this day as an indictment of the Church and a testimony to the paranoia induced by power. The civic leaders of Beziers proved to be even bigger auto - eroticists than the Lords of the region who at the first sign of trouble had all headed off to their country estates or remembered they had pressing reasons to be in Paris, Rome, Naples or ... well anywhere that was a long way from the trouble.
Inside Beziers the sound of hoofbeats had become almost deafening as Phobos and Diemos (fear and panic), the two firey - eyed black destriers that pulled the chariot of the war god, galloped unchecked through the streets. An undisciplined attack by a rabble of drunken hotheads panicked the townspeople so much they completely abandoned the their defensive positions on the sturdy walls and, unable to run away because the town was surrounded they hid in the church.
Lack of opposition allowed the raiders who should have easily been repulsed, to breach the walls. The main army of the Albigensian Crusade excited by their success surged into the town and the mayhem ensued. When the soldiers found the townsfolk cowering inside their church,
men, women, children, babies, catholics, good people, orthodox and Jews all together they sent word to their commanders asking what should be done. The Pope’s man Arnold Armaury supplied the answer without hestitation.
‘Kill them all – for God will know his own’.
An estimated 20,000 people were slaughtered at Beziers, an enormous number in a time when populations were less than a tenth of current levels. The town was plundered and burned It was complete destruction of friend and foe alike. The shock waves crashed across the province.
Beziers was the first in a long line of brutal encounter. At Carcassonne Raymond Roger went to negotiate peace terms with the French nobles, but was attacked and captured, at Bram captured soldiers had their eyes gouged out, their noses and top lips sliced off, all except one, who led the crippled army across the wastelands to the Cathar centre of Cabaret.
At Minerve 140 Perfect burned in one gigantic fire. Eye witness reports tell us that as the fires were lit the victims began singing their hymns and continued to do so rather than screaming with pain as the flames engulfed and consumed them.
At Lavaour ALL the southern nobles were hanged, regardless of faith. This showed a blatant disregard for the ‘rules’ of Medieval war which demanded that noble prisoners were to be treated with the respect due to their rank. Geralda, the lady of the castle there was stoned to death and her body cast down a well. 400 Cathars were burned, the biggest human bonfire in recorded history.
At Toulouse, Bishop Fulk persuaded the leaders of the City to talk about ways of ending the violence, only to have them seized, shackled abd humiliated as soon as they stepped outside the City defences of the City.
Out of this orgy of death and destruction one man emerged, Simon de Montfort. A brave and brilliant leader, he repeated won battles that should have been lost and punished the community without mercy. By the end of a single year’s campaigning, he was the effective lord of Languedoc.
The die was cast but in spite of the brutality and destruction that awaited anyone suspected of harbouring or even tolerating Cathars, the ordinary people did not turn on their kind and humane neighbours. The Holy war dragged on for decades for decades. In 1213 a group of the southern nobles formed an alliance with King Pedro of Aragon, ruler of Castille. Pedro's kingdom, though Catholic was prepared to tolerate The Good People as it was Jews, Arians, Muslims and Orthodox Christians. This may seem surprising given the history of the Catholic Church in Spain but the powerful House of Aragon, whose members held Duchies and Prinicpalities such as Naples, Sicily and at one stage Luxembourg was one of the very few political institutions strong nough to defy the Pope. For the first time, an army large enough and well enough supplied to hold the Occitan was pitted against the Northern French.
Victory for the South would have changed the course of European history but the campaign was a complete shambles (Phobos and Diemos had been let loose again.) 4. At one point the local Lords had won back nearly all Simon De Montfort’s gains, but whenever it seemed likely the South had put their opponents on the back foot, there was always another army of Crusaders funded and supported by the Pope and the Capet Kings of France to sweep through the lands, burning and killing the non combatants, plundering, raping and terrorising.
The Cathars however had one last refuge to which they were confident they could always fall back, Montsegur5, an apparently impregnable cliff-top castle in the mountains of the Massif Central. The Crusaders however found themselves a Trojan Horse, somebody with local knowledge who was bribed or tortured into revealing a secret path into the citadel. As the main army marched up the narrow path to the heavily protected main gate, distracting the defenders a small party entered the fortress by the secret route and opened another gate to let in enough soldiers to overpower the defenders.
There followed one of the most famous mass murders in history as the Crusaders captured the male Perfects and led them to the bottonm of the cliff beneath Montsegur. The perfects were then made to watch as their wives and children were thrown from the battlements. The fortress stands several thousand feet above the valley bottom so the Perfects would hear the terrified screams of their loved ones for almost half a minute.
Why did the Catholic Church pursue this genocide so violently? you might well ask. The Cathars were gentle and pacifistic and posed no threat to the Church or it's cloent Kings. According to the some speculative historians the Cathars had copies of various texts sacred to them and not Catholicism, including The Book of the Two Principles, and the Gospel of the Secret Supper. These and other texts depicted Jesus teaching that reincarnation is real, that Heaven and Hell do not exist, that the God of the Old Testament was instead Satan, and Almighty God is either Jesus or his Father in Heaven, but not the Old Testament God. This is a central tenet of Gnosticism also. The most earth-shattering point of this theory is that Jesus may have taught that reincarnation is real, leading people to speculate about who on Earth right now is Jesus, and when he will make his presence known again. These apocryphal texts sacred only to Catharism are commercially available, most falling under the header of Gnosticism.
The Albigensian Crusade was a truly Medieval war, it was about the feudal order as well as religion. The feudal system worked by a system of lief and leige, the Counts and Barons were vassals of their King or Duke, just as the serfs and tenant farmers were vasals of a Count or Baron. A nobleman ruled his lands as a tenant of the person higher up the ladder and those who extended their holdings would somtimes appoint a tenant to collect rents, fees and tributes in their lieu, a lieutenant.
While many of the soldiers did their 40 days military service for the indulgence of their sins and then returned to their farms, workshops and families, some, including the leaders were there to get rich. As well as what they made from pillage and plunder they hoped to be rewarded with lieu tenancies in the land confiscated from Southerners. The warped religious thinking held that anybody who had allowed a heretic to live was guilty of the same sin as that heretic. Thus the differences between Cathar and Catholic were largely ignored by the people of Languedoc who were actually fighting a war against northern invaders which did not end until 1229, with Langudoc becoming part of the French
In the end the heresy was not put down by armed oppression, but by the Papacy’s love of Roman Law, clerical efficiency and discipline. Innocent III was long gone but his legacy remained. The Church authorities instituted The Inquisition (Nobody expects The Spanish Inquisition) in 1233 with the stated aim of obliterating the Cathar Heresy from Occitan and Spain. The Inquisitors, Dominican and Franciscan Friars, listed the names and contacts, they mapped family networks and alliances, and worked fanatically and methodically to locate and destroy every remaining Bon Chretien.
It was The Inquiasition that invented the apparatus of the Police State, and the basic model worked as well now as it did in the thirteenth century. In 1321 the last Cathar Perfect, William Belibaste, was burned in the heart of Corbieres and the Church must have thought, the Dualists would sink into history. That they didn’t is purely because of the astonishing record keeping of the Church, allowing us to read the names and confessions of the people of Languedoc 700 years later. It has been said by many modern novelists and documentary authors and film makers that The Vatican is deeply secretive about embarrassing records in its archives. This is not true. The Headquarters of The Church of Rome is quite generous in allowing access top its archives, all they require in proof of identity and a letter of introduction from an accredited University or Theological college confirming that the bearer is an accredited student or scholar.
Beyond that a degree of supervision is required as the ancient texts are extremely fragile and completely irreplaceible.
Thus, thanks to the diligence of students over several centuries in investigating the origins of certain regional folk tales and legends who were prepared to go against the mainstream, the Cathar Heresy lives on, immortalised by the very people who sought to obliterate it.
Few people who take the trouble to read this will not have been made aware by reading material or television programmes on Stalin,
Hitler, Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot. There is little difference in the stories of these four tyrants or a host of others. Dictators who use overwhelming force and totalitarian tactics to force a belief on those who chose otherwise; leaders who are so arrogantly assured of their own superiority they can easily believe people who do not agree with them or support their world view are not fit to live.
It is deeply dispiriting to read that humanity, despite our enormous technological advances, has made so little progress in seven centuries. Time and again our political systems throw up ( ! ) leaders who believe that manipulation and force can suppress opinions other than those the central authority has approved, that might is right and that we can force all people to a single way of seeing the world.
There is a beautiful and enlightening irony in the fact that the genocide of the Cathar people and those who tolerated them all those years ago has led to the modern phenomena of Cathar Country, where thousand of visitor go every year to witness the places where the Good People opposed the Church with meekness and resignation.
Stephen O'Shea's book, The Perfect Heresy is an entertaining and accessible book on the Cathars, If you are interested in this topic, it is widely recommended by historians and book reviewers alike.
For readers who like more lightweight bedtime reading, Labyrinth, a novel by Kate Mosse is good entertaining stuff that gives a broad view of the history combined with a very readable modern conspiracy mystery. Last time I recommended a fiction for information on a serious topic (the economic collapse) one of the pseudo intellectual closet Nazis of here attacked me and tried to suggest my knowledge of economics was worthless if it came from reading novels. It was a spurious attack, typical of the small minded, mean spiriuted little bullies who try to impose their world view of everybody, but invalid because I had not suggested my knowdge of economics had come from that source.
Now I'll tell you I have read both Stephen O'Shea and Kate Mosse and found a different kind of enjoyment in each and I know both books will appeal to different type of reader. And if any mean, angry little gobshite wants to tell me I have no right to enjoy both, you can fuck off. In fact you can fuck the fucking fuck right off becaue I don't give a gant's fart what your opinion of me is.
(1) Carcassonne rapidly became the Crusading centre of the war, and home of
the conquering Lords, from Simon de Montfort onwards. For hundreds of years it
remained the centre of French royal power in Languedoc.
(2) It is amazing to us now that Cathars were considered Christian (Catholic)
heretics; their religion is so different from the Christianity of the day it can be considered entirely separate. Some scholars have suggested what The Vatican feared about The Good People was that their beliefs were much nearer to the teachings of Jesus than the creed of the Catholic Church had ever been.
(3) Langudoc – literally Language of Oc – where the word Oc was the linguistic root of Occident (Western)
(4) The alliance was defeated by Simon at the Battle of Muret
(5) Montsegur actually didn’t fall until 1243, after less than 100 fighting men kept
an army of thousands at bay for almost a year.
Nobody Expect The Spanish Inquisition
Catharism (online resource)
The Perfect Heresy Stephen O'Shea
Song Of The Cather Wars (A History Of The Albigensian Crusade)
Rebellion and Resistance - The History of Languedoc
The Cathar Library (specialist books on Cathar history)
Labyrinth - Kate Mosse
The Secret Religion (fiction)
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