Currently my husband and I are staying in the Languedoc region of France. As we drive down the road it is not long before one of us cries out ‘look a Castle’. There are at least 35 or more castles in this regions and many more Chateaus.
The history of the Cathars is deep here. The Cathar religion took root in the Languedoc region in the 11 century and gained more and more adherents during the twelfth century.
This was a sect which was critical of the corruption of the established church. They were non violent, opposed to power and considered oppression and the material world evil.
The Cathars were Gnostic Christians. They claimed that their beliefs and practices dated from the earliest Christian times, and predated the innovations of the Catholic Church . They had survived in Persia and gradually travelled westwards through the Byzantine Empire, the Balkans and Italy to Western Europe.
By the early thirteenth century Catharism was probably the majority religion in the area, supported by the nobility as well as the common people.
The Cathars believed in love which was based on respect for all of humanity; man, tree and beast. They were also well aware of the complete incompatibility of ‘power and love’. They followed the path of purity and holiness.
It is clear that the Cathars, or as they preferred to be known ‘Les Bonhommes’ (the good men), believed in a form of Dualism, the belief in the polar opposites of good and evil. The Cathars considered women to be equals and had no objection to contraception or euthanasia.
Virtually all Cathar literature was destroyed so we know little about what they really taught.
However, Cathar elders lived holy lives, and in an age in which the church was rich, top-heavy, and corrupt, the simple, pure Cathars attracted many followers.
The Cathars ridiculed Catholic doctrine and practices 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” (REF).
The Roman Church considered the feudal system to be divinely ordained as the Natural Order (Cathars disliked the feudal system because it depended on oath taking and because it fostered inequality).
It was then a crime to disagree with Catholic theology and a capital crime if the disagreement was repeated. So the Catholic side created some striking propaganda. When the propaganda proved unsuccessful, there was only one option left – a crusade – the Albigensian Crusade.
So it came down to ‘Love verses Rome’. Any Cathars who were in any way unsure of this maxim, had the lesson burned into them, at the stake.
The pope went to great lengths to fuel his extermination. The Pope forgave convicted criminals their sins if they would join the crusade against the heretics and he offered forgiveness in advance for their crimes. The prospect of loot excited many to join the army. Many Cathar castles which were looted and burned were then given to the commanders of the crusades and new castles were often built upon the site of the massacres.
The pope’s representative seemed almost proud in this letter: “neither age, nor sex, nor status had been spared.” When asked at the height of the butchery how the killers should distinguish Catholic from heretic. He was said to have replied.
“Kill them all; God will recognize his own.”
Although this cannot be verified, it indicates how contemporaries felt about the event (Reference).
Beziers was a Roman colony in 36BC and an important point on the route from Rome to Madrid. The crusaders swept down upon Beziers, arriving July 21, 1209. The entire town was burnt down and its 20,000 inhabitants put to death in the Catholic crusade against the Cathars.
The knights and bishops did nothing to stop the killing. But when the poor soldiers began to loot, the knights stepped in. The plunder was for them. They found it easy enough to stop their followers then. But some of the looters, angry at being cheated out of their share of the spoils, set buildings on fire. Soon much of the town was ablaze, and within a few hours the crusaders had to pull out, the heat was so intense. Many valuables perished in the blaze (Ref).
The fall of Beziers doomed the Cathars. Many Catholics then made terms with the crusaders, handing over local Cathars. They entered the churches, where the town’s folk huddled in terror, and butchered them in cold blood. In Minerve between 140 – 180 Cathars were burned alive at the stake.
This photo was taken in Minerve in memoriam to the Cathars that were killed here.
In other places, Cathars abandoned their cities and burned their castles so the invaders could not use them. Many many thousands of men women and children were butchered, beheaded and burnt alive.
Carcassone, a Cathar stronghold, held out for several months and managed to obtain decent terms of surrender.
The great craggy Cathar castle is now perfectly restored and still bears witness to the bloody battles of the middle ages. It is a site now where where tourists go to see a fairy tale sight of turretts and ramparts.
This story is extreme but this conduct still happens today and is repeated in many different settings.
This is the sequence: you disagree with the institution or leader, propaganda follows and then the ultimate punishment and control – expulsion. These things still happen. It has happened to me.
3: Expulsion either by death or by excommunication
Hitler and the Nazis did this to the Jews and to 3 million soviet prisoners of war. They hated and despised both the Jews and the Soviets, they spent years spreading propaganda and then the literally exterminated them in a programme of German cleansing.
I wonder how many of us have participated in the spirit behind this type of behaviour. We disagree with someone, we begin to loath them or maybe they just don’t suit our agenda. Then we trash them or gossip about them behind their back or talk about how we can get rid of them out of our institution or friendship group and then we cut them out of our lives or exclude them.
“War is what happens when language fails.”
― Margaret Atwood
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