Cathar Country is one of the most fascinating areas to visit in Southern France. With an incredible heritage and turbulent history of heresy and crusades, Cathar Country or (Pays Cathare in French) in the Occitanie region is an area of medieval castles, villages and Romanesque abbeys related to the Cathars and Catharism.
As I mentioned the Cathars in the Carcassonne story on the Canal du Midi part 1 post, and promised a follow-up, here it is.
Hopefully, you are as interested in world religions as I am, and I thought you may like to know a little about the Cathars. If not maybe just skip this post.
- The Cathars were a religious group that appeared in Europe during the 11th century and flourished in this Languedoc region of France, where we are now. They were also called ‘Albigenses’ (as coming from the town of Albi).
- Cathars (from the Greek katharos, which means “unpolluted” or “pure”)
They believed in two principals, a good God, and his evil adversary, much like the mainstream Christians, but rejected the idea of priesthood and of the use of church buildings.
They did have a sort of hierarchy of men and women elected as leaders and unlike the Catholics, they believed men and women were equals. These leaders worked, often as weavers or in manual trades as did their congregation.
Cathars cut themselves off from others in order to retain as much purity as possible.
Cathars believed in reincarnation and refused to eat meat, were strict about living in poverty, not telling lies, or swearing oaths and allegiances.
They looked upon the Catholic clergy bejeweled in their finery, living in palaces and preaching poverty with ridicule.
Cathar practices were often in direct contradiction to how the Catholic Church conducted business, especially with regards to the issues of poverty and the moral character of priests. The Cathars believed that everyone should be able to read the Bible and translated it into the many local languages.
The Cathars also had no objection to contraception, euthanasia or suicide and not surprisingly Catharism was supported by the nobility as well as the common people.
Arguably just as interesting, Protestants share much in common with Cathar ideas, and there is some reason to believe that early reformers were aware of the Cathar tradition. Even today some Protestant Churches claim a Cathar heritage
The Cathars also would not pay taxes to the Catholic Church, that was probably their undoing.
The head of the Catholic Church Pope Innocent lll appointed a Holy Army and called a crusade against the Cathars, and over the next two centuries an estimated half a million Languedoc men, women, and children were massacred, Catholics as well as Cathars, as the crusaders killed indiscriminately.
Languedoc once a sophisticated and wealthy region was in economic decline, but the all-powerful Catholic Church in a sustained campaign of genocide had exterminated the Cathars.