Les chevaliers Cathares
Au bord de l’autoroute
Quand le soir descend,
Comme une dernière insulte,
Comme un dernier tourment,
Au milieu du tumulte,
En robe de ciment.
From the A61 motorway at the Pech Loubat rest stop in France, you can see three giant stone Cathar knights brooding over their long lost homeland. Pulling into their often deserted, large last home, you may relax and explore this wild area, and stop off for a quiet pique-nique. You can even climb right up in the hollowed out bodies and look out through the helmets of the lonely giants, east over the vast valleys as they sweep down towards the Mediterranean.
The site seems almost as unloved as the Cathars were by the Church of Rome. But it allows the wildlife to flourish and provides an experience of quiet and the open skies from the rise above the everlasting tarmac ribbon.
“Christianity, without chapels, without statues, Christianity which always refused to encompass anything sacred within visible matter….the heart of man is the true church of God.”
~ Anne Brenon
The word Cathar comes from the Greek word Katheroi meaning pure ones. Cathars believed in a theological dualism with two divine principles, a good one who made all good, unmaterial, things (like the human soul) and a bad one who made the bad, material, things (like the human body). They also believed that the mainstream Catholicism had strayed away from, and had corrupted, the very early Christianist teachings.
The Cathars believed that their soul became trapped in the world, reincarnating over and over until they were once again free from identification with this dimension and could return home to pure Spirit. They saw how our attention becomes easily trapped in this dualistic universe. Snared by the temptations of the outer life, the mind creates an inner thought-based world to match, and by these very thoughts, reinforces the outer world of matter and the senses. Seeing how thoughts and matter became intertwined, creating a net nearly impossible to break, the Cathar Perfects labored to save themselves.
Catharism was a “heresy” that was introduced to the Languedoc in about 1150 and was widespread in this region of France for several centuries. Catharism was so popular that even priests were leaving the Catholic orthodoxy to follow it. The popularity of the Cathars reached it height at the beginning of the 14th century.
In 1209, Pope Innocent III declared a crusade against the Cathars, when the Catholic Church came down extremely heavily on the heretics, aided by the King of France, keen to grab more land for his idle, spare knights. The eradication of Catharism included the complete slaughter of the town of Toulouse. In all, about half a million people of all ages and rank were killed.
The crusade against Catharism eventually led to the dramatic last stand at the Cathar castle on Montsegur. Here, after an as yet to be explained surrender and terms, the remaining Perfects were burned, ending an era and starting a legend. Stories still abound of the last night of this final siege, and the supposed escape of four Cathars with a treasure, reputed to be anything from gold, to the Holy Grail itself.
The Cathars left us with not just another story of strength in the face of persecution, but also an inspiring call to our intuition that things might not be as they seem. They struggled to escape the bonds of earthly existence and find Heaven and God within.
Lyrics: Francis Cabrel