Catharism (/ˈkæθərɪzəm/; from the Greek: καθαροί, katharoi, "the pure [ones]") was a Christian dualist movement that thrived in some areas of Southern Europe, particularly northern Italy and southern France, between the 12th and 14th centuries. Cathar beliefs varied between communities because Catharism was initially taught by ascetic priests who had set few guidelines. The Cathars were a direct challenge to the Catholic Church, which denounced its practices and dismissed it outright as "the Church of Satan".
Catharism had its roots in the Paulician movement in Armenia and the Bogomils of Macedonia, which took influences from the Paulicians. Though the term "Cathar" (/ˈkæθɑːr/) has been used for centuries to identify the movement, whether the movement identified itself with this name is debatable. In Cathar texts, the terms "Good Men" (Bons Hommes) or "Good Christians" are the common terms of self-identification. The idea of two gods or principles, one being good the other evil, was central to Cathar beliefs. The good god was the God of the New Testament and the creator of the spiritual realm, as opposed to the bad god, whom many Cathars identified as Satan, creator of the physical world of the Old Testament. All visible matter, including the human body, was created by Satan; it was therefore tainted with sin. This was the antithesis to the monotheistic Catholic Church, whose fundamental principle was that there was only one God who created all things visible and invisible. Cathars thought human spirits were the genderless spirits of angels trapped within the physical creation of Satan, cursed to be reincarnated until the Cathar faithful achieved salvation through a ritual called the consolamentum.
From the beginning of his reign, Pope Innocent III attempted to use diplomacy to end Catharism, but in 1208 Innocent's papal legate Pierre de Castelnau was murdered while returning to Rome after preaching the Catholic faith in southern France. With the option of sending Catholic missionaries and jurists extinguished, Pope Innocent III declared Pierre de Castelnau a martyr and launched the Albigensian Crusade.
- 1 Origins
- 2 General beliefs
- 2.1 Sacraments
- 2.2 Theology
- 2.3 Social relationships
- 2.4 Organization
- 2.5 Role of women in Catharism
- 3 Suppression
- 4 Later history
- 5 Oldest account of ordinary people told in their own words
- 6 Historical scholarship
- 7 Legacy in art and music
- 8 Legacy in modern popular culture
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
The origins of the Cathars' beliefs are unclear but most theories agree they came from the Byzantine Empire mostly by the trade routes and spread from Bulgaria to the Netherlands. The name of Bulgarians (Bougres) was also applied to the Albigenses, and they maintained an association with the similar Christian movement of the Bogomils ("Friends of God") of Thrace. "That there was a substantial transmission of ritual and ideas from Bogomilism to Catharism is beyond reasonable doubt." Their doctrines have numerous resemblances to those of the Bogomils and the earlier Paulicians as well as the Manicheans and the Christian Gnostics of the first few centuries AD, although, as many scholars, most notably Mark Pegg, have pointed out, it would be erroneous to extrapolate direct, historical connections based on theoretical similarities perceived by modern scholars. St John Damascene, writing in the 8th century AD, also notes of an earlier sect called the "Cathari", in his book On Heresies, taken from the epitome provided by Epiphanius of Salamis in his Panarion. He says of them: "They absolutely reject those who marry a second time, and reject the possibility of penance [that is, forgiveness of sins after baptism]". These are probably the same Cathari who are mentioned in Canon 8 of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in the year 325, which states "...[I]f those called Cathari come over [to the faith], let them first make profession that they are willing to communicate [share full communion] with the twice-married, and grant pardon to those who have lapsed..."
It is likely that we have only a partial view of their beliefs, because the writings of the Cathars were mostly destroyed because of the doctrinal threat perceived by the Papacy; much of our existing knowledge of the Cathars is derived from their opponents. Conclusions about Cathar ideology continue to be fiercely debated with commentators regularly accusing their opponents of speculation, distortion and bias. There are a few texts from the Cathars themselves which were preserved by their opponents (the Rituel Cathare de Lyon) which give a glimpse of the inner workings of their faith, but these still leave many questions unanswered. One large text which has survived, The Book of Two Principles (Liber de duobus principiis), elaborates the principles of dualistic theology from the point of view of some of the Albanenses Cathars.
It is now generally agreed by most scholars that identifiable historical Catharism did not emerge until at least 1143, when the first confirmed report of a group espousing similar beliefs is reported being active at Cologne by the cleric Eberwin of Steinfeld. A landmark in the "institutional history" of the Cathars was the Council, held in 1167 at Saint-Félix-Lauragais, attended by many local figures and also by the Bogomil papa Nicetas, the Cathar bishop of (northern) France and a leader of the Cathars of Lombardy.
The Cathars were largely a homegrown, Western European/Latin Christian phenomenon, springing up in the Rhineland cities (particularly Cologne) in the mid-12th century, northern France around the same time, and particularly southern France — the Languedoc — and the northern Italian cities in the mid-late 12th century. In the Languedoc and northern Italy, the Cathars would enjoy their greatest popularity, surviving in the Languedoc, in much reduced form, up to around 1325 and in the Italian cities until the Inquisitions of the 1260s–1300s finally rooted them out.
Cathars, in general, formed an anti-sacerdotal party in opposition to the Catholic Church, protesting against what they perceived to be the moral, spiritual and political corruption of the Church.
G. K. Chesterton, the English Roman Catholic author, claimed: "..the medieval system began to be broken to pieces intellectually, long before it showed the slightest hint of falling to pieces morally. The huge early heresies, like the Albigenses, had not the faintest excuse in moral superiority."
Contemporary reports suggest otherwise, however. St Bernard of Clairvaux, for instance, although opposed to the Cathars, said of them in Sermon 65 on the Song of Songs:
If you question the heretic about his faith, nothing is more Christian; if about his daily converse, nothing more blameless; and what he says he proves by his actions ... As regards his life and conduct, he cheats no one, pushes ahead of no one, does violence to no one. Moreover, his cheeks are pale with fasting; he does not eat the bread of idleness; he labours with his hands and thus makes his living. Women are leaving their husbands, men are putting aside their wives, and they all flock to those heretics! Clerics and priests, the youthful and the adult among them, are leaving their congregations and churches and are often found in the company of weavers of both sexes.
When Bishop Fulk, a key leader of the anti-Cathar persecutions, excoriated the Languedoc Knights for not pursuing the heretics more diligently, he received the reply:
We cannot. We have been reared in their midst. We have relatives among them and we see them living lives of perfection.
In contrast to the Catholic Church, the Cathars had but one sacrament, the Consolamentum, or Consolation. This involved a brief spiritual ceremony to remove all sin from the believer and to induct him or her into the next higher level as a Perfect. Unlike the Roman Catholic sacrament of Penance, the Consolamentum could be taken only once.
Thus it has been alleged that many believers would eventually receive the Consolamentum as death drew near, performing the ritual of liberation at a moment when the heavy obligations of purity required of Perfecti would be temporally short. Some of those who received the sacrament of the consolamentum upon their death-beds may thereafter have shunned further food or drink in order to speed death. This has been termed the endura. It was claimed by some of the Catholic writers that when a Cathar, after receiving the Consolamentum, began to show signs of recovery he or she would be smothered in order to ensure his or her entry into paradise. Other than at such moments of extremis, little evidence exists to suggest this was a common Cathar practice.
The Cathars also refused the Catholic Sacrament of the eucharist saying that it could not possibly be the body of Christ. They also refused to partake in the practice of Baptism by water. The following two quotes are taken from the Catholic Inquisitor Bernard Gui’s experiences with the Cathar practices and beliefs:
Then they attack and vituperate, in turn, all the sacraments of the Church, especially the sacrament of the eucharist, saying that it cannot contain the body of Christ, for had this been as great as the largest mountain Christians would have entirely consumed it before this. They assert that the host comes from straw, that it passes through the tails of horses, to wit, when the flour is cleaned by a sieve (of horse hair); that, moreover, it passes through the body and comes to a vile end, which, they say, could not happen if God were in it.
Of baptism, they assert that the water is material and corruptible and is therefore the creation of the evil power, and cannot sanctify the spirit, but that the churchmen sell this water out of avarice, just as they sell earth for the burial of the dead, and oil to the sick when they anoint them, and as they sell the confession of sins as made to the priests.
Some believe that the Catharist conception of Jesus resembled nontrinitarian modalistic monarchianism (Sabellianism) in the West and adoptionism in the East.
Bernard of Clairvaux's biographer and other sources accuse some Cathars of Arianism, and some scholars see Cathar Christology as having traces of earlier Arian roots. According to some of their contemporary enemies Cathars did not accept the Trinitarian understanding of Jesus, but considered him the human form of an angel similar to Docetic Christology. Zoé Oldenbourg (2000) compared the Cathars to "Western Buddhists" because she considered that their view of the doctrine of "resurrection" taught by Jesus was, in fact, similar to the Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation. The Cathars taught that to regain angelic status one had to renounce the material self completely. Until one was prepared to do so, he/she would be stuck in a cycle of reincarnation, condemned to live on the corrupt Earth.
The alleged sacred texts of the Cathars besides the New Testament, include The Gospel of the Secret Supper, or John's Interrogation and The Book of the Two Principles.
Killing was abhorrent to the Cathars. Consequently, abstention from all animal food (sometimes exempting fish) was enjoined of the Perfecti. The Perfecti avoided eating anything considered to be a by-product of sexual reproduction. War and capital punishment were also condemned - an abnormality in Medieval Europe. In a world where few could read, their rejection of oath-taking marked them as social revolutionaries.
Cathars also rejected marriage. Their theology was based principally on the belief that the physical world, including the flesh, was irredeemably evil - as it stemmed from the evil principle or "demiurge". Therefore, reproduction was viewed by them as a moral evil to be avoided - as it continued the chain of reincarnation and suffering in the material world. It was claimed by their opponents that, given this loathing for procreation, they generally reverted to sodomy. Such was the situation that a charge of heresy leveled against a suspected Cathar was usually dismissed if the accused could show he was legally married.
It has been alleged that the Cathar Church of the Languedoc had a relatively flat structure, distinguishing between perfecti (a term they did not use, instead bonhommes) and credentes. By about 1140 liturgy and a system of doctrine had been established. It created a number of bishoprics, first at Albi around 1165  and after the 1167 Council at Saint-Félix-Lauragais sites at Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Agen, so that four bishoprics were in existence by 1200.
In about 1225, during a lull in the Albigensian Crusade, the bishopric of Razes was added. Bishops were supported by their two assistants: a filius maior (typically the successor) and a filius minor, who were further assisted by deacons. The perfecti were the spiritual elite, highly respected by many of the local people, leading a life of austerity and charity. In the apostolic fashion they ministered to the people and travelled in pairs.
Role of women in Catharism
Catharism has been seen as giving women the greatest opportunities for independent action since women were found as being believers as well as Perfecti, who were able to administer the sacrament of the consolamentum. The Cathars believed that one would be repeatedly reincarnated until one commits to the self-denial of the material world, which meant that a man could be reincarnated as a woman and vice versa, thereby rendering gender completely meaningless. The spirit was of utmost importance to the Cathars and was described as being immaterial and sexless. Because of this belief, the Cathars saw women equally capable of being spiritual leaders, which undermined the very concept of gender held by the Catholic Church and did not go unnoticed.
The women that were accused of being heretics in early medieval Christianity included those labeled Gnostics, Cathars, Beguines as well as several other groups that were sometimes "tortured and executed". The Cathars, like the Gnostics who preceded them, assigned more importance to the role of Mary Magdalene in the spread of early Christianity than the Church previously did. Her vital role as a teacher contributed to the Cathar belief that women could serve as spiritual leaders. Women were found to be included in the Perfecti in significant numbers, with numerous receiving the consolamentum after being widowed. Having reverence for the Gospel of John, the Cathars saw Mary as perhaps even more important than Saint Peter, the founder of the Church.
The Cathar movement proved to be extremely successful in gaining female followers because of its proto-feminist teachings along with the general feeling of exclusion from the Catholic church. Catharism attracted numerous women with the promise of a sacerdotal role that the Catholic Church did not allow. Catharism let women become a Perfect of the faith, a position of far more prestige than anything the Church offered. These female Perfects were required to adhere to a strict and ascetic lifestyle, but were still able to have their own houses. Although many women found something attractive in Catharism not all found its teachings convincing. A notable example is Hildegard of Bingen, who in 1163, gave a widely renowned sermon against the Cathars in Cologne. During this speech, Hildegard announced a state of eternal punishment and damnation to all those who accepted the Cathars beliefs.
While women Perfects rarely traveled to preach the faith, they still played a vital role in the spreading of the Catharism by establishing group homes for women. Though it was extremely uncommon, there were isolated cases of female Cathars departing from their homes to spread the faith. In the Cathar group homes, women were educated in the faith and these women would go on to bear children who would then also become believers. Through this pattern the faith grew exponentially through the efforts of women as each generation passed. Among some groups of Cathars there were even more women than there were men.
Despite women having an instrumental role in the growing of the faith, misogyny was not completely absent from the Cathar movement. Some seemingly misogynistic Cathar beliefs include that one's last incarnation had to be experienced as a man to break the cycle. This belief was inspired by later French Cathars, which taught that women must be reborn as men in order to achieve salvation. Another one is that the sexual allure of women impedes man's ability to reject the material world. Toward the end of the Cathar movement, French Catharism became more misogynistic and started the practice of excluding women Perfects. However, the influence of these type of misogynistic beliefs and practices remained rather limited on the whole of Catharism as later Italian Perfects still included women.
In 1147, Pope Eugene III sent a legate to the Cathar district in order to arrest the progress of the Cathars. The few isolated successes of Bernard of Clairvaux could not obscure the poor results of this mission, which clearly showed the power of the sect in the Languedoc at that period. The missions of Cardinal Peter of St. Chrysogonus to Toulouse and the Toulousain in 1178, and of Henry of Marcy, cardinal-bishop of Albano, in 1180–81, obtained merely momentary successes. Henry's armed expedition, which took the stronghold at Lavaur, did not extinguish the movement.
Decisions of Catholic Church councils—in particular, those of the Council of Tours (1163) and of the Third Council of the Lateran (1179)—had scarcely more effect upon the Cathars. When Pope Innocent III came to power in 1198, he was resolved to deal with them.
At first Innocent tried pacific conversion, and sent a number of legates into the Cathar regions. They had to contend not only with the Cathars, the nobles who protected them, and the people who respected them, but also with many of the bishops of the region, who resented the considerable authority the Pope had conferred upon his legates. In 1204, Innocent III suspended a number of bishops in Occitania; in 1205 he appointed a new and vigorous bishop of Toulouse, the former troubadour Foulques. In 1206 Diego of Osma and his canon, the future Saint Dominic, began a programme of conversion in Languedoc; as part of this, Catholic-Cathar public debates were held at Verfeil, Servian, Pamiers, Montréal and elsewhere.
Saint Dominic met and debated with the Cathars in 1203 during his mission to the Languedoc. He concluded that only preachers who displayed real sanctity, humility and asceticism could win over convinced Cathar believers. The institutional Church as a general rule did not possess these spiritual warrants. His conviction led eventually to the establishment of the Dominican Order in 1216. The order was to live up to the terms of his famous rebuke, "Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching truth." However, even St. Dominic managed only a few converts among the Cathari.
In January 1208 the papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau - a Cistercian monk, theologian and canon lawyer - was sent to meet the ruler of the area, Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse. Known for excommunicating noblemen who protected the Cathars, Castelnau excommunicated Raymond for abetting heresy following an allegedly fierce argument during which Raymond supposedly threatened Castelnau with violence. Shortly thereafter, Castelnau was murdered as he returned to Rome, allegedly by a knight in the service of Count Raymond. His body was returned and laid to rest in the Abbey at Saint Gilles. As soon as he heard of the murder, the Pope ordered the legates to preach a crusade against the Cathars and wrote a letter to Philip Augustus, King of France, appealing for his intervention—or an intervention led by his son, Louis. This was not the first appeal but some see the murder of the legate as a turning point in papal policy. Others claim it as a fortuitous event in allowing the Pope to excite popular opinion and to renew his pleas for intervention in the south. The chronicler of the crusade which followed, Peter of Vaux de Cernay, portrays the sequence of events in such a way that, having failed in his effort to peaceably demonstrate the errors of Catharism, the Pope then called a formal crusade, appointing a series of leaders to head the assault. The French King refused to lead the crusade himself, and could not spare his son to do so either—despite his victory against John, King of England, there were still pressing issues with Flanders and the empire and the threat of an Angevin revival. Phillip did however sanction the participation of some of his more bellicose and ambitious—some might say dangerous—barons, notably Simon de Montfort and Bouchard de Marly. There followed twenty years of war against the Cathars and their allies in the Languedoc: the Albigensian Crusade.
This war pitted the nobles of the north of France against those of the south. The widespread northern enthusiasm for the Crusade was partially inspired by a papal decree permitting the confiscation of lands owned by Cathars and their supporters. This not only angered the lords of the south but also the French King, who was at least nominally the suzerain of the lords whose lands were now open to despoliation and seizure. Phillip Augustus wrote to Pope Innocent in strong terms to point this out—but the Pope did not change his policy—and many of those who went to the Midi were aware that the Pope had been equivocal over the Siege of Zadar in 1202 and the Sack of Constantinople in 1204. As the Languedoc was supposedly teeming with Cathars and Cathar sympathisers, this made the region a target for northern French noblemen looking to acquire new fiefs. The barons of the north headed south to do battle.
Their first target was the lands of the Trencavel, powerful lords of Albi, Carcassonne and the Razes—but a family with few allies in the Midi. Little was thus done to form a regional coalition and the crusading army was able to take Carcassonne, the Trencavel capital, incarcerating Raymond Roger in his own citadel where he died, allegedly of natural causes; champions of the Occitan cause from that day to this believe he was murdered. Simon de Montfort was granted the Trencavel lands by the Pope and did homage for them to the King of France, thus incurring the enmity of Peter II of Aragon who had held aloof from the conflict, even acting as a mediator at the time of the siege of Carcassonne. The remainder of the first of the two Cathar wars now essentially focused on Simon's attempt to hold on to his fabulous gains through winters where he was faced, with only a small force of confederates operating from the main winter camp at Fanjeau, with the desertion of local lords who had sworn fealty to him out of necessity—and attempts to enlarge his newfound domains in the summer when his forces were greatly augmented by reinforcements from northern France, Germany and elsewhere. Summer campaigns saw him not only retake, sometimes with brutal reprisals, what he had lost in the 'close' season, but also seek to widen his sphere of operation—and we see him in action in the Aveyron at St. Antonin and on the banks of the Rhone at Beaucaire. Simon's greatest triumph was the victory against superior numbers at the Battle of Muret—a battle which saw not only the defeat of Raymond of Toulouse and his Occitan allies—but also the death of Peter of Aragon—and the effective end of the ambitions of the house of Aragon/Barcelona in the Languedoc. This was in the medium and longer term of much greater significance to the royal house of France than it was to de Montfort—and with the battle of Bouvines was to secure the position of Philip Augustus vis a vis England and the Empire. The Battle of Muret was a massive step in the creation of the unified French kingdom and the country we know today—although Edward III, the Black Prince and Henry V would threaten later to shake these foundations.
The crusader army came under the command, both spiritually and militarily, of the papal legate Arnaud-Amaury, Abbot of Cîteaux. In the first significant engagement of the war, the town of Béziers was besieged on 22 July 1209. The Catholic inhabitants of the city were granted the freedom to leave unharmed, but many refused and opted to stay and fight alongside the Cathars.
The Cathars spent much of 1209 fending off the crusaders. The Béziers army attempted a sortie but was quickly defeated, then pursued by the crusaders back through the gates and into the city. Arnaud-Amaury, the Cistercian abbot-commander, is supposed to have been asked how to tell Cathars from Catholics. His reply, recalled by Caesar of Heisterbach, a fellow Cistercian, thirty years later was "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius."—"Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own." The doors of the church of St Mary Magdalene were broken down and the refugees dragged out and slaughtered. Reportedly, 7,000 people died there. Elsewhere in the town many more thousands were mutilated and killed. Prisoners were blinded, dragged behind horses, and used for target practice. What remained of the city was razed by fire. Arnaud-Amaury wrote to Pope Innocent III, "Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex." The permanent population of Béziers at that time was then probably no more than 5,000, but local refugees seeking shelter within the city walls could conceivably have increased the number to 20,000.
After the success of his siege of Carcassonne, which followed the Massacre at Béziers in 1209, Simon de Montfort was designated as leader of the Crusader army. Prominent opponents of the Crusaders were Raymond Roger Trencavel, viscount of Carcassonne, and his feudal overlord Peter II, the king of Aragon, who held fiefdoms and had a number of vassals in the region. Peter died fighting against the crusade on 12 September 1213 at the Battle of Muret. Simon de Montfort was killed on 25 June 1218 after maintaining a siege of Toulouse for nine months.
Treaty and persecution
The war ended in the Treaty of Paris (1229), by which the king of France dispossessed the house of Toulouse of the greater part of its fiefs, and that of the Trencavels (Viscounts of Béziers and Carcassonne) of the whole of their fiefs. The independence of the princes of the Languedoc was at an end. But in spite of the wholesale massacre of Cathars during the war, Catharism was not yet extinguished.
In 1215, the bishops of the Catholic Church met at the Fourth Council of the Lateran under Pope Innocent III; part of the agenda was combating the Cathar heresy.
The Inquisition was established in 1234 to uproot the remaining Cathars. Operating in the south at Toulouse, Albi, Carcassonne and other towns during the whole of the 13th century, and a great part of the 14th, it succeeded in crushing Catharism as a popular movement and driving its remaining adherents underground. Cathars who refused to recant were hanged, or burnt at the stake.
From May 1243 to March 1244, the Cathar fortress of Montségur was besieged by the troops of the seneschal of Carcassonne and the archbishop of Narbonne. On 16 March 1244, a large and symbolically important massacre took place, where over 200 Cathar Perfects were burnt in an enormous pyre at the prat dels cremats ("field of the burned") near the foot of the castle. Moreover, the Church decreed lesser chastisements against laymen suspected of sympathy with Cathars, at the 1235 Council of Narbonne.
A popular though as yet unsubstantiated theory holds that a small party of Cathar Perfects escaped from the fortress before the massacre at prat dels cremats. It is widely held in the Cathar region to this day that the escapees took with them le trésor cathar. What this treasure consisted of has been a matter of considerable speculation: claims range from sacred Gnostic texts to the Cathars' accumulated wealth, which might have included the Holy Grail (see the Section on Historical Scholarship, below).
Hunted by the Inquisition and deserted by the nobles of their districts, the Cathars became more and more scattered fugitives: meeting surreptitiously in forests and mountain wilds. Later insurrections broke out under the leadership of Roger-Bernard II, Count of Foix, Aimery III of Narbonne and Bernard Délicieux (a Franciscan friar later prosecuted for his adherence to another heretical movement, that of the Spiritual Franciscans at the beginning of the 14th century. But by this time the Inquisition had grown very powerful. Consequently, many presumed to be Cathars were summoned to appear before it. Precise indications of this are found in the registers of the Inquisitors, Bernard of Caux, Jean de St Pierre, Geoffroy d'Ablis, and others. The parfaits it was said only rarely recanted, and hundreds were burnt. Repentant lay believers were punished, but their lives were spared as long as they did not relapse. Having recanted, they were obliged to sew yellow crosses onto their outdoor clothing and to live apart from other Catholics, at least for a while.
After several decades of harassment and re-proselytising, and perhaps even more importantly, the systematic destruction of their religious texts, the sect was exhausted and could find no more adepts. The leader of a Cathar revival in the Pyrenean foothills, Peire Autier was captured and executed in April 1310 in Toulouse. After 1330, the records of the Inquisition contain very few proceedings against Cathars. The last known Cathar perfectus in the Languedoc, Guillaume Bélibaste, was executed in the autumn of 1321.
From the mid-12th century onwards, Italian Catharism came under increasing pressure from the Pope and the Inquisition, "spelling the beginning of the end". Other movements, such as the Waldensians and the pantheistic Brethren of the Free Spirit, which suffered persecution in the same area, survived in remote areas and in small numbers into the 14th and 15th centuries. Some Waldensian ideas were absorbed into early Protestant sects, such as the Hussites, Lollards, and the Moravian Church (Herrnhuters of Germany).
After the suppression of Catharism, the descendants of Cathars were at times required to live outside towns and their defences. They thus retained a certain Cathar identity, despite having returned to the Catholic religion.
Any use of the term "Cathar" to refer to people after the suppression of Catharism in the 14th century is a cultural or ancestral reference, and has no religious implication. Nevertheless, interest in the Cathars, their history, legacy and beliefs continues.
The term Pays Cathare, French meaning "Cathar Country" is used to highlight the Cathar heritage and history of the region where Catharism was traditionally strongest. This area is centred around fortresses such as Montségur and Carcassonne; also the French département of the Aude uses the title Pays Cathare in tourist brochures. These areas have ruins from the wars against the Cathars which are still visible today.
Some criticise the promotion of the identity of Pays Cathare as an exaggeration for tourist purposes. Actually, most of the promoted Cathar castles were not built by Cathars but by local lords and later many of them were rebuilt and extended for strategic purposes. Good examples of these are the magnificent castles of Queribus and Peyrepertuse which are both perched on the side of precipitous drops on the last folds of the Corbieres mountains. They were for several hundred years frontier fortresses belonging to the French crown and most of what is still there dates from a post-Cathar era. The Cathars sought refuge at these sites. Many consider the County of Foix to be the actual historical centre of Catharism.
Oldest account of ordinary people told in their own words
In an effort to find the few remaining heretics in and around the village of Montaillou, Jacques Fournier, Bishop of Pamiers, future Pope Benedict XII, had those suspected of heresy interrogated in the presence of scribes who recorded their conversations. The late 13th- to early 14th-century document, discovered in the Vatican archives in the 1960s, and edited by Jean Duvernoy is the oldest known account of the daily lives of ordinary people told in their own words. It was translated by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie as Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error. In the original, the book was entitled Montaillou, Occitan Village.
The publication of the early scholarly book Crusade against the Grail by the young German Otto Rahn in the 1930s rekindled interest in the connection between the Cathars and the Holy Grail, especially in Germany. Rahn was convinced that the 13th-century work Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach was a veiled account of the Cathars. His research attracted the attention of the Nazi government and in particular of Heinrich Himmler, who made him an archaeologist in the SS.
In the 20th century, Deodat Roche (1877-1978) was a key historian, and the founder of the scholarly French-language journal Cahiers d'Etudes Cathares. Jean Duvernoy in the 1960s and 1970s edited, translated medieval sources, studying their beliefs in an historical point of view.
Their memory and "resistance" against the crusaders is a cultural topic in the French region where they were persecuted.
Academic books in English first appeared at the beginning of the millennium: for example, Malcolm Lambert's The Cathars and Malcolm Barber's The Cathars
Legacy in art and music
The principal legacy of the Cathar movement is in the poems and songs of the Cathar troubadors, though this artistic legacy is only a smaller part of the wider Occitan linguistic and artistic heritage. Recent artistic projects concentrating on the Cathar element in Provençal and troubador art include commercial recording projects by Thomas Binkley, electric hurdy-gurdy artist Valentin Clastrier and his CD Heresie dedicated to the church at Cathars, La Nef, and Jordi Savall.
Legacy in modern popular culture
The Cathars have been depicted or re-interpreted in popular books and films such as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Labyrinth, and Bernard Cornwell's The Grail Quest series. A number of semi-fictional conspiracy theories have been published that integrate the Cathars into their ideas, especially in France and Germany.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Arnold, John H, Inquisition & Power, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0-8122-3618-1 . An excellent and meticulously researched work dealing with Catharism in the context of the Inquisition's evolution; analyses Inquisitorial practice as the construction of the "confessing subject".
- Barber, Malcolm (2000), The Cathars: Dualist heretics in Languedoc in the High Middle Ages, Harlow: Longman, ISBN 978-0582256620
- Berlioz, Jacques (1994), Tuez-les tous Dieu reconnaîtra les siens. Le massacre de Béziers et la croisade des Albigeois vus par Césaire de Heisterbach (in French), Loubatières . A discussion of the command "Kill them all, God will know his own." recorded by a contemporary Cistercian Chronicler.
- Brunn, Uwe (2006), Des contestataires aux « cathares » : Discours de réforme et propagande antihérétique dans les pays du Rhin et de la Meuse avant l'Inquisition, Paris, Institut d'études augustiniennes
- Burr, David (1996), Bernard Gui: Inquisitor's Manual, New York City: Fordham University, retrieved 25 May 2013
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cathars.
- Cathar texts, The Gnostic Society Library , including the Lyon Ritual.
- Catharism on In Our Time at the BBC. (listen now)
- "Catharism and the Cathars of the Languedoc", Castles & Manor Houses : History, origins, theology and extirpation.
- Cathar castles : details, histories, photographs, plans and maps of 30 Cathar castles.
- Cathar castles (interactive map), Aude‐Aude .
- Perrottet, Tony (9 May 2010), "The Besieged and the Beautiful in Languedoc", The New York Times
- Heretics in the Catalan Pyrenees at the end of the 11th century? (article), Paratge, 2013 .