ROME HAD MONOPOLIZED ORTHODOXY and the miraculous. As all chroniclers unanimously affirmed, the crusade against the Albigenses had concluded victoriously (of course!), thanks to the miracles the “God of Thunder” had conjured up for his combatants.

One night in 1170, Juana de Aza had a strange dream: The Spanish noblewoman fancied that she was carrying a dog in her body, and when she gave birth to it, it held a burning torch in its mouth which set the world ablaze. When Juana gave birth to a healthy boy and the priest baptized him with the name of Domingo, his godmother had a singular vision: She saw on the forehead of the just-baptized child a star that circled and illuminated all the Earth with its splendor.

We first met Saint Dominic in the year 1206; he was encouraging the demoralized legates of the Pope in Montpellier, and trying to prevent them from abandoning the task they had started: the conversion of the heretics. Then we found him in the council of Pamiers, together with the vexed monk who shouted to the arch-heretic Esclarmonde that instead of mixing in theological discussions, she should remain with her spindle. Finally, he was present at the establishment, not far from Montségur, of the convent of Notre Dame de Prouille, and participated in the search for converts among the Albigenses. We didn’t mention that on one occasion in Lagrasse, near Carcassonne, he celebrated a mass on an improvised platform, while at its four corners, stakes had been prepared to burn the accursed heretics.

We are not going to describe which miracles helped him recruit friars for the convent at Prouille or obtain pontifical authorization for the Dominican Order and test how the prayer of the rosary of the Mother of God was absolutely essential for the eradication of the heresy. We are happy to say that almost daily, Saint Dominic brought the Evangelism of Salvation to the jailed heretics; people venerated him as a living saint, taking pieces of his habit as relics, and as the Dominican historian Tomas de Malvenda (1565–1628) noted, the founder of the Dominican Order also has the honor to be remembered as the founding father of the Inquisition.

The Inquisition was officially set up on April 20, 1233, a date that saw the publication of two bulls by Pope Gregory IX, which assigned the persecution of the heretics to the Dominican friars. Analysis of both Papal documents shows that the Pontifical Sovereign did not foresee the consequences of such an innovation.

In the first bull, the Pope insisted on the necessity of destroying the heresy regardless of the means, and of supporting the establishment of the Dominican Order. Then he turned to the bishops:

“We see you immersed in a vast accumulation of worries without being able to breathe under the pressure of these exhausting preoccupations. For it, we will help you carry your burden, and have decided to send preacher-friars against the heretics in France, and the neighboring provinces. For which we ask you, admonish you, exhort you and order you to give them a good welcome, and treat them well, and that you should favor, counsel and help them so that they can fulfill their mission.”

Gregory’s second bull was directed to the priors and friars of the preaching Order. It alluded to those lost children who continued to support the heretics, and said: “Consequently, I empower you with the faculty, where you preach, to defrock those clerics who, ignoring your warnings, refuse to renounce the defense of the heresy; I empower you with the faculty to proceed immediately against them, even if essential to recur [have recourse] to the secular arm [a euphemism for death by burning at the stake].”

When the Dominican Order received from the Holy See the mission to combat the heretics in the south of France, it found itself saddled with a task that was almost impossible to accomplish. Without any obstacles, from generation to generation, the heresy had established itself so firmly that it affected all social strata; this meant that the Dominicans had to systematically re-educate all of Occitania in the true faith.

Therefore, the Inquisitor was not supposed to impress people with fatuousness—his mission was to paralyze them with terror. The sumptuous garments, eye-catching processions, and escort of servants corresponded to the prelates. The Inquisitor wore the habit of his Order, and when he traveled, a few knights accompanied him to protect him and execute his orders. A few days before visiting a town or village, he would send word of his arrival to the ecclesiastical authorities, asking them to convoke the townsfolk at a predetermined hour in the marketplace. Those who obeyed this order were promised an indulgence. Those who did not were excommunicated.

The Inquisitor would direct his homily to the congregated population. Speaking of the true faith, whose expansion they had to support with all their strength, he exhorted the town’s inhabitants to present themselves to him within a space of twelve days. They were to reveal all that they had learned or heard about anybody who could be suspected of heresy, and for what reasons. Those who did not present such a declaration were ipso facto excommunicated. Those who obeyed were compensated with an indulgence of three years.

We can imagine the shock that fell over a parish when, suddenly, an Inquisitor arrived and launched his proclamation. Nobody could really know what gossip circulated about him- or herself. “Finally parents were instigated to betray their own sons, sons their parents, husbands their wives, and wives their husbands,” as Gregory IX said on one occasion.

Attending the inquest, apart from the Inquisitor and the bailiff, was a secretary who wrote down the proceedings as dictated by the Inquisitor “so that there would be a record in the best possible way.” Let us have a look at one of these inquests just as the Toulouse Inquisitor Bernard Gui passed it on as a model, complete with comments pertinent to the case:

When a heretic appears for the first time, with airs of security as if convinced of his innocence. The first that I ask him is for what does he believe he has been called to declare.

The Accused: Sir, I wish that you would tell me the motive.

Me: You are accused of being a heretic, and to believe and teach things which our Holy Church does not permit.

The Accused (before such a question, they always raise their eyes to the sky and adopt a pious demeanor): God and my lord, you are the only one who knows that I am innocent, and that I have never professed another faith than that of true Christianity.

Me: You call your faith Christian because you hold ours for false and heretical. For this, I ask you if ever you have held another belief for more true than that which the Church of Rome considers true.

The Accused: I believe in the true faith, as the Roman Church teaches it.

Me: It is possible that some of your coreligionists live in Rome. It is this what you call the Roman Church. When I preach, it may occur that I speak of questions that are common to your faith and mine, like for example, that God exists, and so you believe something that I am preaching. And yet you could be a heretic, because you believe other things, which should not be believed.

The Accused: I believe in all what a Christian should believe.

Me: I know your tricks. What your sect believes is what, according to you, a Christian should believe. We are wasting our time with a sterile discussion. Tell me simply and fully: Do you believe in one God, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit?

The Accused: Yes!

Me: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered, rose from the dead, and ascended to Heaven?

The Accused: Yes!

Me: Do you believe in a mass celebrated by a priest, where the bread and wine convert, through the power of God in the body, and blood of Christ? The Accused: Why should I not believe it?

Me: I did not ask why you should believe it, but if you believe it. The Accused: believe all what you and other good doctors order me to believe.

Me: These good doctors are the teachers of your sect. If my belief is the same as yours, you also believe me.

The Accused: From the moment when you teach me what is good for me, I believe as you do.

Me: You hold a thing for good if I teach it like it is taught by your doctors. Tell me then, do you believe that the body of Our Lord is found on the altar?

The Accused (quickly): Yes!

Me: You know that all bodies are the work of our Lord. For this, I asked you if the body that is on the altar is the body of the Lord who was born of the Virgin Mary, who died on the cross, resurrected from the dead and rose to Heaven.

The Accused: And you Sir don’t believe it?

Me: I believe with complete certainty.

The Accused: Me too.

Me: You believe what I believe. But I haven’t asked you that. What I asked you is if you believe it?

The Accused: If you twist my words, I really don’t know how I should answer. I am a simple man who never studied. I plead with you Sir, not to make a trap for me with my own words.

Me: If you are a simple man, answer me simply without evading the question.

The Accused: With pleasure.

Me: Would you like to swear that you never learned anything that contradicts the faith that we hold for the true one?

The Accused (becoming pale): If I have to swear, I will do it.

Me: I wasn’t asking that if you had to swear but rather if you liked to swear.

The Accused: If you order me to swear, I will swear.

Me: I don’t want to force you to swear. You consider the swearing of an oath as a sin, and you will blame me if I force you to do it. But if you wish to swear, I will accept your oath.

The Accused: But why should I swear if you do not order me to do it?

Me: Why? To free you from the suspicion that you are a heretic.

The Accused: Sir, I do not know how to swear an oath if you do not teach me.

Me: If I were the person to have to swear, I would raise my fingers and say: Never have I ever had anything to do with the heresy nor believed anything that was contrary to the true faith. As it is the truth, shall God help me!

To avoid swearing an oath properly, and yet to make us believe that somehow he had sworn the oath, the accused stuttered. Some heretics even twist their words in such a way as to give the impression that they are swearing or converting the oath into a prayer, like for example: “Shall God help me, because I am not a heretic!” When asked if he had sworn an oath, the accused answered: “Didn’t you hear me swear?” If pressed, irremissibly, he appealed to the judge for compassion: “Sir, if I have done something bad, I will do penitence for it with pleasure. But help me free myself from the accusation that, being innocent, weighs on me!”

An energetic Inquisitor should never let himself be influenced by such methods. On the contrary, it is absolutely necessary that he act with decision to force such people to admit and publicly renounce their error with a view—if it is later proven that the oath was false—to hand them over to the secular arm. When someone is ready to swear that he is not a heretic, I usually say: “If you are swearing to escape the stake, neither ten, one hundred, or one thousand oaths are sufficient, because you are dispensed from the oaths that you have been forced to swear. As I have in my hands proof of your heretical escapades, your oaths will not keep you from being burned at the stake. The only thing you will do is to overload your conscience, without saving your life. If, by contrast, you confess your error, I could concede certain measures of grace.”

I have seen people who, pressured in this manner, ended by confessing.

The oath of a certain Joan Tesseire of Toulouse who was accused of heresy has come to our attention:

“I am not a heretic, because I have my wife, and I sleep with her, I have children, and I eat meat, I lie, swear, and I am a Christian believer; because it is all true, shall God help me!”¹

If the heretical “believers” allowed themselves to be converted, and renounced the heresy while promising to tell all the truth and denouncing their accomplices, the punishment that awaited them was relatively light: flagellation, pilgrimages, or a fine.

Flagellation consisted in the penitent, stripped to the waist, presenting himself with a stick to the parish priest, who then beat him in the presence of the faithful after celebrating Mass every Sunday during the Epistle and Evangelism.

On the first Sunday of every month after Mass, the heretic was required to visit every house where he had associated with another heretic, where the priest would beat him again. During processions, at each station he was thanked with more strokes.

There were large and small pilgrimages. The large pilgrimages had, for obligatory destinations, Rome, Santiago de Compostela, Saint Thomas of Canterbury, and the Three Kings of Cologne. Such pilgrimages, because they had to be done on foot, took several years. On one occasion, an elderly man of more than ninety years had to undertake a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela for merely having exchanged a few words with a heretic. The so-called small pilgrimages were to Montpellier, Saint Gilles, and Tarascon on the Rhône, Bordeaux, Chartres, and finally Paris. Upon his return, every pilgrim was obliged to present a certificate to the Inquisitor that proved that he had accomplished the pilgrimage as ordered.

In cases where the confession and renunciation were not obtained in a spontaneous manner, the accused was punished with one of the poenae confusibiles. The most common among these punishments, and at the same time the most humiliating, was to wear the cross. The heretic was forced to wear on his chest and back, yellow crosses that measured five centimeters wide and ten high [two inches wide and ten high]. During a procession, if the convert had committed perjury, they added crosses from the forearm to the upper arm. In this way, the cross carrier was exposed to the mockery of the townsfolk, and had difficulties surviving. A certain Arnaud Isarn complained on one occasion that he could hardly make ends meet, although he had worn the crosses for less than a year. And yet, being condemned to wear the cross was almost always for life. The cross that in the times of the crusades to the Holy Land had been worn with pride on the shield or on clothing was converted into a symbol of infamy.²

Once detained and jailed, the “believers” were exhorted by the Inquisitors to convert, and were interrogated in the presence of at least two witnesses. If they were not willing to confess and denounce their heretical brothers, they were handed over to the torturers.

Pope Clement V declared in 1306 that in Carcassonne the Inquisitors had managed to make the prisoners recognize their guilt by not only denying them sleep and food, but also by applying torture. The canons of the Church had expressly forbidden its clerics to use torture (and even to witness it), so to overcome this difficulty, Pope Alexander IV granted special faculties to the Inquisitors so they could absolve each other of these ecclesiastical transgressions.

Before beginning the torture session, the instruments of suffering were shown and explained to the accused: the rack, the seesaw, the hot coals, and the so-called “Spanish boot.” Then the Inquisitors would admonish him to make a full confession. If the heretic refused, the henchman stripped him, and the Inquisitors would again beseech him to talk. If he still refused, torment was applied. According to the rules, the accused could only be tortured once; but this was re-interpreted so they could use it “once for each charge in the accusation.”

Confirmation was required after every confession obtained in the torture chamber. Generally, the accused was read the statement, and asked if he agreed. Silence signified agreement. If he withdrew the confession, the accused could be handed over to the torturers to “continue with the torture”—not to “repeat it,” as they said expressly—implying that the accused had not been tortured enough. Using such methods, the Inquisitors could condemn anybody they wanted.³

When a heretic showed remorse after having been condemned, or if he was a perfectus who renounced the heresy, the torment of the murus [wall] was inflicted upon him—as a precaution in case he had confessed out of fear of death. It could be murus largus ormurus strictus. At any rate, in both cases the only nourishment was bread and water. The Inquisitors called it the “bread of pain and the water of affliction.” The murus largus was a relatively benign penalty of prison while the murus strictus was comprised of all that human cruelty is capable of imagining. The victim was locked in a tiny cell without windows and chained to the wall by his hands and feet. His food was passed through a small opening built for this purpose. Murus strictus was the tomb they ironically called vade in pacem: go in peace.

Priestly rules demanded that these jails be as small and dark as possible. The Inquisitors’ requirements were satisfied at any cost, and they even managed to invent a crueler prison penalty, which they called murus strictissimus. Understandably, the documents of the Inquisition silenced details of the torments of their victims—something that we should be grateful for.

When a heretical perfectus remained obstinately loyal to his faith, he was handed over to the secular arm. If the civil authorities were slow in executing a sentence of death against a heretic, the Church used, without any circumspection, all recourses at its disposal to force them to obey.

According to the Toulouse Inquisitor Bernard Gui, the principles for guiding his colleagues during the exercise of their pious duties were the following: “The goal of the Inquisition is the extermination of the heresy; very well then, this cannot happen if there are heretics, and these cannot be destroyed if those who protect and help them are not destroyed: this can happen only through two ways: converting the heretics to the true faith or handing them over to the secular arm for their cremation.”

Before handing a heretic over to the civilian authorities in consonance with canon law, they were asked to apply the punishment in such a way as to avoid implying any danger to body and life. This petition was nothing more than a hypocritical dirty trick of the Roman canons, as the words of Saint Thomas Aquinus, written with absolute sincerity, show:

Under no circumstances is it possible to be indulgent with the heretics. The compassion, full of love of the Church certainly permits that they should be admonished, but in the case that they reveal themselves as obstinate, they have to be handed over to the secular arm so that death gets them out of this world. Isn’t this the proof of the infinite love of the Church? For this reason, a repented heretic is always admitted for penitence, and because of this, his life is respected. But if he converts into a relapsed heretic, he could truly accede to penitence for the good of his soul, but he can not save himself from the penalty of death.

The Inquisitors were always very clear: Handing a heretic over to the secular arm meant the death penalty. To avoid profaning their churches, the announcements of the death sentences were never displayed inside their sacred walls; instead they were made public on the main square where the execution pyres were set ablaze and the victims burned to ashes.

The Church considered the incineration of heretics an act of piety of such importance that full indulgences were given to those who brought firewood to the stake. Even more, it warned all Christians that they had the grave obligation to help exterminate the heretics; it taught them to denounce these heretics to the ecclesiastical authorities without any type of consideration, human or divine. No family relation could serve as an excuse: The son had to betray his father; the husband would become an accomplice if he did not hand over his heretical wife for death in the flames.

“The names of all the heretics are not inscribed in the book of life. Their bodies were burned here and their souls are tormented in Hell,” a jubilant orthodox chronicler wrote.

The Church wasn’t satisfied with letting its power be felt by the living. Its cruel hand also extended to the dead.

As an example of the condemnation of dead heretics, we must include what Pope Stephen VII did in 897. The Vicar of Christ had the cadaver of his predecessor, Pope Formosus, dug up in order to condemn him as a heretic; he cut off two fingers from his right hand and had the body thrown in the Tiber. Some compassionate people managed to fish the body of the heretical Holy Father from the waters and buried him again on dry land. The following year, Pope John IX declared the trial of Formosus void, and proclaimed in a synod that nobody could be condemned after death because the accused had to have the possibility of defending himself. Despite this, Pope Sergius III ordered Formosus’ body exhumed again in 905. Dressing the corpse in all Papal ornaments, he had it seated on a throne and solemnly condemned again; then they decapitated it, cut another three fingers from its hand, and threw the body in the Tiber. When the remains of the dishonored Holy Father were pulled from the river by some fishermen and taken to Saint Peter’s Church, it is said that the images of the saints inclined to them and saluted Formosus with veneration.

Of course, because the decrees of the Curia contradicted each other, the Inquisitors were free to choose those that allowed exhuming the dead whose heresy had only been discovered after their death and treating them as if they were alive. In the end, they burned corpses and scattered their ashes to the four winds. If the civil authorities were reticent to exhume a heretic, the priests threatened to exclude them from the ecclesiastical community, deprive them of the sacraments, and finally, to accuse them of heresy.

One of the first official acts of Pope Innocent III was the publication of the following decree:

In the nations under our jurisdiction, the assets of the heretics should be confiscated. Regarding other nations, we order those princes and sovereigns to adopt the same measures if they do not wish to see themselves forced to do it by the dispositions of censure of the Church. We equally expect that they should not return their assets to those heretics who have converted, even out of pity with them. In the same way that, according to civil law, the crime of lèse-majesté is punished with death and confiscation of assets, leaving children alive only through grace and pity, those who distance themselves from the faith and blaspheme against the Son of God should be separated from Christ and stripped of their Earthly goods. In fact, isn’t it a greater crime to attack Spiritual Majesty than the civil?

This Papal decree was incorporated in canon law. Following the doctrine of Roman law on the crime of lèse-majesté, it postulated that a heretic had lost his right to his assets. This unquenchable thirst for the worldly goods of its unfortunate victims was especially repugnant because it originated in the Church. To a point, its actions would appear to exempt the civilian authorities from guilt; however, little by little, they too became accustomed to confiscating assets—with no less fervor for all that the heretics possessed. Never in history has a more repulsive form of profiteering from the misfortunes of our fellow man ever existed: Following the steps of the Inquisition, these vultures fattened themselves on the misery that they had created.

Thanks to such methods, the income of the Bishopric of Toulouse had grown in such a way that Pope John XXII could create six new bishoprics in 1317. When the Pope died, as one of the chroniclers of the era related, he left a personal fortune of twenty-five million gold florins. There were historians who, basing their work on ingenuity and logic, reduced this sum to one million. They established as a fact that the Pope’s annual income was two hundred thousand gold florins, but that half of it, more or less, was destined for his family budget.

A statistic on the activities undertaken by the Toulouse Inquisitor Bernard Gui between 1308 and 1322 helps us understand how the persecution of the heretics could absorb such large sums of money:

Handed over to the secular arm and burned: 40 people

Remains exhumed and burned: 67 people

Jailed: 300 people

Exhumation of the rests of persons who were previously jailed: 21 people

Condemned to wear crosses: 138 people

Condemned to pilgrimages: 16 people

Banished to the Holy Land: 1 person

At large: 36 people

Total: 619 people

Under Pope John XXII (whose successor Benedict XII cleared the heretics out of the caves of Sabarthès), a method was used that was enthusiastically imitated by the Inquisitors. For reasons unknown, while he was still the son of a small artisan of Cahors, a town to the north of Toulouse, the future pope harbored an insatiable hatred for Hugo Gerold, the bishop of his native town. Once on the Papal throne, John lost no time letting his power be felt. In Avignon, he solemnly removed the unfortunate prelate from all his functions and had him condemned to life in prison. But he still wasn’t satisfied. Accusing him of having conspired against the life of the Pope, John had the bishop skinned alive and then thrown into the fire.

Of course, Pope Urban VI had to act in an even more un-Christian way. When six cardinals were suspected of conspiring against him in 1385, he had them arrested and thrown into a pit. The methods used by the Inquisition in its trials were applied against these unfortunate prelates: they were abandoned to hunger, cold, and worms. A confession was obtained from the Bishop of Aquilea under torture that implicated the other five cardinals. Because they never ceased to proclaim their innocence, they too were tortured. The only thing their tormentors could get was the desperate auto-accusation that they were suffering just punishment for the evils that they had inflicted, by order of Pope Urban, on other archbishops, bishops, and prelates. When the Cardinal of Venice’s turn came for torture, Pope Urban entrusted its application to a former pirate, whom he had named prior of the Sicilian Order of the Knights of Saint John. Urban ordered him to continue torturing the Cardinal until he—the Pope—could hear the cries of the victim. The torment lasted from the early hours of the morning until lunchtime.

During the Cardinal’s torture, the Holy Father strolled underneath the window of the torture chamber, reciting the breviary aloud so that his voice would remind the torturer of his obligations. But the only thing they could get out of the old and sick Cardinal of Venice was this exclamation: “Christ suffered for us!” The accused remained in custody in their inhuman prison until the day when Carlos de Durazo, the lord of Naples and Hungary, tried to free the Cardinals. Pope Urban fled, but took his victims with him. On the road, the Bishop of Aquilea, weakened by the constant torture, could not keep up with the pace of the forced march. The Pope killed him and left his corpse, unburied, by the roadside. The remaining Cardinals were dragged to Genoa, and in a deplorable state thrown into a repulsive dungeon; their situation was such that the town authorities, moved to compassion, asked for clemency for them. But the Pope remained steadfast. Finally, due to the energetic intervention of Richard II of England, Urban had no other choice than to free the English Cardinal Adam Astom; but the other four princes of the church were never seen again.

Such was the example that those most Christian shepherds, seated on Peter’s Holy See, gave their flock. Is it surprising that the Cathars rejected with horror the Church’s doctrine and applied Chapter 17 of the Apocalypse to Rome?

… and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored Wild Beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls: having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication; And upon her forehead a name written, a mystery, “Babylon the Great, the Mother of the harlots and the abominations of the Earth.”

And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.

And the woman which thou sawest is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the Earth.

THE APOCALYPSE, 17:3–7, 18

The night following Ascension Day in 1242, the world was jolted by the news that eleven Inquisitors had been assassinated in Avignonet, a small town on the outskirts of Toulouse.¹

The exasperation of the people with the congregation of the Holy Office had reached the boiling point. In 1233, the inhabitants of Cordès had killed two Dominicans. The following year, a revolt broke out in Albi when the Inquisitor, Arnaud Catalá, ordered the exhumation of a heretic whom he had condemned. When the workers who were given the task refused to carry out such degrading work, Catalá began to exhume the body with his garden hoe. The indignant inhabitants of Albi pounced on him, shouting, “Kill him! He has no right to live!”

The same year, the fury of the population of Toulouse was unleashed due to the following circumstances: The Bishop and the Dominican friars had solemnly celebrated the canonization of Saint Dominic. At the moment when the Bishop left the Church for the refectory of the Dominican convent where they were going to have their banquet, someone told him that a woman had just received the consolamentum. Immediately, the Bishop, in the company of the prior of the Dominican Order and some friars, set off for the house of the heretic. The friends of the dying woman could only whisper, “The Bishop is coming!” Convinced that she was the heretic, the dying woman confessed to the prince of the Church that she was, and that she wanted to continue being one. Then the Bishop had the dying woman taken from her bed and thrown into a blazing fire where she perished. This done, he returned with the prior and the friars to the refectory to enjoy the banquet that was awaiting them.

In the spring of 1242, a tribunal of the Inquisition arrived in Avignonet, after having sowed terror throughout the region, almost causing its depopulation. This holy tribunal was comprised of two Inquisitors, two Dominican friars, a Franciscan, a prior of the Benedictines, an archdeacon (a troubadour in other times, of whose poetic art only an obscene song has reached us), a helper, a notary, and two ushers. When the arrival of the Inquisitors was announced to the lord of the area, Count Raimon de Alfar urgently dispatched a messenger to Montségur, asking the Sons of Belissena for help.¹¹ A group of armed knights under the command of Peire-Roger de Mirepoix left the heretical fortress and camped in a forest not far from Avignonet, where they waited for nightfall.

Raimon de Alfar, grandson of the then-Count of Toulouse, received the Inquisitors and invited them to spend the night. They wanted to begin their terrifying judgments over the trembling inhabitants of Avignonet the following morning.

Well into the night, the knights of Montségur—twelve men armed to the teeth—left their forest camp and crept toward the great door of the castle. One of them whispered: “Now they are drinking… .”

“Now they are going to bed; they haven’t bolted the doors!”

The Inquisitors remained in the main salon of the castle, where they ensconced themselves as if they had a premonition of the danger that was closing in on them. The knights of Montségur, who were joined by the Count of Alfar, twenty-five burghers from Avignonet, and a serf in the service of the Inquisitors, became impatient. They broke down the doors, invaded the salon, and killed the Inquisitors.

As they were returning to Montségur, a Catholic priest who had already learned of the murders gave them shelter in the Castle of Saint Felix.

When the news of the murder of the Inquisitors reached Rome, the College of Cardinals declared that the victims had died as martyrs in the cause of Christ. Pope Pius IX canonized them in 1866, as they had demonstrated their holiness with the performance of multiple miracles.

During the crusades, the promontory of Montségur represented both “Mount Salvatge” and a “Mount Salvat” to the last free knights, the ladies praised in songs by troubadours, and the Cathars who escaped the stake. Over forty years, the towering Pyrenean rock crowned by the “Supreme Temple of the Minne” had challenged the fury of the French invaders and Catholic pilgrims. In 1209, Guy, the brother of Simon de Montfort, wanted to destroy the sacred fortress of Occitania; but when he actually saw the mountain that loses itself in the sky, he gave up on the idea. Later, Raimundo VII, the Count of Toulouse, who had to swear an oath in Notre Dame in Paris to destroy that last nest of heretics, began the siege of the fortress. But he had no interest in seeing the last redoubt of freedom in his native Occitania fall into foreign hands. He even permitted his officers to go up to the castle to attend the sermons of the bonshommes.

Immaculate and free, the holy citadel of Occitania continued to dominate the Provençal plains, where the victorious crusaders sang their Veni Creator Spiritus in blazing cities.¹² Gradually, the peasants of the flatlands began to speak the langue d’oil, the language of their new masters, in place of the langue d’oc. Only at Montségur, and on the Tabor that protected it, did the last remnants of a civilization that descended from the Greeks, Iberians, and Celts survive, a thorn in the heart of Christian Occitania, which had condemned it to death.

As always, myth and legend have woven their fabric around these severe, fortified rocks, planted in the Tabor since time immemorial. According to Occitan tradition, the “Sons of Gerion” whose flocks were taken by Hercules before he arrived in the Hesperides and Hades constructed Montségur. In the garden of the Hesperides, this favorite of the gods took the golden apples that shone on the chalice of regeneration in the foliage of the tree of life. In Hades, Alcides, similar to the sun, tamed and kidnapped Cerberus, the guard of Hell, because neither death nor Hell could scare this “proto-leader.” Could Hercules have brought from the ends of the seas to the children of Gerion (whom the Occitanians saw as their Iberian ancestors) the first good news that death is not awful and that Hell is nothing other than a nightmare as disturbing as life?

Sometimes when the banished knights and Pure Ones in Montségur looked toward the east, they could catch a glimpse of the sea beyond the foggy plains; they would recall Hercules’ voyage to Hell because Cape Cerberus was in the “Bebric sea.” When knights and their ladies, troubadours, and Cathars, among whom were some of the heroes and ladies we met in the world of the Minne, looked from Montségur to the sea in the east, they knew that Port Vendres was there, the “Port of Venus” where the Argo, the ship of the Argonauts, had moored. Among its heroic crew was the mighty Hercules.

Venus is not Artemis; sex is not Eros. It wasn’t Venus who reigned invisibly over Occitania. No, it was Artemis, the chaste love that turns the bad into good and makes the good even better. Montségur was not a mountain of sin where the “Venus in the Grail” was to be found. It was the Occitan mountain of the Paraclete, the mountain of the supreme Minne.

Those who received the consolamentum took a first step on the path that leads to the land of light. They may have died to the Earthly world, in which they saw Hell and considered it so. Execution pyres blazed everywhere. In their last sanctuary under the sun, the heretics awaited the “kiss of God,” and the Pure Ones in Montségur were about to receive that kiss.

Ay Muntsalvaesche, end of our miseries,

That nobody wants to console you!


Esclarmonde de Foix and Guilhabert de Castres had died. The exact dates are unknown. What is certain is that they did not see the siege of Montségur. The shepherd who on the pathway of the Cathars told me the legend of Montségur, Esclarmonde, the armies of Lucifer, and the Grail knew very well that the “great Esclarmonde,” as she is now known in the mountains of the Tabor, did not die at the stake. That was another Esclarmonde: the daughter of Raimon, the lord of the castle of Perelha, a “daughter of Belissena.” It was she who took care of the Occitan Mani when the armies of Rome, who swore to destroy the heretical fortress, came up from the plain toward Montségur.

After the murders of the Inquisitors in Avignonet, Hugue de Arcis, seneschal of Carcassonne, Pierre Amelii, Archbishop of Narbonne, and Durand, Bishop of Albi decided to destroy forever that Pyrenean fortress in the hands of the desperadoes, which represented a danger to the new organization of the state and the true faith. They instituted an “armed fraternity” with the aim of carrying out a crusade against Montségur. Their military preparations foresaw a siege of several years.

For their part, the heretics were not inactive. From every region of Occitania, knights and troubadours streamed to the threatened castle. With the consent of the Count of Toulouse, the valiant Bertran Roqua sent a constructor of siege machinery, Bertran de Bacalaira, possibly the same man who had fortified the walls of Montségur at the beginning of the great crusade, to inspect the fortress. From all over came donations of money, supplies, and arms. Throngs flowed to the sermons of the Perfecti, who infused the besieged with valor and put their medical knowledge at the disposal of the defenders.

The siege began in the spring of 1243. The Catholic army established its camp on the crest to the west of the castle’s rocks, which is still called el campis today. The besiegers surrounded the entire promontory—nobody could enter or leave the castle.

Nevertheless, it appears that the defenders of Montségur had contact with their friends on the plain. For this reason, some historians have concluded that large subterranean galleries may have existed—probably natural caves. Whatever they were, it is certain that one day, Esclarmonde de Alion, niece of Esclarmonde de Foix, sent a Catalan with money and soldiers to the beleaguered fortress. On another occasion, the son of the troubadour Peire Vidal managed to get a message from the Count of Toulouse to the defenders that announced that Emperor Frederick II was coming to their aid, and said, “Resist just another week… !”

As he approached Montségur, Peire Vidal’s son claimed to have seen a fantastic knight with a purple cape and sapphire-colored gloves. He interpreted this vision as a sign of a favorable outcome, but he was mistaken. He was killed in the first sortie along with the outlaws who were comforted by his news.

The help promised by the Emperor would arrive too late. The night of March 1, 1244—supposedly a Palm Sunday—the Catholics reached the summit. Treasonous shepherds informed some crusaders of the existence of a path on the mountain which climbed from the gorge of Lasset to an advance post and was invisible from the castle. They chose to attack at night, because they were afraid that they would fall into the abyss if they could see the vertiginous heights. They strangled those on guard, and with prearranged signals they communicated to those in the camp that the operation had been successful. An hour later, the fortress was completely surrounded.

The besieged capitulated. In order to avoid a useless spilling of blood, Raimon de Perelha and Peire Roger de Mirepoix declared that they were ready to unconditionally surrender the fortress and all the Cathars in it to the archbishop the next morning, if he would respect the lives of the knights. Pierre Amelii agreed.

Many knights, conscious of the destiny that awaited them, asked the ancient heresiarch bishop, Bertran En Marti, the successor of Guilhabert de Castres, to administer the consolamentum to them before the capitulation, and admit them into the Church of Amor. Nobody thought of fleeing or resorted to the endura; they wanted to be an example to the world of how one should die for his country and his faith. Frequently, Cathar doctrine has been compared—to denigrate it—with the pessimism of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Strange pessimism, that can only be compared in the history of humanity with the heroism of the first Christian martyrs! Catharism was no more pessimistic than early Christianity, which it attempted to imitate.

At the start of the day, the castle surrendered to the “armed fraternity.” The archbishop of Narbonne demanded that the Perfect Ones renounce their beliefs. Two hundred and five men and women—among them Bertran En Marti and Esclarmonde de Perelha, preferred death in the blazing pyres that Pierre Amelii had prepared on the place that is still called the camp des crémats, the field of fires.

The knights were dragged to Carcassonne in heavy chains and thrown in the dungeon under the same tower where, thirty years earlier, Raimon Roger, the Trencavel de Carcassonne, was poisoned, and Raimon de Termès perished so miserably. A few decades later, the Franciscan friar Bernard Délicieux succeeded in getting the last survivors out of that tomb in the Tower of the Inquisition.

Peire-Roger de Mirepoix was the only one who could abandon the castle a free man. He took with him his engineer, doctor, and all the gold and silver that were found there, and headed for Sault, to the house of Esclarmonde de Alion, the niece of the great Esclarmonde, and from there to the castle of Montgaillard, where he died at a very old age. Until his death, Peire-Roger was the secret guide of the outlawed knights of Occitania, knights who found their last refuge and their deaths in the caves of Ornolac.

The night of the fall of Montségur, a fire was seen on the snowy summit of Bidorta. It was not an execution pyre, but a fire of happiness. Four Cathars, of whom three are known to us—Amiel Aicart, Poitevin, and Hugo—were signaling the Perfecti of Montségur, who were about to die, that the Mani was safe.

From the documents of the Inquisitors of Carcassonne, it is surmised that these four Pure Ones, covered in wool blankets, descended on ropes from the summit of the promontory to the bottom of the Lasset gorge to hand the treasure of the heretics to a Son of Belissena, Pons-Arnaud de Castellum Verdunum, in the Sabarthès.

The “treasure of the heretics”?

Since Peire Roger de Mirepoix was given permission to take all the gold and silver with him, what the four intrepid Cathars brought to safety in the caves of the Sabarthès, an area that belonged to the lords of Castellum Verdunum, was certainly not gold or silver.

Amiel Aicart, Poitevin, Hugo and the fourth knight, whose name is unknown, were the grandchildren of those wise Celt Iberians who in other times threw the treasure of Delphi to the bottom of lake Tabor. As Cathars, they would have preferred to take the pathway to the stars together with their brothers in the fire of the camp des crémats. As they climbed the pathway of the Cathars that crosses the “valley of enchantment” bordering the lake of the Druids and ascends abruptly toward the Tabor and Bidorta, they must have seen the blazing flames of Montségur to the north. What they were safeguarding was neither gold nor silver; it was the “Desire for Paradise.”

The Inquisitors knew full well why the Cathar sanctuary was called the “treasure of the heretics.” That is why they set fire to anything that could constitute proof for posterity. They burned everything—even the books, whose life is longer than that of man.

The peasants of the little village of Montségur, a beehive at the foot of the rock upon which the castle sits suspended above the gorge of Lasset, tell the story that on Palm Sunday, when the priest celebrates the Mass, the Tabor rips itself open in a hidden place in the thickness of the woods. That is where the treasure of the heretics can be found. Unfortunate is he who has not left the mountains before the priest intones his ite missa est. At those words, the mountain closes, and he who is searching for the treasure will die from the bites of the snakes that guard it.

The peasants of the Tabor have not forgotten that this treasure can only be found when all others are in the church. Despite its power and cruelty, the Inquisition could not erase the memory of what those mountains contemplated seven hundred years ago.

This is how the Grail, the Occitan Mani, was brought to safety in the caves of Ornolac. No tree flowers there, the sun never shines, the nightingale doesn’t sing at dawn, and no fish swims beneath the sun. The walls of the cavern are the empire of night and death. Before their exit to the luminous land of light and souls, the last priests of the Church of Amor, the last Pure Ones, had to descend to the Hell of pitiless reality. In the caves of Sabarthès, the Cathars found themselves submerged in a frequent and deeply astral nostalgia. Perhaps it was nothing other than a form of endura that led them to make a pilgrimage to Montségur on moonlit nights. In order to reach the stars, it is necessary to die, and in Montségur, death was inexorably waiting for them. The new lord of the castle, Guy de Levis, a comrade in arms and friend of Simon de Montfort, left a guard in the ruins of the heretical fortress and a pack of hounds trained to hunt down the heretics.

By moonlight, the Pure Ones, emaciated and pale, would climb in proud silence through the Forest of Serralunga to the spot where the owl’s cry is louder than the wind that resonates in the gorges of the Tabor, that gigantic aeolian harp. From time to time, in forest clearings bathed in moonlight, they took off their berets and pulled out the roll of leather that they carried on their breasts containing the Gospel of the disciple whom the Lord loved. Then they kissed the parchment, knelt down before the moon, and prayed:

“… Give us today our supernatural bread … forgive those who trespass against us.”

Shortly thereafter, they continued the march to their deaths. When the dogs pounced on them with foaming mouths and the executioners trapped and beat them, they gazed down to Montségur and then toward the heavens, to the stars, where they would find their brothers. Then they were burned alive.

After the fall of Montségur, the only places left to the outlaws—to the faydits, as they were called—were the forests and caves.

The interiors of the mountains and the impenetrable brambles gave them a safe haven. In order to apprehend them, the Inquisitors tried to eliminate all brambles, furze, and thorn bushes. They entrusted this job to Bernard whose nickname was Espinasser, which means Thorn Cutter. The legend says that he was hanged by the moon.

In order to root out the heretics from their burrows more easily, the Dominicans set police dogs after them. The faydits were persecuted as savage beasts throughout their native mountains, until they had no alternative other than either to go abroad or, if they wished to die in their homeland, to remain within the solid walls of the spulgas.

The Cathars were steadfast to superhuman levels. They saw how their country was murdered and yet they refused to pick up the sword. Death awaited them on the execution pyre or in the murus strictus. Instead of renouncing the Paraclete, an outlawed belief in their world, they accepted their horrible end with a tranquil soul. They were absolutely certain that their desire for Paradise would be realized. The last Occitan knights saw the arrival of their last hour together with the Cathars because they refused to recognize the domination of France. Despite the protection of the robust walls of their spulgas, they were convinced that they had no salvation. And yet they fought until their last breath.¹³

Pope Boniface VIII died on October 12, 1303. In his bull Unam Sanctam, he declared that the successors of Peter were the keepers of supreme power, religious and civil, and that every human being must submit to it for the good of his salvation. In two more bulls, by prohibiting the French clergy from paying taxes and giving himself supreme jurisdiction, he converted himself into the irreconcilable enemy of Philippe le Bel [Philip the Fair], the King of France. The king had tried to remedy his financial difficulties by resorting to confiscations and extortions with the collusion of—and against—the clergy. Because this road was now closed to him, his hatred for the Pope knew no limits.¹ After Boniface’s death, and with the help of Pope Clement V, who was elected on his and the Inquisition’s orders, Philip pressed to have the dead Pope accused of heresy. He managed to find a large number of witnesses—famous clerics, for the most part—who declared under oath that the dead Pope did not believe in the immortality of the soul or in the embodiment of Christ, and that he had shameful and “unnatural” vices. Just a small part of any of these accusations would have sufficed to send any normal accused person to the stake. But this was the only time that the Inquisition used indulgence. It declared the late Pope innocent.

Clement V had been bishop of Comminges and archbishop of Bordeaux. Elected Pope in Lyon at the urging of King Philip, he agreed to stay in France and never set foot on Italian soil. During his Pontificate, the so-called “Babylonian Captivity” began in Avignon and the haughty Order of the Knights Templar was exterminated. One of its founders was a Cathar, who was denounced by a noble and a burgher, both from Béziers, to King Philip, greedy as ever for Templar treasures. The Knights Templar, far more powerful and rich than many emperors and kings put together, had to watch, on the sadly famous night of October 13, 1307, as their majestic Temple was demolished. In it, according to their accusers, they had worshipped the satanic head of Baphomet in place of the crucifix. It is possible that they too found refuge in the caves of the Pyrenees. Serious clues remain that the white cape of the Templars, on which glittered the eight-pointed red cross, lies together with the black garments and yellow crosses of the Cathars someplace in the shadowy caves of the Sabarthès. The spulgas of Bouan and Ornolac have still not revealed all their secrets.

Written on a stone slab in the fortified Church of the Templars of Luz-Saint-Sauveur (at the entrance to the impressive desert of Gavarni) is this legend: In the crypt, nine Templar skulls can be found; every night of October 13, a voice can be heard in the church that asks, whispering like the wind, “Has the day for the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre arrived?” The nine skulls mumble, “Still not… .”

It is said that as he burned at the stake in Paris on an island in the Seine on March 11, 1314 by order of Philip, Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Order, exclaimed: “Pope Clement, unjust judge, within forty days you will be in God’s court. And you, Philip, you wicked king within the year… .” Forty days later Clement was dead. Eight months later, Philip the Fair no longer lived.

The outrage produced by the murders committed by the Vatican and the Louvre was kept alive in France until well into the eighteenth century. It is related that as the Revolution advanced along the rue Saint-Antoine in Paris, in the direction of the Louvre and Notre Dame, a man dressed in a long tunic started to taunt the priests. Every time his sword pricked one, he exclaimed, “This is for the Albigenses and the Templars!” And when the head of Louis XVI rolled under the guillotine, the same man got up on the scaffold, smeared his fingers in the blood of the unfortunate monarch and shouted, “People of France, I baptize you in the name of Jacques de Molay and liberty!”

At the death of Pope Clement, John XXII occupied Peter’s throne in Avignon. John’s successor was Benedict XII, who before his election as Holy Father in 1334 was called Jacques Fournier. The son of a baker, he was a native of Saverdun, a small town in the Ariège, in the County of Foix to the north of Pamiers. While still quite young, he entered the convent of the Cistercians at Boulbonne, where the mausoleum of the Counts of Foix is located. All the sons and daughters of the House of Foix found their last resting place there, with the exception of course of Esclarmonde, who had flown to eternal Paradise in the form of a dove.

Jacques was sent by his uncle, the abbot of the monastery of Fontfroide, to Paris to study theology until 1311, when he became abbot of the monastery. Sixteen years later, Pope John XXII named him Bishop of Pamiers, a town where a hundred years earlier Esclarmonde had convoked all the wise men of the Sabarthès in order to decipher the doctrines of Plato and John the Evangelist. As Bishop of Pamiers, Jacques Fournier achieved great success in the pursuit of the heretics: success that would eventually bring him the Papal tiara and the fisherman’s ring. But before undertaking the extermination of the heretics of the Sabarthès, he had to form part of the tribunal that judged Bernard Délicieux.

Bernard Délicieux was one of the lectors of the Franciscan convent of Narbonne. He had close contact with the most illustrious minds of his time: for example, with Raimon Llull, the original “Reformer of the World,” and with Arnaldo de Vilanova, the private medical officer of the Pope and a tireless seeker of the Philosopher’s Stone and the aurum potabile. He was a worthy follower of Saint Francis. He was such a Franciscan that he had to share the fate of the Cathars, of whom he became a defender and advocate.

Bernard is one of the most discussed and appreciated personalities of the fourteenth century. In his renunciation of everything worldly, he even sold off his books and went into debt only to help the poor. His Order, which—let us not forget it—opposed the Inquisition of the Dominicans in almost every way, was loyal to him.

Bernard could deliver his speeches against the Dominicans even in the convents of the Franciscans. On one occasion, an Inquisitor, Fulk de Saint George, and twenty-five mounted men arrived at the abbey where Bernard was staying and demanded that he be handed over. The brothers of Saint Francis denied them entrance, began ringing the bells, and from the walls of the convent, started to stone the Dominicans. When they heard the tolling of the bells, the people came in throngs and the Inquisitor was hard pressed to get out alive.

Bernard’s fervent eloquence managed to move the burghers of Carcassonne to free those who remained imprisoned in the Tower of the Inquisition’s terrible dungeons. Among those who were still alive were the last knights of Montségur, whose records were burned by the Inquisition.

Stimulated by the audacious actions of the Franciscan, other cities of Occitania rebelled against the Inquisitors. When the Dominican Godfrede de Abluses—a cruel man without any scruples—began as Inquisitor in Toulouse, the inhabitants of the city wrote a complaint to the King of France. Out of fear of losing the provinces that he had just conquered, Philip the Fair sent his deputy from Amiens and the Archdeacon de Lisieux to the Midi, with the mission of listening to the complaints of the population and putting a stop to the excesses of the Inquisitors. The deputy had the jails of the Inquisition opened and freed all their prisoners. What is more, he arrested several officials of the Holy Office. The people greeted these measures with enthusiasm, and a real persecution of the Inquisitors began. The disorder was such that Philip had to personally visit Toulouse, where he issued an edict in 1304 that ordered the revision of all the trials carried out by the Inquisition. At the same time, he received Bernard in audience. The Franciscan had the courage to explain to the King that both Saint Peter and Saint Paul would have confessed to being heretics if they had been subjected to the methods of the Inquisitors.

Philip could not totally prohibit the Inquisition in his provinces, because it constituted solid support for his temporal power. Disappointed and annoyed, Bernard went from town to town complaining about the King’s lack of action. When Philip saw that the burghers of Carcassonne were seriously contemplating separating from France with the clear intention of putting themselves under the protection of King Ferran of Mallorca, he decided to rescind his edict, and gave the Dominicans new powers. He ordered that heretics should be pursued like savage and dangerous beasts, and demanded the rearrest of all people denounced by the Dominicans.

Terror spread across the country. The Inquisitors treated heretics, real or imagined, with horrible cruelty. If witnesses declared in favor of the accused, there was no inconvenience whatsoever in falsifying the acts. The consuls of Carcassonne were condemned to death. The Toulouse Inquisitor Godfrede de Abluses returned to his position. He began his return to power with the search for the living descendants of those who in their day had been condemned, because in his opinion, the punishment for those crimes should not fall only on those who committed them, but also on their children. The deputy de Amiens was obliged to flee. He went to see the Pope, who threw him out as a heretic. He died, excommunicated, in Italy. Two years after his death, the excommunication was lifted.

Bernard Délicieux belonged to the wing of the Franciscans known as the spirituals. Let’s go back a bit in time.

Francis of Assisi opposed the arrogance and cruelty of his time with patience and humility. He taught that the supreme pleasure of the soul did not consist in making miracles, curing the sick, expelling demons, resuscitating the dead, or converting the entire world, but in enduring and helping to endure—patiently—any suffering, sickness, injustice, or humiliation. Like the Cathars and the Waldenses, he preached apostolic poverty. As he and his disciples said, Jesus and his Apostles did not possess anything; in this way, perfect Christianity should renounce all property. In 1322, Pope John XXII declared the Franciscan thesis that Christ and the Apostles had never possessed anything as heretical. Those Franciscans who followed the teachings of Saint Francis to the letter were given the name “spirituals.” Amen, the doctrine of the Order, adopted the apocalyptic ideas of Joachim of Fiore. Before leaving for the Holy Land, King Richard the Lionheart had asked Joachim to explain the meaning of the Apocalypse of Saint John to him. Pope John XXII tried by every means to soften the strict “spiritual” interpretation of Franciscan doctrine regarding poverty and humility. To this effect, he had the spiritualist brothers of Béziers and Narbonne appear before him; their spokesman was Bernard Délicieux. After just beginning the defense of the spirituals, Bernard was accused of undermining the work of the Inquisition and was arrested on the spot. In addition, he was accused of having provoked the death of Pope Benedict XI with black magic and inciting the burghers of Carcassonne to rebellion.

The trial began in 1319, two years after Bernard’s detention, and was presided over by the archbishop of Toulouse and Jacques Fournier, the Bishop of Pamiers. Former comrades of Bernard were convoked as witnesses, condemning their friend to death with their testimony to save their own lives. This Franciscan, grown old and totally exhausted by his long stay in prison, was submitted to the most grueling interrogation over two months. On the pretext of saving his soul, they reminded him that under the laws of the Inquisition he was a heretic, and that only a complete confession could save him from the stake. Twice he underwent torture: the first time for high treason, the second for necromancy. The archives of the Inquisition of Carcassonne reveal that despite the tortures—the scribe carefully registered every shout of pain—it was impossible to tear a confession from the old man. But finally, weakened by age and suffering and exhausted by the tortures, the Franciscan brother fell into contradictions, put himself at the mercy of the tribunal, and asked for absolution.

The verdict declared him innocent of the charge of having attempted the assassination of Pope Benedict, but guilty of the rest. His “guilt” was aggravated by not less than seventy false statements uttered during his interrogation. Bernard was condemned to life in prison, on bread and water—in other words murus strictus—and was locked away in the Tower of the Inquisition in Carcassonne, where in better times, he had freed the last knights of Montségur. After a few months, a sweet death freed this man, one of the very few who had the courage to openly oppose the Inquisition.

Jacques Fournier denounced fasting, poverty, and chastity as heretical. He had a running love affair with the sister of the poet Petrarch; frequently he was “drunken with wine, and filthy with the liquid that produces sleep.” There are chroniclers who say that he was “pot-bellied, and a drunkard.”

His brother in profession, Bernard Gui, the Toulouse Inquisitor, had already done a good job in the Sabarthès, publishing in 1309 the following edict:

I, Brother Bernard Guidonis, Dominican and Inquisitor of Toulouse, I offer all those believers in Christ the prize of the crown and eternal life. Come together, children of God, come up with me, fighters for Christ against the enemies of his cross, those corruptors of truth and purity of the Catholic doctrine, against Pierre Autier, the arch-heretic, against his followers and accomplices. I order you in the name of God to persecute, and detain there where you find them those who remain hidden and lie in the darkness. I promise the recompense of God, and a good prize in coin to those who detain the aforesaid, and hand them over to me. Be watchful, pastors, so that the wolves do not devour your lambs. Act with valor, loyal servants of God, so the enemies of the faith cannot flee or escape from us!

Pierre Autier, a notary from Aix-en-Sabarthès, was the leader of the last heretics of Occitania. In his youth, he was not a Cathar, and had a druda or lover. With the passing of years, he became an ardent defender of the heretical doctrine, and the leader of the outlaws of the caves of Sabarthès. From there, he undertook missionary travels throughout the Languedoc, and on one occasion in 1295 he escaped the persecution of the Inquisition by fleeing to Lombardy in Italy. Within three years, he was again in the Sabarthès, where he remained hidden for eleven years.

A certain Guillaume Joan presented himself one day to Jacques Fournier to betray the arch-heretic. But two heretics coaxed the traitor to a bridge near Aliat, where they overpowered and gagged him. Then they took him to the mountains, where they forced him to confess and threw him headfirst into the abyss.

When Pierre Autier left his hiding place to visit Castelnaudary, he was arrested, and a year later, in 1310, burned in Toulouse. They did the unspeakable to pry the names and hiding places of his loyal comrades out of him. All efforts to get him to admit and confess the heresy were fruitless. He never pretended to hide his faith; rather he declared it with bravura. And yet, it would appear that the Inquisitor Bernard Gui managed to learn from him the secret of the caves of the Sabarthès, and pass it on to Jacques Fournier in whose parish the mountains of the Ariège were to be found. In later trials, they allude often to the information obtained from Pierre Autier, who had no other course than to reveal the secret of the last Cathars to his torturers.

At the entrance to the Sabarthès, at the doors to the town of Tarascon, you can still see a country house called Jacques Fournier. The bishop of Pamiers directed the war against the heretical troglodytes from there; as long as the caves of Ornolac were not dehereticized, the triumph of the cross was not complete.

The manor of Jacques Fournier rises in the middle of a rocky cone like an eagle’s nest that reigned over Calmès and Miramont, the fortresses of the Sons of Belissena of Rabat. These knights remained loyal to Catharism until their death. Many fell in the defense of Montségur. Still more perished in the Tower of the Inquisition in Carcassonne. Others had to wander their desecrated homeland wearing the yellow cross, symbol of dishonor, on their chest and back. Those who resisted the longest were the lords of Rabat and Castellum Verdunum, now the miserable survivors of the Church of Amor, so powerful in other times.

Jacques Fournier personally indicated to his friars-in-arms where to install their battering rams to force entry into the spulgas. From his manor house in Tarascon, he directed this holy war against those who remained entrenched in the caves.

For more than a century, the Cathars could live in this wild Pyrenean valley without anyone bothering them. They had their huts on the slopes of the mountains, between pines, fig trees, and acacia trees. When danger approached, they lit bonfires on the Soudour, a gigantic plateau near Tarascon that dominates the whole valley, so the smoke could serve as an alarm. Then the heretics took refuge in the caves, which were fatal for anybody who didn’t know them. When—for example—the executioners of the Inquisition penetrated the cave of Sacany, before them were six different pathways. Five of them lead in a zigzag to a precipice whose depths nobody to this day has been able to explore. It is possible that more than one henchman’s remains rest there after falling in furious pursuit of some Cathar. Once the Inquisitors found the right pathway, the nest of heretics was empty.

In all probability, the smoke signals disappeared from the summit of the Soudour from the moment Jacques Fournier occupied his manor house at its foot. One day, the Inquisitors torched the spulgas, burning all the Cathars who couldn’t flee. Jacques Fournier imagined he could become Pope.

A document from 1329 informs us that, after rotting for an eternity in the dungeons of the Inquisition, Pons-Arnaud, the co-lord of Castellum Verdunum, was freed under the condition of wearing the yellow crosses. Falling back into heresy, he was apprehended by the guards of the Dominicans and jailed, dying finally ab intestato.

With the death of this Son of Belissena, the caves of the Sabarthès, as remote and inaccessible as they were, could no longer provide security for the heretics. If the walls of the fortified cave of Bouan, the most impressive spulga of the Sabarthès that belonged to the lords of Château Verdun, could resist until then, now it seemed that without Pons-Arnaud, the walls would explode under the thunderous impacts of the catapults. It seems that the last Cathars fled to the mountains through hidden subterranean chimneys known only to them. From there, they probably emigrated to more hospitable lands, where the sun shone more purely because it was not darkened by the smoke of the execution pyre, and where the stars to which they aspired seemed closer. Before abandoning forever the caves that for so long had given them shelter, that were as free as the wind, one left on the walls some drawings and inscriptions:

A tree of life

A dove, emblem of the God-Spirit.

A fish, symbol of the luminous divinity

Christigrams in Greek and Latin characters

The word Gethsemane

All around, in almost impenetrable places, where a gallery winds itself through chalky rock toward the summits bathed in sunshine, he drew and intertwined the initials “GTS,” probably the abbreviation of the word Gethsemane, the garden where Christ was handed over to his enemies.

When one tries to climb these chimneys toward the surface, where freedom exerted its fascination on the Cathars, he will often find his ascent obstructed by walls or impressive stone blocks that the chalk water has converted into impassable stalactites. A Pyrenean legend tells us that the Dominican friars, unable to capture the last Cathars in their inaccessible lair, had them walled off behind these rocks. The mountains of the Sabarthès continue to guard their secrets.

The total disappearance of such an important movement as the Cathars appeared so improbable that it was frequently believed that the cagots or “agots” were their direct descendants. But these people belonged to the family of gypsies who lived marginalized in the Pyrenees. French Navarre recognized them as citizens with equal rights in 1709, and Spanish Navarre in 1818. This belief affected the cagots themselves, who in a request directed to Pope Leo X in 1517, solicited the Holy Father to readmit them to society because the errors of their fathers had long been paid for.

In 1807, several hunters from Suc, a town in the Sabarthès, saw a naked woman on the solitary heights of Montcalm peak, one of the highest summits of the Pyrenees where snow remains throughout the year. Instead of continuing their bear hunt, they tried to trap her, but with no success. Like a chamois, she jumped from rock to rock, running along the edge of incredible cliffs, without any fear that she would fall into the abyss.

The following day, the hunters were reinforced by shepherds from Montcalm, and renewed their chase. Finally they succeeded in capturing the woman alive. They offered her clothes like those worn by women of the region. She tore them to shreds. In the end, they tied her hands, dressed her by force, and took her to the parochial house of Suc where she calmed a bit, looked at her clothes, then fell to her knees and wailed convulsively.

Her face, emaciated and pale, nonetheless showed that in other times she had been very beautiful. Her tall stature and dignified gestures led the townsfolk to conclude that she was of noble lineage. They offered her a room in which to spend the night. The following morning she had disappeared, leaving all her clothes.

A few days later, her presence was detected on one of the snowy summits of Bassiès peak. Winter descended… .

With the arrival of springtime, the justice of the peace in Vicdessos headed for the heights of Montcalm, accompanied by policemen. After serious difficulties, they managed to arrest the woman, dressed her again, gave her food, and tried to discover the enigma of her strange existence—they failed. One day, the justice of the peace asked her how it was possible that the bears had not devoured her, to which she replied in the dialect of the valleys, “The bears? They are my friends, they gave me warmth!”

The woman fell ill, so they took her to the hospital in Foix. She escaped again on July 20, but they recaptured her on August 2 in the vicinity of Tarascon, before she could climb back to the Montcalm. They took her back to Foix and locked her in the castle prison, where she died at one in the morning on October 29, 1808. Nostalgia for her mountains killed her.

It has never been possible to resolve the mystery of the “Folle du Montcalm” [The Crazy Woman of Montcalm]. The peasants of those remote valleys wanted to convince me that she was the last descendant of the Cathars.

Six hundred years ago Occitan Catharism died. Its death took place in the caves of Ornolac, the same place that was its cradle for thousands of years.

The Tabor, in other times the Parnassus of Occitania, became an important necropolis, a tomb for one of the most illustrious civilizations of the western world. Perhaps the chalky waters from the springs of the Sabarthès have occluded the place where the mysterious celebration of the Cathar Manisola was held for the last time. Perhaps the last Cathars lie there, dead through endura in defense of the heretical treasure, whose mere contemplation gave their brothers sufficient courage to advance smiling to their deaths and shout in the last moment, as the flames of the pyre began to consume them, “God is Love!” If God is more benevolent and understanding than mankind, shouldn’t he concede to them in the Hereafter what they had so ardently desired and pursued with total abstinence, consequential strength, and unparalleled heroism? The divinization of the Spirit—the apotheosis! This is what they wanted. The anxiety of mankind consists in reaching the kingdom of the heavens, which is to say, to live on after death.

What happened to the Grail, the Occitan Mani? According to a Pyrenean legend, the Grail moves farther away from this world, and upward toward the sky, when humanity is no longer worthy of it. Perhaps the Pure Ones of Occitania keep the Grail on one of those stars that circle Montségur like a halo, that Golgotha of Occitania. The Grail symbolized their desire for Paradise, where mankind is the image, not the caricature, of God—an image that is revealed only when you love your fellow man as yourself. Chivalrous knights, wandering poets, poetic priests, and chaste women were in other times the keepers of this symbol.

Do not forget of whom they were worthy!

Such scintillating stars scattered them

By nature through infinite space.


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