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Catharism (from Greek: καθαρὀς, katharos, pure)[1] was a name given to a Christian religious sect with dualistic and gnostic elements that appeared in the Languedoc region of France and other parts of Europe in the 11th century and flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries. Catharism had its roots in the Paulician movement in Armenia and the Bogomils of Bulgaria which took influences from the Paulicians. Though the term "Cathar" has been used for centuries to identify the movement, whether the movement identified itself with this name is debatable.[2] In Cathar texts, the terms "Good Men" (Bons Hommes) or "Good Christians" are the common terms of self-identification.



Like many medieval movements, there were various schools of thought and practice amongst the Cathari; some were dualistic (believing in a God of Good and a God of Evil), others Gnostic, some closer to orthodoxy while abstaining from an acceptance of Catholicism. The dualist theology was the most prominent, however, and was based upon an asserted complete incompatibility of love and power. As matter was seen as a manifestation of power, it was believed to be incompatible with love.

The Cathari did not believe in one all-encompassing god, but in two, both equal and comparable in status. They held that the physical world was evil and created by Rex Mundi (translated from Latin as "king of the world"), who encompassed all that was corporeal, chaotic and powerful; the second god, the one whom they worshipped, was entirely disincarnate: a being or principle of pure spirit and completely unsullied by the taint of matter. He was the god of love, order and peace.

According to some Cathars, the purpose of man's life on Earth was to transcend matter, perpetually renouncing anything connected with the principle of power and thereby attaining union with the principle of love. According to others, man's purpose was to reclaim or redeem matter, spiritualising and transforming it.

Regarding material creation as being intrinsically evil placed them at odds with the Catholic Church, which holds that God not only created matter but was born into the material world in Jesus Christ. The implication is that God, whose word had created the world in the beginning, was a usurper at best and the god of evil / Rex Mundi at worst. (Cf. the Demiurge idea common to many Gnostics). Consequently the Cathars, considering matter as intrinsically evil, denied that Jesus could become incarnate and still be the son of God. Cathars vehemently repudiated the significance of the crucifixion and the cross. To the Cathars, Rome's opulent and luxurious Church seemed a palpable embodiment and manifestation on Earth of Rex Mundi's sovereignty.

The Catholic Church regarded the sect as dangerously heretical, although the actual reason for its spread was most likely the discredit of the Church itself in the Medieval society.

Faced with the rapid spread of the movement across the Languedoc region, the Church first sought peaceful attempts at conversion, undertaken by Dominicans. These were not very successful and after the murder on 15 January 1208 of the papal legate Pierre de Castelnau by an unknown person, presumed by Pope Innocent III to have been a knight in the employ of Count Raymond of Toulouse, the Church called for a crusade. This was carried out by knights from northern France and Germany and was known as the Albigensian Crusade.

The papal legate had involved himself in a dispute between the rivals Count of Baux and Count Raymond of Toulouse and it is possible that his assassination had little to do with Catharism. The anti-Cathar Albigensian Crusade, and the inquisition which followed it, entirely eradicated the Cathars.[3] The Albigensian Crusade had the effect of greatly weakening the semi-independent southern Principalities such as Toulouse, whose Occitan language was playing an important role in Western Europe, and ultimately bringing them under direct control of the King of France.


The Cathars' beliefs are thought to have come originally from Eastern Europe and the Byzantine Empire by way of trade routes. 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."[4] 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. Much of our existing knowledge of the Cathars is derived from their opponents, the writings of the Cathars mostly having been destroyed because of the doctrinal threat perceived by the Papacy. For this reason it is likely, as with most heretical movements of the period, that we have only a partial view of their beliefs. 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),[5] 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 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.[6] 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.

Although there are certainly similarities in theology and practice between Gnostic/dualist groups of Late Antiquity (such as the Marcionites or Manichaeans) and the Cathars, there was not a direct link between the two; Manichaeanism died out in the West by the 7th century. 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.[7]

General beliefs

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. They claimed an Apostolic succession from the founders of Christianity, and saw Rome as having betrayed and corrupted the original purity of the message, particularly since Pope Sylvester I accepted the Donation of Constantine (which at the time was believed to be genuine).

... they usually say of themselves that they are good Christians, ... hold the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel as the apostles taught ... occupy the place of the apostles.... ...they talk to the laity of the evil lives of the clerks and prelates of the Roman Church... ... 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... Of baptism, they assert that the water is material and corruptible ... and cannot sanctify the soul... ... they claim that confession made to the priests of the Roman Church is useless... They assert, moreover, that the cross of Christ should not be adored or venerated... Moreover they read from the Gospels and the Epistles in the vulgar tongue, applying and expounding them in their favour and against the condition of the Roman Church...

Bernard Gui, On the Albigensians

Sacred texts

Besides the New Testament, Cathar sacred texts include The Gospel of the Secret Supper, or John's Interrogation[8] and The Book of the Two Principles.

Human condition

The Cathars believed there existed within mankind a spark of divine light. This light, or spirit, had fallen into captivity within a realm of corruption identified with the physical body and world. This was a distinct feature of classical Gnosticism, of Manichaeism and of the theology of the Bogomils. This concept of the human condition within Catharism was most probably due to direct and indirect historical influences from these older Gnostic movements. According to the Cathars, the world had been created by a lesser deity, much like the figure known in classical Gnostic myth as the Demiurge. This creative force was identified with Satan. Most forms of classical Gnosticism had not made this explicit link between the Demiurge and Satan. Spirit, the vital essence of humanity, was thus trapped in a polluted world created by a usurper god and ruled by his corrupt minions.


The goal of Cathar eschatology was liberation from the realm of limitation and corruption identified with material existence. The path to liberation first required an awakening to the intrinsic corruption of the medieval "consensus reality", including its ecclesiastical, dogmatic, and social structures. Once cognizant of the grim existential reality of human existence (the "prison" of matter), the path to spiritual liberation became obvious: matter's enslaving bonds must be broken. This was a step-by-step process, accomplished in different measures by each individual. The Cathars accepted the idea of reincarnation. Those who were unable to achieve liberation during their current mortal journey would return another time to continue the struggle for perfection. Thus, it should be understood that being reincarnated was neither inevitable nor desirable, and that it occurred because not all humans could break the enthralling chains of matter within a single lifetime.


Cathar society was divided into two general categories, the Perfecti (Perfects, Parfaits) and the Credentes (Believers). The Perfecti formed the core of the movement, though the actual number of Perfecti in Cathar society was always relatively small, numbering perhaps a few thousand at any one time. Regardless of their number, they represented the perpetuating heart of the Cathar tradition, the "true Christian Church", as they styled themselves. (When discussing the tenets of Cathar faith it must be understood that the demands of extreme asceticism fell only upon the Perfecti.)

An individual entered into the community of Perfecti through a ritual known as the consolamentum, a rite that was both sacramental and sacerdotal in nature: sacramental in that it granted redemption and liberation from this world; sacerdotal in that those who had received this rite functioned in some ways as the Cathar clergy—though the idea of priesthood was explicitly rejected. The consolamentum was the baptism of the Holy Spirit, baptismal regeneration, absolution, and ordination all in one. The ritual consisted of the laying on of hands (and the transfer of the spirit) in a manner believed to have been passed down in unbroken succession from Jesus Christ. Upon reception of the consolamentum, the new Perfectus surrendered his or her worldly goods to the community, vested himself in a simple black or blue robe with cord belt, and sought to undertake a life dedicated to following the example of Christ and his Apostles — an often peripatetic life devoted to purity, prayer, preaching and charitable work. Above all, the Perfecti were dedicated to enabling others to find the road that led from the dark land ruled by the dark lord, to the realm of light which they believed to be humankind's first source and ultimate end.

While the Perfecti pledged themselves to ascetic lives of simplicity, frugality and purity, Cathar credentes (believers) were not expected to adopt the same stringent lifestyle. They were, however, expected to refrain from eating meat and dairy products, from killing and from swearing oaths. Catharism was above all a populist religion and the numbers of those who considered themselves "believers" in the late 12th century included a sizeable portion of the population of Languedoc, counting among them many noble families and courts. These individuals often drank, ate meat, and led relatively normal lives within medieval society—in contrast to the Perfecti, whom they honoured as exemplars. Though unable to embrace the life of chastity, the credentes looked toward an eventual time when this would be their calling and path.

Many credentes would also 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.[9] It was claimed by Catharism's opponents that by such self-imposed starvation, the Cathars were committing suicide in order to escape this world. Other than at such moments of extremis, little evidence exists to suggest this was a common Cathar practice.[10]


The Catharist concept of Jesus resembled modalistic monarchianism (Sabellianism) in the West and adoptionism in the East.[11][12] Some Cathari adhered to a concept of Jesus that might be called docetistic, believing that Jesus had been a manifestation of spirit unbounded by the limitations of matter—a sort of divine spirit or feeling manifesting within human beings. Many embraced the Gospel of John as their most sacred text, and many rejected the traditional view of the Old Testament—proclaiming that the God of the Old Testament was really the devil, or creative demiurge. They proclaimed that there was a higher God—the True God—and Jesus was variously described as being that True God or his messenger. These are views similar to those of Marcion, though Marcion never identified the creative demiurge with Satan, nor said that he was (strictly speaking) evil, merely harsh and dictatorial.[citation needed]

The God found in the Old Testament had nothing to do with the God of Love known to Cathars. The Old Testament God had created the world as a prison, and demanded from the "prisoners" fearful obedience and worship. The Cathari claimed that this god was in fact a blind usurper who under the most false pretexts, tormented and murdered those whom he called, all too possessively, "his children". The false god was, by the Cathari, called Rex Mundi, or The King of the World. This exegesis upon the Old Testament was not unique to the Cathars: it echoes views found in earlier Gnostic movements and foreshadows later critical voices. The dogma of the Trinity and the sacrament of the Eucharist, among others, were rejected as abominations. Belief in metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, resulted in the rejection of Hell and Purgatory, which were and are dogmas of the Catholic faith. For the Cathars, this world was the only hell—there was nothing to fear after death, save perhaps rebirth.

While this is the understanding of Cathar theology related by the Catholic Church, crucial to the study of the Cathars is their fundamental disagreement with the Christian interpretation of the Doctrine of "resurrection" (cryptically referred to in Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2) as a doctrine of the physical raising of a dead body from the grave. In the book "Massacre at Montségur" the Cathars are referred to as "Western Buddhists" because of their belief that the Doctrine of "resurrection" taught by Jesus was, in fact, similar to the Buddhist Doctrine of Rebirth (referred to as "reincarnation").[13] This challenge to the orthodox Christian interpretation of the "resurrection" reflected a conflict previously witnessed during the 2nd and 3rd centuries between Gnosticism and developing orthodox Christian theology.

Social relationships

From the theological underpinnings of the Cathar faith there came practical injunctions that were considered destabilising to the morals of medieval society. For instance, Cathars rejected the giving of oaths as wrongful; an oath served to place one under the domination of the Demiurge and the world. To reject oaths in this manner was seen as anarchic in a society where illiteracy was widespread and almost all business transactions and pledges of allegiance were based on the giving of oaths.

Sexual intercourse and reproduction propagated the slavery of spirit to flesh, hence procreation was considered undesirable. Informal relationships were considered preferable to marriage among Cathar credentes. Perfecti were supposed to have observed complete celibacy, and eventual separation from a partner would be necessary for those who would become Perfecti. For the credentes however, sexual activity was not prohibited, but procreation was strongly discouraged, resulting in the charge by their opponents of sexual perversion. The common British insult "bugger" is derived from "Bulgar", the notion that Cathars followed the "Bulgarian heresy" whose teaching included sexual activities which skirted procreation.

Killing was abhorrent to the Cathars. Consequently, abstention from all animal food (sometimes exempting fish) was enjoined of the Perfecti. The Perfecti apparently avoided eating anything considered to be a by-product of sexual reproduction[citation needed]—war and capital punishment were also condemned, an abnormality in the medieval age. As a consequence of their rejection of oaths, Cathars also rejected marriage vows.

Cathar teachings, in theological intent and practical consequence, brought condemnation from Catholic authorities both religious and secular, as being inimical to the Catholic faith and of feudal social order.

This portrays the story of a disputation between Saint Dominic and the Cathars (Albigensians), in which the books of both were thrown on a fire and St. Dominic's books were miraculously preserved from the flames. Painting by Pedro Berruguete


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 Pope Innocent III 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 venerated 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 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 official Church as a rule did not possess these spiritual warrants.[14] 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.

Albigensian Crusade

In January 1208 the papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau was sent to meet the ruler of the area, Count Raymond VI of Toulouse. Known for excommunicating noblemen who protected the Cathars, Castelnau excommunicated Raymond as an abettor of 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 Phillip Augustus, King of France, appealing for his intervention—or an intervention led by his son, Louis. This was not the first appeal but some have seen the murder of the legate as a turning point in papal policy—whereas it might be more accurate to see it as a fortuitous event in allowing the Pope to excite popular opinion and to renew his pleas for intervention in the south. The entirely biased chronicler of the crusade which was to follow, Peter de Vaux de Cernay, portrays the sequence of events in such a way as to make us believe that, having failed in his effort to peacefully 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, nor could he spare his son—despite his victory against John 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 Zara and the seizure and looting of Constantinople. 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 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 by duplicitous methods, 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 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 new found 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 leader of the crusaders, Simon de Montfort, resorted to primitive psychological warfare. He ordered his troops to gouge out the eyes of 100 prisoners, cut off their noses and lips, then send them back to the towers led by a prisoner with one remaining eye. This only served to harden the resolve of the Cathars.[15]

The Béziers army attempted a sortie but was quickly defeated, then pursued by the crusaders back through the gates and into the city. Arnaud, 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."[16][17] 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.[18] What remained of the city was razed by fire. Arnaud wrote to Pope Innocent III, "Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex."[19][20] 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, Simon de Montfort was designated as leader of the Crusader army. Prominent opponents of the Crusaders were Raymond-Roger de 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.

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. One of the key goals of the council was to combat the heresy of the Cathars.

The Inquisition was established in 1229 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 finally succeeded in extirpating the movement. Cathars who refused to recant were hanged, or burnt at the stake.[21]

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 fire at the prat dels cremats 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.[22]

Inquisitors required heretical sympathisers – repentant first offenders – to sew a yellow cross onto their clothes.[23]

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 tresor cathar. What this treasure consisted of has been a matter of considerable speculation: claims range from sacred Gnostic texts to the Cathars' accumulated wealth.

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 Bernard of Foix, Aimery of Narbonne[disambiguation needed ] 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 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 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 murder of their adherents, the sect was exhausted and could find no more adepts. The leaders of a Cathar revival in the Pyrenean foothills, Pierre and Jacques Autier, were executed in 1310. Catharism disappeared from the northern Italian cities after the 1260s, under pressure from the Inquisition. 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 1321.

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). It is possible that Cathar ideas were too.

Later history

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 publication of the 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. 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 archaeologist in the SS. Also, the Cathars have been depicted in popular books such as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and Labryinth.

Pays Cathare

The castle of Montségur was razed after 1244; the current fortress follows French military architecture of the 17th century

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.[24] 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 Peyrepetuse 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 you will see there today in their well preserved remains 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.

Modern adherents

Some residents of the Pays Cathare identify themselves as Cathars today. This does not mean they claim to be Cathar by religion (the local religion is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic). They claim to be descended from the Cathars of the Middle Ages, and therefore Cathar as an identity. It can be safely assumed that many inhabitants of these areas have some ancestors who were 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,[25] La Nef,[26] and Jordi Savall.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Cathari". New International Encyclopedia. 1905. 
  2. ^ Pegg, Mark, “On Cathars, Albigenses, and good men of Languedoc," Journal of Medieval History 27: 2 (2001), 181–19; Pegg, Mark, “Heresy, good men, and nomenclature,” in Heresy and the Persecuting Society in the Middle Ages, ed. Michael FRASSETTO (Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, 129). Leiden: Brill. (2006) 227–239
  3. ^ Perrottet, Tony (9 May 2010). "The Besieged and the Beautiful in Languedoc". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Lambert 1998, p. 31
  5. ^ Dondaine, Antoine. O.P. Un traite neo-manicheen du XIIIe siecle: Le Liber de duobus principiis, suivi d'un fragment de rituel Cathare (Rome: Institutum Historicum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 1939)
  6. ^ See especially R.I. Moore's The Origins of European Dissent, and the collection of essays Heresy and the Persecuting Society in the Middle Ages: Essays on the Work of R.I. Moore for a consideration of the origins of the Cathars, and proof against identifying earlier heretics in the West, such as those identified in 1025 at Monforte, outside Milan, as being Cathars. Also see Heresies of the High Middle Ages, a collection of pertinent documents on Western heresies of the High Middle Ages, edited by Walter Wakefield and Austin P. Evans.
  7. ^ See Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie's Montaillou: the Promised Land of Error for a respected analysis of the social context of these last French Cathars, and Power and Purity by Carol Lansing for a consideration of 13th-century Catharism in Orvieto.
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Murray, Alexander. Suicide in the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198205392. 
  10. ^ Barber, M. (2000). The Cathars: Dualist heretics in Languedoc in the High Middle Ages, pp. 103-4.
  11. ^ Columbia Encyclopedia, 2007, Columbia University Press, under Cathari
  12. ^
  13. ^ Massacre at Montsegur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade, Zoe Oldenbourg
  14. ^ Paul Johnson, "A History of Christianity", p251, Atheneum, 1976, ISBN 0689705913
  15. ^ The New York Times, 9 May 2010. "The Besieged and the Beautiful in Languedoc", by Tony Perrottet. Link: [2] Accessed: 11 May 2010.
  16. ^ "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eis." Caesarius of Heisterbach, Caesarius Heiserbacencis monachi ordinis Cisterciensis, Dialogus miraculorum, ed. J. Strange, Cologne, 1851, J. M. Heberle, Vol 2, 296–8. Caesarius (c) was a Cistercian Master of Novices.
  17. ^ Another Cistercian writing a few years after the events makes no mention of this remark whilst Caesar of Heisterbach wrote forty years later, however they are consistent with Arnaud's report to the Pope Innocent III about the massacre. See "Pope Innocent III (1160/61-1216): To Root Up and to Plant" John Clare Moore, p180, BRILL, 2003,ISBN 9004129251
  18. ^ Paul Johnson, "A History of Christianity", p252, Atheneum, 1976, ISBN 0689705913
  19. ^ Patrologia Latinae cursus completus, series Latina, 221 vols., ed. J-P Migne, Paris, Vol. 216:col 139
  20. ^ "The Chronicle of William of Puylaurens: The Albigensian Crusade and Its Aftermath", p128, William, M. D. Sibly, Boydell Press, 2003, ISBN 0851159257
  21. ^ Martin, Sean (2005). The Cathars. Pocket Essentials. pp. 105–121. ISBN 978-1904-04833-1. 
  22. ^ See the Bull of Innocent IV Ad exstirpanda, 1252.
  23. ^ Weis, René. The Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars. (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000), 11–12.
  24. ^ Pays Cathare
  25. ^ L'Agonie du Languedoc: Claude Marti / Studio der frühen Musik – Thomas Binkley, dir. EMI "Reflexe" 1C 063-30 132 [LP-Stereo]1975
  26. ^ La Nef. Montségur: La tragédie cathare. Dorian Recordings.DOR-90243
  27. ^ Savall The Forgotten Kingdom: The Cathar Tragedy – The Albigensian Crusade AVSA9873 A+C Alia Vox 2009


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008. 
  • Heresies of the High Middle Ages, Walter Wakefield and Austin P. Evans. Columbia University Press ( 15 October 1991) Original source documents in translation.
  • Barber, M. (2000). The Cathars: Dualist heretics in Languedoc in the High Middle Ages. The Medieval world. Harlow: Longman.
  • Bernard Gui, The Inquisitor's Guide: A Medieval Manual on Heretics, translated by Janet Shirley (Ravenhall Books, 2006). A new translation of the fifth part of Gui's famous manual.
  • Il volto del Cristo dualista. Da Marcione ai catari, Enrico Riparelli, Ed. Peter Lang, Bern 2008 ISBN 9783039114900
  • "Albigenses" by N.A. Weber.
  • "Cathari" by N.A. Weber. The Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1908.
  • The Trail of Gnosis by Judith Mann | publisher = Gnosis Traditions Press | year = 2002
  • Histories of the Cathars: Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, trans. Barbara Bray, Vintage Books, 1979
  • The Devil's World: Heresy and Society 1100–1320, Andrew P. Roach (Harlow; Pearson Longman, 2005)
  • Montsegur and the Mystery of the Cathars, Jean Markale, ISBN, Inner Traditions,
  • The Cathars, Malcolm Lambert, ISBN, Blackwell, 1998
  • The Perfect Heresy, Stephen O'Shea, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 2000, ISBN 0-7607-5219-2
  • Heresy and the Inquisition II Persecution of Heretics by Dr M D Magee, 12 December 2002.
  • lastours The four cathar castles above Lastours.
  • Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco, ISBN, Ballantine, 1988
  • The Inquisition Record of Jacques Fournier Bishop of Pamiers (English translation by Nancy P. Stork)
  • The Cathars: The Most Successful Heresy of the Middle Ages, Sean Martin, Pocket Essentials 2005
  • The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245–1245, 2001, Mark Gregory Pegg. (Princeton University Press, 2001) ISBN . A new and refreshing take on Catharism in Languedoc—argues against any kind of doctrinal unity of mid-13th-century Cathars.
  • Jean Duvernoy's transcriptions of inquisitorial manuscripts, many hitherto unpublished
  • Power and Purity: Cathar Heresy in Medieval Italy Carol Lansing (Oxford University Press, 1998). Cathars outside of Languedoc
  • Tuez-les tous Dieu reconnaîtra les siens. Le massacre de Béziers et la croisade des Albigeois vus par Césaire de Heisterbach Jacques Berlioz (Loubatières, 1994). A discussion of the command "Kill them all, God will know his own." recorded by a contemporary Cistercian Chronicler.
  • In France, an ordeal by fire and a monster weapon called 'Bad Neighbour' , Smithsonian Magazine, pp. 40–51, May 1991, by David Roberts. [Cathars & Catholic Conflict]
  • David George's recently published "The Crusade of Innocents" ( ISBN ) has as its plot the encounter between a Cathar girl and the leader of the concurrent Chlldren's Crusade Stephen of Cloyes.
  • CATHARS – Memories of an initiate, by the philosopher Yves Maris, AdA inc, 2006.
  • Inquisition & Power by John H. Arnold. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0812236181 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".
  • The Origins of European Dissent R.I. Moore. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994.
  • Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe A collection of primary sources, some on Catharism, edited by Edward Peters. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980.
  • The Formation of a Persecuting Society R.I. Moore. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.
  • Inquisition and Medieval Society James Given. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.
  • Petrus Vallis Caernaii, Historia Albigensium Et Sacri Belli In EosPDF, Latin Text by Migne Patrologia Latina, vol. 213: col. 0543-0711. An history of the Albigensian war told by a contemporary.
  • Moreland, Miles, Miles Away: A Walk Across France. 1992. Random House, New York. (ISBN 0-679-42527-6).

External links

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  • Catharism —    This term (seemingly derived from the Greek katharos, meaning pure ) refers to a medieval European religious movement that taught a type of dualism (the opposition between good and evil). Catharism was prevalent in the cities of Albi and… …   Glossary of theological terms

  • Catharism — noun see Cathar …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Catharism — See Cathar. * * * …   Universalium

  • Catharism — noun A Christian religious sect of mediaeval Europe, with dualistic and gnostic elements …   Wiktionary

  • catharism — cath·a·rism …   English syllables

  • Catharism — noun a Christian movement considered to be a medieval descendant of Manichaeism in southern France in the 12th and 13th centuries; characterized by dualism (asserted the coexistence of two mutually opposed principles, one good and one evil); was… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Cathar — Catharism, n. Catharistic, adj. /kath ahr/, n., pl. Cathari / euh ruy /, Cathars. (in medieval Europe) a member of any of several rigorously ascetic Christian sects maintaining a dualistic theology. Also called Catharist /kath euhr ist/. [1630… …   Universalium

  • Credentes — or Believers, were the ordinary followers of what became known as the Cathar or Albigensian movement, a Christian sect which flourished in western Europe during the 11th, 12th and 13th Centuries. Credentes constituted up the main part of the… …   Wikipedia

  • Albigensian Crusade — Part of the Crusades Political map of Languedoc on the eve of the Albigensian Crusade …   Wikipedia

  • Cathari — • From the Greek katharos, pure, literally puritans , a name specifically applied to, or used by, several sects at various periods Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Cathari     Cathari …   Catholic encyclopedia