THE DOCTORS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH and their Inquisitors considered Catharism a neo-Manichaeism because of its dualist theories. In reality, like the heresy of Manes (A.D. 216–276/77), it was a Manichaeism adapted to a Western mentality. The Mani, the symbol of Buddhist faith, found its faithful Cathar transcription in the Holy Spirit.¹
Following the example of the Hindus, a stone that fell from the stars, a lapsis ex coelis (Wolfram speaks of a lapsis exillis, an erroneous expression that makes no real sense) that illuminates and consoles the world, symbolized the pure doctrine, which signified nothing other than Catharism.
Esclarmonde, the “Light of the World,” kept the oriflamme of the Cathar faith in Montségur. At the most critical moment of the siege, four audacious knights took that emblem, “the treasure of the heretics” (as the Inquisitors called the Cathar relic), to the caves of Ornolac in a mountain journey filled with adventures. If we find a reference to the Grail in the “treasure of the heretics,” we will have found several points to support our hypothesis. As superficial as our reading of the poems in question may have been, it is clear that the Grail of Chrétien de Troyes, Guyot, and Wolfram has nothing to do with the Last Supper or a “Christian” relic. Priestly interventions appear nowhere in its story.
The Grail was a heretical symbol. Those who venerated the Christian cross cursed it and a crusade pursued it. The Cross undertook a holy war against the Grail.
The Cathars saw in the veneration of the cross an insult to the divine nature of Christ.² The repudiation of this symbol was such that—as an example—we can cite the cry of one of the Sons of Belissena: “I would never want to be redeemed by such a sign!”
What could have happened that drove the happy troubadour Fulk
To join the priestly order
To become the Church’s blood and staghound
Sniffing without pause after the traces of the heretics?
LENAU, THE ALBIGENSES
The son of a rich Genoese merchant from Marseille, Fulk was a bad troubadour; but when it came to fanaticism and greed, even the most bloodthirsty enemies of the heresy could not be compared to him.³
Over a long period, Fulk celebrated the wife of the Viscount Barral de Marseille in his songs; she accepted his homage but not his affection. Eventually she dismissed him because of his impetuous demands for plaisir d’amour. Throughout his life he ran after money and fame. When he found himself abandoned by all his patrons because of his immoral conduct, he took the priest’s habit, because this was the fastest way to advance in medieval life. He was not mistaken. Shortly after entering the Cistercian order, he was named prior of the monastery at Floreja. Five years later he was bishop of Toulouse. When a pontifical legate who arrived in Provence to eradicate the heresy learned that the ex-troubadour had been chosen bishop of Toulouse, he exclaimed,“All is saved, because God has entrusted the Church to such a man!”
Soon his parish income was insufficient to satisfy the demands of this troubadour in a cassock, and he sank into debt. The townsfolk held the despicable priest in such contempt that he could not go out in the street without someone jeering or insulting him. It is told that one day in a sermon, when Fulk compared the heretics with wolves and the Catholics with sheep, one of those whose eyes had been gouged out, and whose nose and lips had been cut by Simon de Montfort, the butcher of Occitania, got up, pointed to himself, and said, “Has a sheep ever bitten a wolf like this?”
Fulk answered that Montfort had been a good dog.
Esclarmonde’s brother, the Count of Foix, accused this bishop before Pope Innocent III of causing the deaths of more than 500,000 persons.⁴
Through a fatal turn of events, Occitania and its Tabor were inundated with hatred and damnation. Obeying a deadly law, the powerful of the world rewarded the supreme Minne of the Cathars with the most violent hatred!
They were those who knew also the Father;
Where are they then? They were burnt alive.
GOETHE, THE ETERNAL JEW
During the second half of the twelfth century, the Pure Doctrine marched triumphantly across the Occitan provinces of the south of France. Knights, townsfolk, and even some of the clergy saw in the “good men” the enunciators of the true Evangelism, and very little more was needed to sweep Rome’s power over Christianity from Provence, Languedoc, and Gascony.
No country could boast of its spiritual freedom and religious tolerance with greater reason than Occitania. All opinions could be freely expressed, all religious confessions were treated equally, and it is quite possible to assert that no real antagonism existed between classes. We have already learned the necessary requirements to be armed as a chavalièr.
In no other part of Europe did chivalry flourish as in Occitania. Occitan knights were as at home in the Holy Land or Tripoli—which was really nothing other than an Occitan province—as in the Roussillon or Toulouse. For certain, it was their spirit of adventure, not religious fervor, that led them to the Orient. Almost all who returned brought, instead of religious edification, an unforgettable recollection of the splendor, mysticism, and pleasant life of the Orient. Added to this was the fact that the Church demanded a spiritual and temporal submission that was incompatible with Occitan honor and pride in being free men. Almost all the barons and knights of the country were Cathar believers. With great respect, they welcomed the Perfect Ones to their castles, served them at their tables, and entrusted the education of their children to them.⁵
At last, after a long and brutal fight against feudalism, the burghers of Occitania’s cities had achieved their autonomy and freedom. Enriched, and proud of their extensive commerce with Oriental ports, they defended their municipal privileges with ever-growing success. The burghers imitated the customs of the nobility and competed with them in bravura and palatial spirit; like them, they dabbled in poetry, and if they wished to, they could easily become “knights.” Jealous of their independence, they rejected the influence of the clergy and temporal authorities, although they shared the latter’s antipathy for the Church and its clerics.
On one occasion, the Bishop of Albi was called to the deathbed of a dying relative. He asked him in which monastery he wished to be buried. “Don’t worry. I want to die together with the ‘bonshommes’ and to be buried by them.” The Bishop declared that he would not allow it. “The more you try to hinder me,” declared the dying man, “I will drag myself on all fours to them.” And so it was: The bonshommes took care of, consoled, and buried the relative of the Bishop of Albi.
Without any doubt, the rampant corruption in the Church was primarily responsible for the anti-Rome movement in Occitania. Many bishops visited their diocese only to collect arbitrary taxes, and for this purpose they retained entire armies of tax collector-robbers. The disorder that reigned among the clergy was indescribable. They fought and excommunicated one another. To avoid recognition, priests hid their tonsures and wore lay clothing. If they managed to escape the glares and taunts of the people in the street, they could not silence the revilement of the troubadours:
Soon the day will come
When the world will be completely reversed.
The priest will go to the tournament
And the women will preach.
When a heretic preached, people came in throngs and listened enthusiastically. If by chance a Catholic priest spoke, the crowd would ask him ironically how he could dare to preach the Word of God.
The Church recognized that the heresy’s progress was stimulated by the clergy’s depravity and failure at their duties. Pope Innocent III declared “that the responsibility for the depravity of the people’s customs belongs fundamentally to the clergy, and that from there flowed all Christianity’s problems… .” To combat the sects efficiently, the clergy had to enjoy the esteem and confidence of the populace, but for some time, it had ceased to deserve them.
On one occasion, [Saint] Bernard de Clairvaux said of the Cathars, “Certainly there are no other sermons more Christian than yours and your customs are pure.” Should it surprise us then that Catharism—which has been identified throughout the centuries with Occitan civilization—extended itself in such an expansive way and that in the end was considered as the Sancta Glieiza of Occitania?
Entire monasteries passed over to Catharism and even ailing bishops were treated and consoled by the bonshommes.
Peter Waldo, a rich merchant in Lyon, had the New Testament translated into his mother tongue circa 1170 so he could read it.⁷ Soon he realized that the angelic life as Christ and his apostles had taught it was nowhere to be seen. Consequently, he started to preach the Gospel as he conceived it. Soon he had numerous followers whom he sent as missionaries on all the pathways of the world. It was rare indeed if a noble adhered to the Waldensian sect. Its converts were almost exclusively from the lower classes; its preachers preferred to announce the new doctrine (la nobla leyczon, as a troubadour called it) in the streets and town squares. Discussions between Waldenses and Cathars were frequently organized, but a perfect harmony reigned between the two “heresies.” Rome, which often confused the Waldenses of southern France with the Cathars, classified both under the name “Albigenses.” They were two different and independent heresies, and the only thing they had in common was that the Vatican had sworn to exterminate them.
Inquisitor Bernard Gui in his Inquisitor’s Manual, gives us a description of Waldensian doctrine:⁸
Contempt for Ecclesiastical power has been and still is the main heresy of the Waldenses… an error that earned them excommunication and their conversion to Satan… .
They argue against all oaths, whether in law or elsewhere … in the name of God, and they think that they can back up their claims by alluding to texts of the Holy Gospel.
Again, the followers of this sect hold in contempt the sacrament of penitence and the power of the keys of the Church. They affirm to have received from God the right to listen to confessions, to forgive sins and impose penance. Publicly they manifest that they have not received this power of the keys from the Church, because they were expelled from her, and outside of her, there is neither true penance nor possibility of salvation.
Again, they err regarding the sacrament of the Eucharist, because they maintain that the bread and the wine cannot convert into the Body and the Blood of Christ if the consecration is performed by a sinning priest.
Again, the Waldenses affirm that purgatory does not exist after this life, and that the alms and masses of the believers serve for nothing for those who have died.
Again, they hold in contempt prelates, priests, monks and nuns of the Catholic Church. They say that they are authentically blind and that they lead other blind who in no way preach the pure Gospel and who do not know the real apostolic poverty.
Again, they presume to be the successors of the apostles and to practice true apostolic and evangelic poverty.
Again, the Waldenses eat and drink like everybody else. He who wants and can fast does so Mondays and Wednesdays. And all eat meat, because they say that Christ did not forbid eating meat.
Again, they recommend to their followers continence, but permit to appease the ardor of passion, although through shameful carnal relations. They affirm with the Sacred Scripture: “It is better to marry than to suffer the ardor of passion.”
Again, their “Perfecti” do not work and hold money in contempt, not that they don’t recognize it and fall into its claws. Again, they call each other “brother” and call the “poor of Christ” or the “poor of Lyon.”
Again, the only prayer that they teach and recite is the “Lord’s Prayer.” They do not know either the “God save you, Maria” nor the “I believe in God the All powerful Father” because they say that both prayers were not introduced by Christ rather the Catholic Church.
If you wish to know if one is a Waldense, it is sufficient to ask him to recite the Credo as the Catholic Church teaches it. He will answer: “I don’t know it because nobody taught it to me like that.”
While Occitania’s clergy remained inactive, either from indolence or a justified fear of the powerful protectors of the sects, the progress of these “heretics of Toulouse and Albi” engendered genuine consternation among the prelates of northern France. At their urging, Pope Alexander III convoked the Council of Tours in 1163. The Pope, sixteen cardinals, 184 bishops, and more than four hundred abbots issued the following decree:
An abominable heresy has taken hold in the country and from there has poisoned Gascony and the rest of the southern provinces. Consequently, we forbid, under the penalty of excommunication, all bishops and clerics to receive the heretics or to sell or buy a single thing from them.⁹
Two years later, it was the Catholic Occitan clergy’s turn to stop the expansion of the heresy, but they were in far too weak a position to contemplate outright persecution. The only solution they saw was to invite the Cathar leaders to a public debate. To this end, the Bishop of Albi invited the most distinguished heretics to the town of Lombers: Constance, the sister of King Louis VII of France and wife of Raimundo V, Count of Toulouse, and Raimon-Trencavel, Viscount of Albi, Béziers, and Carcassonne—all the vassals of the Count of Toulouse agreed to attend. The Cathars who were summoned to the conference energetically refused to be interrogated by the prelates and demanded a debate; the clergy had no other choice than to agree to it. A little bit of everything was discussed until the Cathars declared that they could not find in the New Testament a single passage that would permit priests to live a more sumptuous life than princes, and adorn themselves with luxurious garments, jewels, and trappings.
When the Abbot of Albi launched an anathema against the bons– hommes, they replied, “You are the heretic, and we can demonstrate it with the Gospel and Epistles!”¹⁰
Because a safe-conduct pass had been guaranteed, the Cathars could return to their woods and caves in safety. The clergy, for their part, could gauge just how weak their position was in these provinces, and just how much they were detested.
Toulouse was the bulwark of the heresy. The Cistercian monks tried to convert the laymen, but instead of conversions, all they collected were derision and insults. The “commission for conversions” believed that they could only clean this “stable of Augeas” with brute force, and as their first example they summoned Pèire Maouran [Morand] to appear before them. The most illustrious citizen of the town, Morand was over seventy years of age. The people of Toulouse called this Cathar “priest” or “priest John.”
The Cardinal-legate, Pedro de San Crisogono, began by telling him, “Peire Morand, you are suspected of Arianism.”
“No.” (Peyre Morand was not lying because he was not an Arian.)
“Can you swear it?”
“My word is enough, I am a knight and a Christian.”
Peire Morand was firm for a long while. But when they threatened to confiscate his assets, ruin his palazzo and his castles, his strength subsided, and he swore.¹¹
They led him naked through the streets of Toulouse to the Church of Saint Estève. The Cardinal had him flogged before the altar. Then he promised him absolution for his sins if, in a period of forty days henceforth, he would abandon the country as a pilgrim to the Holy Land, where he should serve the “poor of Jerusalem” for three years. Until his departure, he should be whipped every day in the streets of Toulouse.
They confiscated all he had, but they promised to return his property to him when he returned from Palestine.
The severity of the missionaries produced the desired effect. Multitudes of Tolzans [the inhabitants of Toulouse] rushed to reconcile themselves with the Church. Proof of the sincerity of these conversions is demonstrated by the fact that after he returned from the Holy Land, Peire Morand was elected three consecutive times capìtul [alderman] by his fellow citizens.
The punishment of Pèire Morand was only the prelude for further persecutions. Cardinal Peyre de San Crisogono excommunicated all the Cathars in the city of Toulouse, who then fled to Carcassonne to be close to Roger Taillefer and Adélaide [Adelasia]. The Viscount of Carcassonne was very tolerant in religious matters. Catholics, Cathars, and Jews lived together in perfect harmony in his domains and benefited from identical rights. A Jew named Caravita was his treasurer and Bertran de Saissac, a heretic, his minister.
When the missionaries demanded that Roger Taillefer extradite the fugitives, Adélaide retired to Castres with the outcasts. The lords of Castres were vassals of the Viscounts of Carcassonne, and they belonged to the family of the “children of the moon.” Irmgard, Isarn, and Orbria were the ladies of Castres, and their brother Guilhabert was the patriarch of Occitania; his subterranean church was located in a cave in Ornolac.
The Cistercians tried in vain to convince Adélaide and her barons to hand over the Cathars. They had no other option than to leave Castres empty-handed.
Meanwhile, Pope Alexander III convoked the Third Council of the Lateran in 1179.¹² The Pontiff dictated fresh, harsh measures against the Cathars of Gascony, Albi, and Toulouse: The Count of Toulouse, the Viscount of Béziers, the Count of Foix, and the greater part of the barons of Occitania were all excommunicated.
Pope Alexander, whose missionaries in Toulouse and the Occitan prelates told him in terrifying terms about the growing power and audacity of the sect, believed that the moment had come to send a new special legate to the heretical provinces to guarantee the strict application of the resolutions of the Third Council of the Lateran. For the second time, he entrusted this mission to the Cistercians, under the orders of their abbot, Henri de Clairvaux. To lend more weight to his mission, Henri, whom the Lateran council had named Cardinal-Bishop of Albano, proclaimed a “Crusade against the Albigenses.” It was the first time that such a coercive method was employed by the Church against other Christians.
De Clairvaux and his soldier-pilgrims headed for Lavaur, one of the best-supplied castles of the Viscount of Carcassonne.¹³ At the time, Roger-Taillefer was campaigning at the side of the Count of Toulouse, and was unable to send any reinforcements to the besieged city. Adélaide assumed command of the defense. But Lavaur could not resist the pounding of the Catholic army, and the Viscountess was soon obliged to open the doors of the city to the crusaders.
The fall of Lavaur forced Roger-Taillefer to sue for peace. Although he renounced the heresy, we shouldn’t attach great importance to this: He only wanted to avoid further disasters for his country, which was left in ruins by the crusade. He was not mistaken that diplomacy favored his cause and that of the heretics. Thanks to this act of submission, his country was spared the missionaries from Rome—for a while.
The coat of arms of Lotario de’ Conti—an eagle fulminating bolts of lightning—became the symbol of his domination: “Urbi et Orbi” [to the City (Rome) and the world]. Under the name of Innocent III he became God’s vicar: for the Cathars, not the God whose angelic choruses announce the good news on the evening of Christmas, but the God of tempests who, from Sinai or Mount Olympus, has his lightning ready for those who scorn his majesty.¹⁴ Without beating around the bush, on the day of his Papal coronation (February 22, 1198) de’ Conti defined the powers that he believed to have received from heaven. In his ritualized speech, he said, “God has placed me above the peoples and kingdoms to root out and exterminate, but also to build, and plant. To me, these words were sent: I will give you the keys of the heavens, and what you bind to Earth will be bound in heaven. I find myself between God and men, smaller than God but larger than man… .”
With growing anger, he contemplated the expansion of the Cathar heresy, and realized that his Church was in danger—a Church outside of which there is no salvation. Innocent believed that Catharism was so dangerous, he had to tear it out by the roots and throw it into the fire.
Two months after his enthronement, the Pope wrote to all prelates, princes, and nobles, and the French people in general, ordering them to dispossess and burn all heretics who did not return to the true faith. Furthermore, six months later, he gave full powers to his legate, Rainier Sacconi, to radically reform the Church and reestablish ecclesiastical discipline in Occitania for the purpose of eliminating this “source of evil.” The Occitan clergy did not look favorably upon Rainier’s reforms. With all the means at their disposal, they tried to thwart his mission, almost to the point of allying themselves with the heretics against the Holy See.
Rainier fell ill in the summer of 1202 and was replaced by Pèire and Raoul, two monks from the Cistercian abbey of Fontfroide, not far from Narbonne. They began their mission in Toulouse. Raimundo VI had just succeeded his illustrious father, the patron of the troubadours, as Count. Only two years after coming to power, Pope Celestine III [circa 1106–1198; r. 1191–1198] excommunicated Raimundo “because of his ransacking of churches and convents.” (Innocent III rescinded the excommunication in 1198.)
Raimundo VI had always maintained intimate contacts with the Cathar sect. A number of perfecti accompanied him on his travels and military expeditions; he always carried—and this is what the Church always threw in his face—a copy of the New Testament with him, to be able to receive the consolamentum in case of illness or fatal wound. He regularly attended heretical meetings for which the best halls of his castle were used. “He knelt, as all believers, when the perfecti recited their prayers, asked for their benediction and the kiss of peace. He exhorted his vassals and troubadours to follow his example, and he was never afraid to publicly display his aversion for Rome and his sympathies for Catharism.”¹⁵
The pontifical legates could do nothing. Innocent III declared, “A new Great Flood is needed to purify the country from sin, and to prepare a new generation.” To this end, he decided to put all the strength of the Church into the obliteration of Catharism.
Completely demoralized, the two monks of Fontfroide petitioned the Pope to dismiss them from their duties. Innocent III then named as new head of the Church’s commission Arnaud de Cîteaux, “abbot of the abbots,” supreme head of the great order of Cister, a somber and implacable man filled with zeal for the cause of the Catholics.¹⁶
By the end of May 1204, Innocent III had formed a new authority that comprised Arnaud and his Cîteaux monks and Pierre de Castelnau and monks of the Fontfroide abbey, and gave them extraordinary powers. But the outward appearance of the legates and their attendants was not very appropriate for the success of their mission. They traveled across the land on gorgeous horses and accompanied by an army of servants. Considering that the Occitan heretics reproached the Catholic clergy most strongly for their luxury and riches, it is easy to imagine the impression they gave: “Look,” the people shouted, “these people want to speak with us about Our Father Jesus Christ, who was poor and walked barefoot!” When the Cistercian monks attempted to convert them, the listeners turned and left, shrugging their shoulders and smiling ironically. The legates quit their endeavors, understanding that their efforts had been in vain. Completely demoralized, they were more decided than ever to request their dismissal from the Pope.
As luck would have it, they met Diego de Acevedo, Bishop of Osma, and his subprior Domingo de Guzmán in Montpellier. Both were returning from Rome where Pope Innocent had denied them the permission they needed to leave the Bishopric of Osma so they could dedicate themselves to the conversion of the heretics. When de Acevedo learned that the Cistercians were thinking of breaking off their mission, he recommended that they renounce their sumptuous retinue and mix among the people, barefoot and poor like the Apostles; they might thus have more success. The idea was so new that at the first instant, the legates vacillated. But when he declared that he was ready to set a good example and help them in their mission, they followed his advice. Pierre de Castelnau, Arnaud de Cîteaux, Diego de Acevedo, Domingo de Guzmán, and the monks of Fontfroide and Cîteaux left Montpellier and began their pilgrimage across heretical Occitania barefoot and dressed in hair tunics, preaching the true Gospel of the Catholic Church.
Roman legates, Cathars, and Waldenses, at the same time and place, claimed to be the true successors of Christ. Poor like him, they proclaimed the Gospel, outside of which there is no salvation.
It is true, I tell you
Fortunate are those who suffer
Persecution for the sake of the Gospel,
Because the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them… .
Two by two, three by three, the Roman legates crisscrossed the southern provinces, preaching. Their results left a lot to be desired. They were forced to accept the challenges of the Cathars, who believed that they could resolve who was closest to the Evangelical doctrines through public debates. Many debates and conferences took place, but the most important was the one that took place in Pamiers, in 1207.¹⁷
Pamiers is a small town on the banks of the Ariège, located in the northern part of the County of Foix. Since 1204, it had been the residence of Esclarmonde, who was Princess of Foix and Viscountess Jordan y Gimoez. As we have already mentioned, Esclarmonde had married the Viscount Jordan, from the illustrious house of Comminges and Selio. After her husband’s death, she renounced the favorable clauses in his will and left Gascony to take up residence in the Castellar de Pamiers, a place that her brother Raimon-Roger had given her for her widowhood. Under Esclarmonde, Pamier became the mystical “metropolis” of Occitania, the Cathar equivalent of Toulouse chivalry. From the caves of Sabarthès and the Montagne Noir, the heretical philosophers streamed there to discuss with her the philosophy of Plato and the wisdom of Saint John the Evangelist.
It was there that Esclarmonde, with the permission of her brother, invited the pontifical legates and the most erudite Cathars. Our knowledge of the particulars of the conference is insufficient. Nevertheless, a detail exists that reveals for us the difficulties of the Roman legates. When Esclarmonde reproached Rome for the bloody crusade of Albano, a monk shouted in anger, “Madame, you should be with your spindle! Everything is lost on you in such a meeting!”
The Bishop of Osma and Domingo de Guzmán spoke on behalf of Rome. We don’t know if Domingo participated in the discussion. Perhaps the moment for “miracles” had not yet arrived for the future “Saint Dominic.”
The Pamiers conference made evident once again the extraordinarily grave situation the Cathars were in. A year earlier, Gauceli, patriarch of heretical Aquitaine, had brought together a congregation of hundreds of perfecti and innumerable “believers” in the Tower of Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix. They harbored the suspicion that the Church, faced with the impossibility of eradicating the heresy through conferences and missionary work, would soon resort to violence. As a consequence, they decided to request from Esclarmonde and her vassal Raimon de Perelha the castle Montségur as a supreme refuge during emergencies. With an escort of heretical bishops, deacons, and knights, the patriarch went first to see Raimon de Perelha, and then to Castellar de Pamiers to speak with Esclarmonde, because the entire mountainous zone of the Tabor belonged to her widow-estates. Raimon, one of the Sons of the Moon—the most fanatical adherents of Catharism—was immediately willing to put the castle of Montségur in shape and refortify it with advanced works. By giving her acquiescence, Esclarmonde did nothing other than see her own desires satisfied that the knowledge that the safety of the castle of the Paraclete and the Tabor would be guaranteed. That is how Montségur—the “Temple of Abellio,” thecastellum montis securi, the citadel protecting the sacrosanct mountain of the Tabor, the “Parnassus” of Occitania—was fortified and made ready.¹⁸Over half a century, this Noah’s ark would be able to resist the waves of blood and crimes that would suddenly flood Occitania, destroying its culture and civilization.
Domingo de Guzmán established his residence in Fanjeaux, where he could observe Montségur. It was in Fanjeaux where Domingo, “through the intervention of the rosary, finally succeeded in moving the Virgin Mary to exterminate the heresy.” It was also from Fanjeaux that the Inquisition would extend itself around the world, tormenting it for centuries like a horrible nightmare.
In the meantime, Pierre de Castelnau launched his fulminating excommunication of the Count of Toulouse, putting his lands under Papal interdiction. On May 29, 1207, the Pope confirmed the sentence of his legate. Innocent III announced the punishment that God had in store for the Count of Toulouse in this life and the next. He added that in the name of God, he himself would exhort Christian princes to expel him from Toulouse and authorize them to divide his county between them, so as to be free of the heresy once and for all. The communiqué said the following:
To the noble Count of Toulouse:
What pride has taken over your heart, leper! Without any interruption, you have waged war on your neighbors, scorned the laws of God, and allied yourself with the enemies of the true faith. Tremble, atheist, because you are going to be punished. How could you be capable of protecting the heretics, cruel and barbarous tyrant? How can you pretend that the faith of the heretics is better than that of the Catholics?
Still, you have committed other crimes against God: you do not want peace; you make war on Sunday and ransack convents. To shame Christianity, you have given public offices to Jews.
Our legates have excommunicated you. We have backed their decision. But because our mission is to forgive sinners, we order you to seek penitence to merit our indulgent absolution. Because we cannot leave your offenses to the Church and to God unpunished, we inform you that we are ordering the confiscation of all your worldly goods, and to raise all princes against you, because you are an enemy of Jesus Christ. But the anger of the Lord will not stop there. The Lord will destroy you!
Events were clearly leading to a catastrophe. In a vain attempt to move the legates toward indulgence, Raimundo declared that he was ready to accept all the conditions of the Church. They no longer listened to his plea; they publicly called him “coward and liar.”
Against this background, an unknown knight assassinated Pierre de Castelnau.¹⁹ The emissary of the Vicar of God in Rome had fallen—murdered: Rome would know how to avenge his death.
Immediately thereafter, Pope Innocent III excommunicated Raimundo, the assassins, and their accomplices. Sunday after Sunday, throughout the Western world, the Church proclaimed “with bell, book, and candle” their excommunication and the interdiction of any place they might tread upon. Raimundo’s vassals were freed of their oath of loyalty. Regarding Raimundo, he could only begin to contemplate a request for forgiveness after demonstrating his repentance by expelling the heretics from his territory.
The Pope called on all Christianity to take up arms. He ordered all bishops to preach a crusade against this irreconcilable enemy of the Church and his heretical subjects, “who are worse than the Saracens.” He asked the King of England to make peace with France, and to ally himself with Philip II against Toulouse.
The Archabbot Arnaud de Cîteaux hastily convoked a general chapter of the Cistercian order, which unanimously decided to preach the new crusade. Arnaud and his brothers of the order traversed France preaching the cross against the heretical provinces of the Midi. Bishops and priests added their voices to the Cistercian fanatics. The churches resounded with sermons that exhorted the Catholic populace to take up arms in favor of God’s cause.
To make the recruitment of soldiers for this Holy War easier, the Pope promised indulgences that were similar to those given to the participants in the crusades in the Holy Land. Also, the participants in the struggle against the Albigenses were assured eternal salvation: “Any person, as great a sinner as any, can escape the torments of Hell if he fights against the heretics!”
The Vatican called up all loyal Christians to defeat the heresy: “Forward, brave soldiers of Jesus Christ! Fight the agents of the Antichrist. Until now, you have fought for mundane glory; from these moments on, fight for celestial glory. I call upon you to serve God, not for an Earthly reward; I call upon you so that you can win the kingdom of the heavens. For your prowess as warriors I promise you this reward with a tranquil conscience and with the most absolute conviction!”
The imminence of the storm shook the Count of Toulouse. He earnestly implored the Archabbot of Cîteaux to give him absolution. Arnaud refused him on the pretext that he did not have the power to lift his excommunication and referred him to the Pope.
Raimundo’s nephew, the young Raimon-Roger from the House of Trencavel, recommended that Raimundo begin preparations for strong resistance. But the Count was completely demoralized. He sent emissaries to the Vatican with the news that he wanted to submit himself to the sovereign decision of the Church. Innocent demanded that Raimundo hand over his strongest castles as a demonstration of his good will. Once done, the Pope would be willing to listen to him and lift his excommunication—if he could prove his innocence. Raimundo accepted these conditions. He didn’t suspect that the Pope would trick him with a fictitious indulgence until the moment for his complete destruction had arrived.
Raimundo handed over seven of his most important fortresses to the Papal legate, Milo, who in turn entrusted them to abbots and bishops, and Raimundo swore unconditional submission to the Pope and his legates.
Stripped to the waist, in the atrium of the Church of Saint Gilles he swore again to put himself henceforth in the Church’s service, eradicate the heresy, dismiss all Jews from their positions, and personally participate in the crusade. Then the legate whipped the Count’s back with a cane and led the penitent to the altar where, in the name of the Pope, his excommunication was lifted. From this moment on, the Count of Toulouse took up the cross against his own vassals.
In July 1209, Innocent III sent him a letter, congratulating him for his submission and penitence, and let him guess the nature of his salvation in this world and the next. What Raimundo did not know, however, was that the same Papal courier brought another letter for the legate Milo with the order to continue chastising the Count.
Two months later, “Because, in the interim he has not managed to exterminate the heretics,” the Count of Toulouse was again excommunicated and all his worldly goods put under interdiction.
A crusade such as had never been seen before in all history began to assemble in Lyon. The Church’s assurance that all the crusaders would return to their homes in forty days, carrying booty and gaining eternal life, had the desired effect.
In Lille, a thief joined the crusade to escape arrest, but was detained at the last minute. Faced with this infringement of the crusaderss immunity, the archbishop of Rheims excommunicated Countess Mathilde de Flandres and placed her dominions under interdiction; she freed the pilgrim, and he left with the crusade against the Albigenses.
From all over the Western world, new recruits continued to flow toward Lyon: from the Île de France, Burgundy, Lorraine, the Rhineland, Austria, Friesland, Hungary, and Slavonia. Christianity in its entirety wanted to march against Provence and Languedoc to suppress once and for all this scandalous situation that had resisted all the Church’s efforts to remove it for nearly three generations.
On June 24, 1209, the crusaders left Lyon and followed the Rhône river downstream: 20,000 knights and more than 200,000 citizens and peasants, not counting the clergy and the merchants, headed for Occitania.
But what a mishmash, this army of Jesus Christ: At its head rode the somber and implacable Archabbot of Cîteaux, the “chief of the Christian armies against the Albigensian heretics.” With his monk’s cowled habit swept back by the wind, this apocalyptic knight galloped toward a country that did not worship his God. Behind him, the army of archbishops, bishops, abbots, priests, and friars sang the dies irae. Together with the princes of the Church marched secular princes with their magnificent armor of steel, silver, and gold. Then came the bandit-knights with their ramshackle armaments: Robert “No, lieutenant,” Guy “Doesn’t-drinkthe-water,” and all the other what’s-his-names. Then came the citizens and peasants, and behind them the dregs of all Europe: the ribautz (ruffians), the truands (crooks), and in the temples of Venus on four wheels, the prostitutes of the lords of all the nations. I will not go into details… .
In a speech delivered on September 1, 1883, Pope Leo XIII declared that the Albigenses had attempted to overthrow the Church by force of arms.²⁰ She had been saved, continued the Holy Father, not by military force but through the prayer of the holy rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a rosary that was the invention of Domingo de Guzmán.
This has nothing to do with the truth. Through the chronicles of Guillermo de Tudela and Pierre de Vaux-Cernay, both enthusiastic members of the crusade, let’s accompany the soldiers of Christ in Occitania, and penetrate the wildest Pyrenean vales and the darkest caves where only death reigned… .
Despite its obvious religious motives, and the fact that the Vatican sponsored it, the crusade against the Albigenses was fundamentally a war between northern and southern France. The nobles of the north were burning to complete the unification of the country, a task initiated seven hundred years before by Clovis I, France’s first king. And the people of the south, both Catholics and heretics, unanimously opposed such an invasion, despite the multiple venalities of which their own nobility and cities were capable. There was no religious hatred between the Catholics and the heretics in the Midi. Heretics and Catholics (naturally, I am not referring to the clergy) lived side by side in peace. Very rarely did orthodox Occitanians give any help to the crusaders (here again, we are dealing with laymen). It would have been logical for Occitania’s Catholics to receive the crusaders as liberators from the domination or tyranny of some hated enemy belief, but this was not the case. For the Occitanians, secular tolerance had become a custom, and the love of the land was stronger than religious contradictions.
The young Raimon-Roger of the House of Trencavel, Viscount of Béziers and Carcassonne, rode to meet the crusaders. He tried to avoid disaster for his two towns, but he had to return without achieving his goal. In Béziers, his subjects surrounded him:
“Is there any hope?”
“Fight to the death! God be with you!”
And he continued galloping toward Carcassonne.
Béziers awaited the arrival of the crusaders.²¹ A dragon belching fire and destruction was coming closer in a deafening march… .
An aged priest asked to enter the city. It was Reginald de Montpeyroux, the bishop who had joined the crusade. The bells called the faithful to the cathedral, which was constructed in the Romanesque style by master Gervasi.
“The crusaders are about to arrive,” said the old priest; “give us the heretics; if not, you will all perish.”
“Betray our brothers? We would rather be cast to the bottom of the sea!”
The bishop mounted his mule and left the town. The unexpected answer provoked such a seizure of anger in the Grand Prior of Cîteaux that he swore to erase with blood and fire both Catholics and heretics, and not to leave a single stone on top of another.
On the afternoon of July 25, the crusaders were in sight. Impatient for their plunder, the ribautz and truands rode toward the town on their own initiative. For the rest of the pilgrims, there was nothing else to do but follow them. The doors gave way. As the crusaders burst into the town, the inhabitants of Béziers, both orthodox and heretic, fled in terror for the relative safety of the two churches. One of the barons asked the Grand Prior of Cîteaux how they could distinguish the heretics from the Catholics; if we are permitted to believe Caesarius von Heisterbach, Arnaud responded:Caedite Eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius! [Slay them all! God will know his own!]
In the houses of God, where priests adorned with ornaments celebrated the mass for the dead, all the inhabitants of the town were murdered: men, women, and children (“Twenty thousand,” wrote Arnaud de Cîteaux to the Holy Father). Nobody was left alive. Even the priests were burned alive before the altar. And the crucifix, along with the safety from the invaders that it represented, was smashed on the stone slab floor.
Nothing could save them; neither the cross, nor the altar or crucifix; and these crazed ruffians and beggars cut the throats of priests, women, and children.
Not one, I believe escaped. Shall God receive their souls in Glory!
GUILLERMO DE TUDELA
The town was sacked. While the crusaders were fully occupied with their work as executioners in the churches, robbers devoted themselves to pillaging the town. Because nobody wanted to renounce the spoils that were promised, the flats of swords and heavy sticks were required to separate these wandering thieves from their booty.
Then the town was set ablaze. The thick smoke blackened out the sun on this horrible day in July, a sun that, on the Tabor, was just about to set.
“God is with us!” exclaimed the crusaders. “Look, what a miracle! No vulture or crow is interested in this Gomorrah!”
The bells melted in their belfries, the dead burned in the flames, and the cathedral blew up like a volcano. Blood flowed, the dead burned, the town blazed, walls fell, monks sang, crusaders slaughtered, and gypsies pillaged. So died Béziers—and so began the Crusade against the Grail.
Without vultures and crows, Béziers was left to the wolves and jackals. News of her horrific end sowed panic in every town of the Languedoc. No one had expected this.
Everybody knew that the “crusade” was a war, but that the Louvre and the Vatican would rival each other in barbarity to obliterate Occitania was a shock. When they came to this realization, it was too late: the crusade with its 300,000 pilgrims was already in the heart of the country, and the Count of Toulouse, who participated directly in combat, had lost his authority. This was the worst of all!
Constructed by the Gothic kings and later the House of Trencavel, the magnificent walls of Carcassonne were bursting with refugees. Grape growers from the Lauragais and shepherds from the “Montagne Noir” and the spurs of the Pyrenean mountain range sought refuge with their flocks and their meager possessions from the hurricane that was advancing with the steps of a giant.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 1, the lookout on the highest watchtower of the castle announced that the crusaders were in sight. By early Thursday morning, the crusader camp on the opposite bank of the river appeared filled with life.
The Veni Creator Spiritus, the hymn of the crusade, resounded the whole morning. It was the signal for the attack. The pilgrims crossed the river and began the assault on the Graveillaude quarter. After two hours of combat, the Viscount’s troops had to pull back before the superiority of the enemy and were forced to abandon the district. Graveillaude was razed to the ground.
Friday, the crusaders hoped to take the Saint Vincent district. Passing the smoking ruins of Graveillaude, they attacked the walls of Saint Vincent. But these fortifications were more solid and better defended. The assault failed.
When he heard of the disaster of Béziers, Raimon-Roger’s brotherin-law, King Pedro II of Aragon, “the Catholic” (1174–1213), crossed the Pyrenees, hoping that with the help of his intervention, Carcassonne would not suffer a similar fate. Escorted by a hundred Catalan and Aragonese knights, he entered the crusaders’ camp. After a brief rest in the tent of the Count of Toulouse, he headed to the beleaguered city without weapons and in the company of only three knights. Carcassonne was filled with joy: “The King has come to our aid! Are we not his friends and vassals?”
“Viscount,” the King of Aragon told his brother-in-law, “in the name of Jesus, Our Lord, did I not advise you on numerous occasions to expel the heretics and their crazy doctrine from the city? I am very worried to see you and your city in such danger. I see no other solution than to come to an agreement with the barons of France. The army of the crusade is so powerful that I am forced to doubt that your cause could have a happy end. I recognize that your city is strong, but it shelters too many women and children. Would you permit me to negotiate on your behalf with the barons?”
In agreement with his vassals, the Viscount answered, “Sire, do as you think best. We give you our full confidence.”
The monarch returned to the camp. The French princes and barons agreed, but nobody could promise anything without the approval of the Papal legate. The King of Aragon then went to see the Abbot of Cîteaux and explained the situation to him. Arnaud listened in silence and then said:
“In honor of the great esteem that we profess for the King of Aragon, we authorize his brother-in-law, the Viscount of Carcassonne, to leave the city with twelve companions selected by him. The city and everything in it belongs to the crusaders.”
Disconsolate, the King went back to his brother-in-law.
“Sire,” exclaimed Raimon-Roger, “do you believe that I am capable of betraying my lowliest subjects? I would kill myself first. I must ask you to return to your home. I know how to defend my city and myself.”
Downcast, the King kissed his brother-in-law and began his return to his country, crossing the County of Foix and passing close to Montségur and the caves of Sabarthès, whose walls had just been repaired and reinforced.
The crusaders renewed their assault, but this time they were caught under a hail of arrows, stones, boiling water, and pitch, and had no other recourse than retreat.
“The Lord is with us,” exclaimed the Abbot of Cîteaux. “Look at the new miracle! God, the Lord of the elements, has put them on our side. We have water, because the Aude is ours; but up there in the nest of the heretics, the wells are running dry because the Lord has forbidden the clouds to give the sinners a drink.”
In the besieged city, atrocious scenes were taking place. The accumulation of people and animals, the stench of open animal carcasses, clouds of mosquitoes, and the horrendous lack of fresh water provoked an epidemic. Women and children ran wailing and crying through the streets.
One day, a knight presented himself at the eastern door of the city. He said that he wanted to parley with the Viscount; he had come from the King of France, and he asked Raimon-Roger to go to the crusaders’ camp to discuss terms under truce. They would guarantee the Viscount safe conduct.
“Swear it,” said Raimon-Roger.
“I swear by God the Almighty.”
After a brief discussion with his barons and consuls, Raimon-Roger decided to go to the crusader camp. In the company of a hundred men on horseback, he rode to the tent of the Abbot of Cîteaux. The French barons observed the most famous and valiant knight of Occitania with curiosity and admiration. The Viscount presented himself before the abbot of the caster: “Your Eminence desires—?”
“Arrest him and all his knights!” exclaimed the Archabbot Arnaud.
In this way, through betrayal, the Viscount of Carcassonne and his one hundred companions were neutralized. Intentionally, the crusaders let a few escape so they could announce the arrest of the Viscount to the city. When Carcassonne learned of the loss of their leader, they knew that their fate was sealed—and that the same horrible fate of Béziers awaited them. The consuls and barons met in council, and the night fell.
The following morning, the crusaders awaited the surrender of Carcassonne. But the drawbridges were not lowered and the doors remained closed. Oddly, there were no lookouts on the watchtowers or on the lake. The city was as silent as a graveyard. The crusaders suspected some trick. Cautiously, they approached the walls. They listened—no noise. Then they smashed open the eastern door.
The city was completely empty. Even the main fortress had been evacuated.
With this news, the legate, barons, priests, and monks came running. The first thing they did was to throw the Viscount into one of the deepest dungeons of his own castle. The second was to install themselves in the castle as if in their own home, and the third was to let the soldiers pillage the city.
They found themselves confronted with an enigma. Not a soul in the city! The steps of the intruders resonated gloomily in the empty streets.
From the balcony of the Count’s castle, the “commander-in-chief of the Christian army,” Grand Prior Arnaud de Cîteaux, made the following harangue:
“Barons and soldiers, listen to me! As you see, nothing can resist us. The God of thunder performs miracles. In his name, I prohibit you all to pillage; on the contrary, I will excommunicate you and I will curse you. We are going to give the entire booty to an honorable baron who will keep this country that we have conquered in the grace of God.”
The army applauded the decision.
Stupefied, the crusade’s chiefs asked themselves how thousands of Carcassonne citizens could vanish, as if swallowed by the Earth. The Earth had indeed swallowed them. The night before, the besieged population had fled through a subterranean passage to the Montagne Noir, the woods of the Corbières, and the gorges of the Tabor. In the cellars, the crusaders finally found about five hundred people for whom the flight posed too many difficulties: mostly women, children, and elderly. About one hundred denounced the heresy. The crusaders took their clothes from them, and let them run as they had come into this world, “clothed only in their sins.” The other four hundred remained loyal to their faith, and were hanged or burned alive.
In the Cathedral of Saint Nazaire, the crusaders gave thanks to Heaven for the help that was given them. Their Te Deum was accompanied by the moans of their victims, and the incense mixed with the smoke of the execution pyres. Arnaud de Cîteaux celebrated a “Mass of the Holy Spirit” and sermonized on the birth of Christ.
Messa lor a cantada de Sante Esperit
E si lor preziquet cum Jhesu Crist nasquit …
GUILLERMO DE TUDELA
This occurred on August 15, in the year of Our Lord 1209, day of the assumption of Mary of the Heavens, patroness of the crusade.²²
Carcassonne had fallen. Centuries earlier, Charlemagne had besieged it for seven long years in vain. It was finally handed over to the genial emperor by its own decision; this was how a city of knights paid chivalrous tribute to the first “knight without fear or stain.” And now Carcassonne had fallen through betrayal. The most charming and chivalrous city of Occitania—the city of fifty towers, where Gothic kings and sultans held court, where Adélaide received kings and troubadours, where the Trencavel cast their watchful gaze toward the land of Salvaesche—had fallen through treason.
Victorious, the pilgrims of the crusade against the Albigenses placed the cross, the symbol of their triumph, on the highest tower of Carcassonne.
The Grail was in danger!
After the thanksgiving mass was celebrated in the Church of Saint Nazaire, the Abbot of Cîteaux convoked all the prelates and barons. For him, the moment had come to give this conquered land a new lord. Arnaud first offered the Viscounty of Béziers and Carcassonne to the Duke of Burgundy and the Counts of Nevers and Saint-Paul, but they immediately refused his proposal. They had come to punish the heretics, not to appropriate lands that didn’t belong to them.
A committee was charged with the task of naming a new temporal lord. Arnaud de Cîteaux, two bishops, and four knights selected, under the guidance of the “Holy Spirit,” Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester.
In 1201, Simon de Montfort enlisted in the crusade of Baudouin de Flandres when French knights, lacking the necessary funds for a crusade in Palestine, sold their services to the Venetians, who wanted to reconquer the town of Zara in Dalmatia, which had belonged to Hungary since 1118. Simon, as the only French baron, declared that he had gone to fight against the infidels, and not to wage war for Venice against Hungary, a statement that led him to abandon the crusade.
When the holy war was proclaimed against the Albigenses, a Cistercian abbot visited Simon in his castle at Rochefort, hoping to convince him to join the crusade. At first, he did not accept. Casually, he picked up his psalm book and haphazardly opened it. He asked the abbot to translate what he had before him.
These were the words where Simon had put his finger: Psalm 91 of the Old Testament.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in [their] hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shall tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shall thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
Simon de Montfort took up the cross against the Albigenses “for the glory of God, honor of the church, and the extermination of the heresy.” This crude fighter, who was unable to read or write, became the implacable executioner of Occitania. This unjust and cruel fanatic, who devastated one of the most peaceful and beautiful regions of the Western world over a ten-year period, is still considered a “Champion of Jesus Christ” and the “Savior of Rome” by the Catholic Church.
On November 19, 1209 Raimon-Roger, the noble scion of Trencavel, suddenly died.²³
“He was poisoned!” lamented the Occitanians.
“Cursed shall be those who think so!” exclaimed the pilgrims of the Albigensian crusade. But even Pope Innocent III had the courage to write in a letter that the young Viscount of Carcassonne and Béziers had been miserabiliter infectus, miserably poisoned.
With the arrival of Simon de Montfort on the scene, Trencavel—“Parsifal”—had no other option than to end his days in the deepest dungeons of his own castle. The noblest knight of Occitania was forced to drink from the poisoned chalice just as Socrates, that most distinguished thinker of ancient Greece, had.
Let yourself be buried already, cavalry,
And shall no word proclaim you already!
You are ridiculed and without honor,
There is no dead who has less strength,
Express yourself and clericalize
The king suppresses your inheritance,
And all your empire is treachery and sales
And you will be suppressed!
The first to abandon the crusade were the Count of Nevers and his vassals. Eventually, the Duke of Burgundy and all the other French barons followed their example, one after another. They had spent the forty days of “service” necessary to assure the salvation of their souls. In vain, the princes of the Church tried to convince the knights that God’s cause still required their presence. The ribautz and truands also left; their plunder was enough and they wanted to return home.
Montfort, needless to say, stayed, and with him all the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priests, and friars, but only thirty knights and about four thousand pilgrims, for the most part Burgundians and Germans. He was forced to double the pay for their services. Montfort’s situation was extraordinarily delicate. At the zenith of their success, the legates held a council in Avignon where they made all the knights, nobles, and municipal employees in the conquered territories swear that they would do anything in their power to eradicate the heresy.
But this didn’t really mean very much because these oaths were mere formalities, and the homage rendered to Simon by his new vassals was in no way sincere because it was obtained by brute force.
Slowly, the country began to recover from its terror. A series of small guerrilla wars compromised Montfort’s situation even further. Sometimes, his power did not extend farther than his lance point. Once in Carcassonne, he had terrible difficulties stopping his own troops from fleeing. On another occasion, he found it impossible to find a single knight who was ready to assume command of the garrison of Carcassonne when he wanted to besiege Termès.
Despite all these difficulties, he managed to bring several fortresses under his control and make some inroads into the county of Foix. By 1210, when fresh pilgrims joined the crusade, his situation improved noticeably.
Toward the end of 1209, Raimundo VI visited the Pope and complained about the un-Christian attitude of Simon de Montfort.²⁴ He hoped that he could count on the Pope’s greater indulgence, because the King of France and his most powerful vassals had not hesitated to tell the pontiff of their indignation over Simon’s cruelty and the shameful, disloyal behavior of the legates. Raimundo tried to demonstrate to Innocent III how unjustly his legates had persecuted him and his subjects. He assured the Pope that he had fulfilled all the conditions his legate Milo had imposed upon him in Saint Gilles, and asked to be exonerated, once and for all, of the accusation that he had murdered Pierre de Castelnau. The Holy Father received the Count very cordially; the pontiff presented him with magnificent gifts and showed him famous relics—and he even permitted the Count to touch them. He called him “my dear son” and entrusted his legates with the expressed mission to convoke, at the very latest in three months, a council to give the Count of Toulouse the possibility of exonerating himself.
Did Innocent listen carefully to Raimundo’s protestations? None of this really mattered to the Pope, because he had no intention whatsoever of deviating from the course of action that he had set down for the Holy See and his legates: the complete destruction of Raimundo. The Count, his heart filled with suspicions, hastened to leave the Eternal City out of “fear of falling ill there.”
Instead of preparing the council ordered by the Pope, the pontifical legates dedicated themselves to haranguing the population of Toulouse to rise up against their lord. A religious brotherhood, founded for the “conversion of the heretics,” fought almost daily in the streets of Toulouse with those citizens still loyal to the Count.
According to Pierre de Vaux-Cernay, the monk who was the official historian and biographer of Simon de Montfort, “God opened a path for them, which indicated the means they needed to abort the legal exoneration of the Count.” This “means” inspired by God for the legates consisted of demanding from Raimundo—again—that he expel every heretic from his lands. The good monk’s admiring description of the pious lie, so mischievously prepared and so skillfully delivered, reveals for us the secrets of Roman diplomacy as it operated against the Albigenses: “O pious lie of the legate! O cheating piousness!”
Simon de Montfort also contributed to the humiliation of Raimundo VI. He traversed the length and breadth of the County of Toulouse with his pilgrims, bringing death and fire. When he laid siege to Minerve, the Abbot of Cîteaux supported him with fresh troops. Guilhem, lord of Minerve, wanted to hand over the city to the crusaders if they promised to leave his subjects alive.²⁵ Arnaud desperately wanted to kill all the heretics, but he believed that an order to kill all the besieged indiscriminately was incompatible with his dignity as a priest. Consequently, he decided to spare all Catholics and all heretics who would renounce their faith. Montfort’s knights protested: “We have come to exterminate the heretics, not forgive them. Out of fear of death, you will see how they convert.”
But Abbot Arnaud calmed them “I know them well enough. Not one will convert.” He knew the heretics well. With the exception of three women, the rest refused to buy their lives with the renunciation of their faith and saved their executioners the trouble of pushing them into the blazing pyres—they threw themselves in.
Termès should be razed.
Termès was an impregnable fortress: an admirably fortified city with a periphery encircled by strong walls, and surrounded by a flowing river whose bed was washed granite.
Raimon, the elderly lord of the castle, a Son of Belissena, was ready to defend it. The “army of God” did not lose any time. But the situation became serious only after the arrival of the Bretons, French, and Germans.
A consummate specialist directed the attack: Guillaume, Archbishop of Paris, an expert in siege weaponry. He preached, reproached, gave instructions to carpenters and blacksmiths, and inflamed the soldiers. In a word, he knew his profession. He supervised the placement of the most sophisticated battering rams and catapults around the city.
Months went by. The besieged made fun of the vain efforts of the besiegers: “Our city is strong, you are wasting your time, and we have more food than you!”
The beleaguered townsfolk knew that hunger was wreaking havoc in the crusader camp. Leaves and grass substituted for the bread they needed. But God takes care of his pilgrims in arms. He prohibited the clouds from raining on the heretics. The wells of the besieged city began to run dry. They quenched their thirst with wine, but even this became scarce. Hunger is terrible, but thirst is even worse.
“Tomorrow, we will surrender,” Raimon, the lord of the city, told the crusaders.
But Raimon let the whole morning pass. From the keep of his castle, he looked toward the Corbières, and saw a pale, small cloud floating over the Bugaratsch. He knew what it meant.
The cloud got progressively bigger and darker, until the sky was covered. Then a cloudburst brought down a deluge of water. Those half dead from thirst drank buckets of the divine liquid—this would bring their destruction. Dysentery broke out across the city and began to cut down its inhabitants. In a state of panic, the defenders of Termès fought to escape the death that surrounded them. A crusader realized that they were trying to flee during the darkness of night, and alerted the camp.
And once again, the fires blazed.
Montfort returned triumphantly to Carcassonne. Raimon de Termès was thrown into a dungeon. Many years later, he was pardoned. But when his son went down to get his father out of that tomb, he found only the bones of his skeleton behind its walls.
In the meantime, at the request of the Pope, the legates were obliged to convoke a council in Saint Gilles in September 1210. Cold and impassive, they informed the Count of Toulouse that he had not complied with his oath because he had not expelled everyheretic, and that consequently it was not possible for them to exonerate a perjurer of the accusation of murder. Without listening to his defense, they excommunicated him again.
Confronted with such a miserable fraud, a man with a more energetic character would have probably become furious. Instead, Raimundo burst into tears. His judges interpreted this as another proof of his “congenital evil.”
At the petition of the Pope, the legates were obliged to hold another conference, which took place in Arles in January 1211.²⁶ While they made Raimundo wait “terrified” before the closed doors, the legates cooked up new conditions, knowing full well that the Count would refuse them:
The Count of Toulouse shall dismiss all his troops. He shall hand over all persons who they designate as heretics to the clergy. Henceforth, there will be only two types of meat authorized in the County of Toulouse. Henceforth, all inhabitants, nobles, and plebeians shall no longer be fashionably dressed; instead they will have to wear dark habits of thick cloth. All the fortifications of the cities and castles shall be dismantled. The nobles, who were until now residents of cities, can only live in flat lands with the peasants. Every head of a family will have to contribute four silver escudos annually to the legates. Simon de Montfort will have the right of passage through Raimundo’s estates, and if something is taken, the Count of Toulouse will have no right of recourse. The Count shall serve in Palestine with the Templars or the Knights of Saint John, and cannot return until authorized by the legates. His possessions shall belong to the abbot of Cîteaux and Simon de Montfort all the time that they wish.
This ignominious humiliation awoke the courage that had long been dormant in Raimundo. He finally understood that it was impossible to negotiate with such adversaries, who were lacking fundamental honesty. He had the conditions, which the legates had imposed on him with their hatred and arrogance, published throughout his realm. The effect they produced was stronger than a call to arms.
“We prefer to abandon our country with our Count than to submit to priests and Frenchmen!” exclaimed Raimundo’s vassals. The merchants of Toulouse, the Counts of Foix and Comminges, and all the Sons of Belissena promised to help Raimundo. Even the Catholic prelates, who disapproved of this ungodly crusade, publicly supported the disgraced Count.
With a redoubled fervor, the legates preached the crusade in the entire Western world. They managed to recruit fresh troops in Germany and Lombardy. Simon needed reinforcements; he wanted to take Lavaur. The crusaders, in the name of the Son of God who had died on the cross, promised to take bloody revenge on Lavaur. The sovereign of this city, a Belisseno, had once remarked on looking at the cross, “Shall this sign never be for me a means of salvation!”
Lavaur was one of the most heavily fortified cities in Occitania.²⁷ But there was nobody to direct its defense. The lord of the castle had fallen in Carcassonne, and his wife Donna Geralda was a weak woman.
The city was filled with troubadours who had fled, outlaw knights, and Cathars who had only just escaped the stake.
When Donna Geralda’s brother Améric learned that Simon de Montfort had threatened his paternal city, he galloped to the defense of his sister, his people, and his country. Although the crusaders had already begun their assault, he managed to enter Lavaur.
Meanwhile, Montfort was taking great care of his troops. He awaited the arrival of his German troops who had passed Carcassonne and were fast approaching.
These Germans would never arrive. The Count of Foix inflicted an overwhelming and devastating victory on them. Two-thirds of these pilgrims were lying on the ground, dead or wounded. The rest were chased into the forests by the Count of Foix’s troops. One of these pilgrims took refuge in a chapel. The Crown Prince of Foix followed him.
“Who are you?” the young count asked him.
“I am a pilgrim, and priest.”
The German took off his hood and showed his bald head. The young prince of Foix split his skull with his broadsword.
Montfort had two mobile assault towers constructed, and on the top of one of them he affixed a crucifix as a good luck charm. A stone launched by a catapult in the town tore Montfort’s arm off. “And those dogs,” wrote the chronicler, “started to laugh and shout, as if they had obtained a great victory. But the Crucified will miraculously avenge himself, because the day of the Finding of the Holy Cross, he will punish them for this action.”
The mobile towers could not approach Lavaur’s walls because a deep ditch encircled the city. The crusaders threw all the stakes, tree trunks, and branches they could find into it, so the towers could advance. But the defenders used iron harpoons to fish for the assailants, throwing them off the towers and sending them hurtling to the ground. As the situation in the town became more critical, the defenders dug tunnels under the walls and brought tree trunks into the city. The towers fell apart. During the night, the most daring tried to set fire to the assault machinery, but the German counts and their soldiers were able to thwart their plans.
Montfort and the legates were becoming demoralized. Everything they threw into the ditches disappeared during the night. Finally, a crafty crusader came up with the idea to fill the subterranean gallery with firewood and wet leaves and set fire to it in order to fill it with smoke. They put the proposal into practice, and the towers advanced yet again. But a hail of stones rained down upon the attackers, and the defenders poured pots of boiling tar, boiling oil, and molten lead on them from the parapets of the walls.
Then a fresh miracle occurred: the legates and the bishops of Carcassonne, Toulouse, and Paris sang the hymn of the crusade, the Veni Creator Spiritus. Following this, a wall collapsed after being struck by a ballista. Petrified by the pilgrims’ singing, without any further resistance, the defenders of Lavaur let the enemy enter the city and clap them in irons.
As predicted by the chronicler, Lavaur fell on the day of the Finding of the Holy Cross, May 3, 1211. During two months the city faced 15,000 crusaders. Simon de Montfort, French and German nobles, abbots, monks, burgers, day laborers, serfs, and gypsies: The army of Christ made its entry into the conquered city. Regardless of their confession, age, or sex, all inhabitants were executed.
When a crusader knight learned that a large number of women and children were hidden in a cellar, he asked Simon de Montfort to spare the weakest. Simon agreed. This knight, whose name was not important enough to be related by the two chroniclers of the siege—neither the monk-historian Vaux Cernay nor the troubadour-historian Guillermo de Tudela—is the only “honorable man” in the crusade against the Grail.
Améric de Montréal, the sovereign’s brother, and eighty knights, nobles, and troubadours were led to the place of execution. The gallows were prepared. Améric was the first to be hanged. The gigantic scaffold, which was meant to support the weight of eighty men, broke with just one. The carpenters hadn’t built it properly. Montfort didn’t want to wait, so he ordered his henchmen to cut their throats.
A woman in chains was standing with the chiefs of the crusade: Donna Geralda, the sovereign of Lavaur.
They threw Donna Geralda in a well
They covered her with stones
Having in it lament and sin,
Because there was nobody, take good notice of it,
Who would leave their house without receiving hospitality?
GUILLERMO DE TUDELA
Donna Geralda was thrown in a well, and covered with stones until her moans were no longer heard. She died twice, because she carried a child in her.
They lit a pyre, a fire for rejoicing: they had managed to capture four hundred Cathars. Those who were unable to recite the Ave Maria were taken to the pyre “in an ecstatic state of jubilation.”
The happiness the martyrs felt to finally leave this Hell was greater than that felt by their executioners. Giving each other the kiss of peace, they threw themselves into the flames to the cry of “God is Love!” The mothers closed the eyes of their children until the fire closed them forever, and they discovered eternal paradise.
Like an accusing finger pointing to an unpolluted sky, Montségur rose to the west on a towering and commanding rock above the clouds of blood, pyres, and cities in flames: an accusing finger that at the same time pointed to the place where there were only light, love, and justice.
“Lord, forgive them, because they know not what they do. But I tell thee: they will inflict death upon you and think that they are doing something to please God. If you remain loyal to the death, I will give you the crown of eternal life, Dieus vos benesiga …” So Guilhabert de Castres consoled the terrorized Cathars in the “holy fortress” that dominated the gorges of the Tabor.
After the fall of Lavaur, the crusaders committed fresh atrocities. When they skirted the forest where six thousand German pilgrims had been roundly defeated, Fulk, the bishop of Toulouse (previously a troubadour whom Dante had transported to Paradise), believed he saw a halo and communicated this new miracle to Pope Innocent III.²⁸ But the Pope had long realized that his “vicars,” blinded by fanaticism and ambition, had gone too far. Pope Innocent III understood. He wanted to be God, but he was forced to recognize that he was nothing other than a man, a magician no doubt, but one who could no longer dismiss the spirits that he had conjured.
Before the image of Christ and in the silence of the night
Innocent knelt and prayed aloud:
Did he feel, perhaps the horror of the silence
That he cast over the world?
He raised his look to the image of God,
Whose love and tenderness terrorized him.
While he thinks about what he did
In the bloodthirsty way he led the world.
He looks intensely into the face of the image,
A moth blocked the light
And everything around him turned dark
And silent, because he poses no more questions to the image
Soon he sees other lights that rise
And other crosses that cannot hide
The flames of the Provence show
The crosses on the chests of the executioners
The ruins collapse, the swords resonate,
And the savage crackle of the fire,
He listens how his name is cursed
When this horrible vision assaults him
He presses his conscience in his fist
And impassive, mumbles: Amen, Amen.
LENAU, THE ALBIGENSES
If metempsychosis exists, the soul of Diocletian must have reincarnated in Pope Innocent III. The God for whom the pilgrims of the crusade fought against the Albigenses was not Yahweh, Baal, or Thor, nor even Lucifer. It was Moloch, the god of the valley of the son of Hinnom.
Until the Albigensian crusade, Provence and Languedoc resembled a “tranquil island, happy and flourishing in the heart of a sea of storms.” The bloody atrocities of the holy war against the heretics constituted one of the largest and most horrible tragedies that the world has ever witnessed.
A lovely, rich country; a people tolerant, free, and not submerged in darkness or fear at the end of the medieval world; the only civilization, and perhaps the most Christian one, that was a worthy successor to the “simplicity and grandeur” of the ancients—exterminated by a theocrat and jealous, sanctimonious neighbors.
Christ planted love; the world harvested hatred. Christ wanted to repeal ancient laws and erect a new order: but the world made a New Alliance crueler than the old one.
Along with the flower and cream of the country, the flames of the crusade against the Albigenses burned off the tender plants of its poetry, which began to wither away. With the Albigensian crusade, the feeling of absolute tranquility and the spiritual life of pleasure and love disappeared. Occitania lost its spell of peace and well-being, an enchantment that gave way to bigotry and the thirst for blood. The war against the Albigenses gave the coup de grâce to Occitan poetry, which never flourished again.
We walk sad and led astray
The splendid tents are lost dreams
The soft chairs and sumptuous settings
The bells of silver and the golden bridles.
The arrows are pointed now to the heart
Not the songs with enjoyment and sweet pain.
Happy times that we lose!
Sad days that buried the song!
His two harps lay against the tree
Until, alone, they rot and corrode:
The cords tremble with the blowing of the wind
Their multicolored framework flutters.
LENAU, THE ALBIGENSES
The crusade against the Albigenses continued rumbling for a long time. I only wanted to relate the facts up to this point. And I did so, despite my limitations, in the most faithful way that I could. Raimon-Roger de Carcassonne, Améric de Montréal, and Donna Geralda de Lavaur are only three of the hundreds of thousands of martyrs of the Languedoc.
But Raimundo de Toulouse, Pedro de Aragon, and Simon de Montfort remained alive!²⁹
The walls of Montségur were still standing, and Esclarmonde continued guarding the Holy Grail!
Pedro de Aragon, who enjoyed the sympathy of the Vatican, came down openly in favor of Toulouse. As an Occitan monarch, he could not remain impassive at the Vatican’s crimes against Raimundo. Moreover, faced with the ever-growing power of Simon de Montfort, his own interests were now in danger. Simon assigned the conquered estates exclusively to the French, and organized the subjugated provinces in a French way. What may have finally determined Pedro’s anti-Rome attitude was the terrible end of Raimon-Roger. As we know, Béziers was a vassal of King Pedro of Aragon, who was at the same time connected to the young viscount by family bonds and deep friendship.
Pedro was revered as the Occitan knight without fear or blight. He showed his religious fervor in 1204 when, in the company of a brilliant retinue, he sailed to Rome to swear fidelity to Innocent. He was crowned with unleavened bread, and received from the Pope the scepter, cape, and other items of royal insignia, which with great veneration he deposited on the altar of Saint Peter. He gave him the gift of his kingdom, which inspired the Pope to present Pedro with a sword and the title of “flag bearer” of the Church.
By virtue of Pedro’s good relations with the Vatican, his ambassadors lodged a formal complaint with Innocent about the methods of the legates, methods that the king considered arbitrary, unjust, and contrary to the authentic interests of the Catholic religion. Following this, he traveled to Toulouse with the intention of intervening in favor of his brother-inlaw Raimundo, who had been ruined. His ambassadors induced Innocent to order Montfort to return all the assets that he had confiscated from non-heretics, and to warn Arnaud not to impede the crusade that the Roman curia was preparing against the Saracens by prolonging hostilities in the County of Toulouse—a crusade that eventually concluded victoriously with the battle at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, which broke the power of the Moors in Spain. There, he stood out above all the other kings and nobles and so could add “El Católico” to his name.
The manner in which the Pope proceeded, together with the energetic mediation of Pedro, produced a profound impression among the legates, and galvanized the entire hierarchy of Languedoc into action to overcome the crisis.
In January 1213, the King of Aragon gave the pontifical legates a petition that implored them to extend grace more than justice to those nobles who had lost their estates. He presented an act of abdication signed by Raimundo and confirmed by the city of Toulouse, as well as corresponding “abdications” of the Counts of Foix and Comminges, which handed the dominions and rights over to Pedro. They recognized the jurisdiction of the legates to act as they wished, even if their actions were contrary to the orders of the Pope. Only when the Occitan nobles gave the Church satisfaction could their rights be reestablished. Until then, no submission was complete and no guarantees could be sufficient. But the prelates were far too submerged in their fanaticism, ambition, and hatred. The destruction of the House of Toulouse was far too costly for them to be stopped now; they were committed to prosecuting their plan to the bitter end.
The guarantees Pedro offered in his petition did not receive the minimum consideration by the legates. Arnaud de Cîteaux wrote an extremely stern letter to the King of Aragon that threatened him with excommunication if he did not break off his relations with those excommunicated for heresy or accused of it.
Meanwhile, both parties proceeded without waiting for a decision from Rome. In France, the crusade was being preached yet again. The Dauphin Louis, son of Philip, took up the cross together with French barons. In the other camp, King Pedro had strengthened his relations with Raimundo and the excommunicated nobles even further.
In September 1213, a decisive battle took place between the crusaders and the Occitanian coalition at Muret, not far from Toulouse. The crusaders won. Miracles were on their side; incense and supplications were more important than the patriotism and mysticism of the Occitanians. If we are to believe the official chronicler, Monfort’s victory at Muret was due to a miracle: To assure themselves that Pedro was on their side, the Albigensian nobles gave him all their wives and daughters the night before the battle. He was so exhausted the next morning that he couldn’t keep himself standing during the celebration of the Mass, much less participate in combat. Pedro of Aragon was killed in the battle at the hands of two famous French knights, Allain de Roucy and Florent de Ville.
Simon de Montfort died in 1216. The Abbot Arnaud de Cîteaux, who in the meantime had been named archbishop of Narbonne, and who was now his bitter enemy, had anathematized him. Apparently, this act signified the end of Montfort’s power. After Muret, Toulouse rebelled against him. On the Day of Saint John in 1216, when he tried to reconquer the town, a stone thrown at him by a presumably feminine hand killed him. When the news that the “glorious paladin of Christ,” the “New Maccabaeus,” the “bastion of faith” had fallen as a martyr in the defense of religion, the mourning of all believers in the Western world was enormous.
Six years later, Raimundo VI, Count of Toulouse, Duke of Narbonne, and Marques of Provence, who had been converted into the most unfortunate and cursed monarch of the Western world, died.
When the abbot of Saint Cernin tried to administer the last rites to Raimundo, he could no longer speak. A Knight Hospitaler who was in the chamber threw his cape with a cross on the Count. He wanted his order to take charge of the burial in recognition of the inheritance that the Count had willed them. But the abbot of Saint Cernin threw off the cape, shouting that the count had died in his parish.
An inquest ordered by Pope Innocent IV in 1247 revealed that by virtue of the declarations of 120 witnesses, Raimundo had been “the most pious and merciful of all men, and a faithful servant of the Church.” But nothing could change the awful reality that the mortal remains of the Count remained unburied in the convent of the Hospitalers, and eventually it became a source of food for mice. By the end of the seventeenth century, it was possible to observe only his skull as a “curiosity.”
Paris and Rome continued preaching crusades against the Albigenses until 1229, the year when Raimundo VII of Toulouse and Saint Louis of France sat down for serious peace negotiations in Meaux; the treaties were solemnly ratified in Paris on April 12, 1229.
In a penitential habit, Raimundo had to kneel before the Papal legate outside Notre Dame and ask him for permission to enter the cathedral. In the atrium, they took his clothing and shoes from him and led him in a simple shirt before the altar where the excommunication was lifted and he had to swear to uphold the treaties. Later, they led him to the Louvre, where as a condition of the treaties, he had to stay as a prisoner until the day of the wedding of his daughter Joana with the brother of King Louis, a child who was hardly over nine years old.
The conditions for peace were the following: Raimundo had to swear an oath of loyalty to the King and the Church, promise to root out the nest of heretics at Montségur, and offer a reward of two silver escudos to anyone who brought in a heretic dead or alive. Furthermore, he had to give to the churches and convents of Occitania ten thousand marks as an indemnity, and donate four thousand marks for the establishment of Catholic faculty in Toulouse. He was ordered to treat as friends those who had fought against him during the crusades. The walls of Toulouse and of thirty other cities and fortresses were to be demolished, and five castles were to be handed over to the King of France as a guaranty. It was implicitly admitted that the Count of Toulouse had lost his rights to all his estates. Saint Louis graciously left him with the territories of the former bishopric of Toulouse, but only under the condition that after his death they would pass to Raimundo’s daughter and her husband, Louis’ brother, and so belong forever to the royal French household. From the outset, the King reserved for himself the territories of the Duchy of Narbonne and the counties of Léley, Gévaudan, Viviers, and Lodève, while the marquisate of Provence to the east of the Rhône was left to the Church as a feudal estate. In this way, Raimundo lost two thirds of his dominions.³⁰
In the other great cities of Occitania, which had previously been vassals of the Count of Toulouse (but in reality, virtually independent city-states), royal seneschals were instituted.
Raimundo had to take energetic steps to oblige all the vassals to recognize French domination, especially the Count of Foix, who was obliged to sign a humiliating peace treaty the following year. In this way, the sovereignty of the French crown was assured throughout the south of France. The Louvre had triumphed!
However, Rome still believed that the time to put away its weapons had not yet arrived.
Ay Toulouse and Provence!
And the land of Agen!
Béziers and Carcassonne!
How we saw you! How I see you
Ai! Tolosa e Provensa!
E la terra d’Agensa!
Bezers e Carcassey!
Quo os vi! Quo vos vey!
BERNARD SICARD DE MARJEVOLS³¹
There is a deep and silent cave in the forest,
Where the rays of the sun or the breeze of the wind never reach
It is where an old and exhausted beast drags itself
When it wants to die, hidden in the darkness,
Perhaps, we should learn more from the anguished death rattle
Of an animal than from the stars.
LENAU, THE ALBIGENSES