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Tuesday 12 July 2011

Montségur and the fall of the Cathars

The above view of Montségur is another of the pictures Paul Jackson took in France last year. I meant to post it soon after the last one (The Devil of Rennes-le-Château) but I forgot!

About 50 km west of Rennes-le-Château, Montségur is a mountain fortress in the historic region of Languedoc. The site is famous as one of the last strongholds of the Cathars, a mediaeval religious sect who practiced a variant form of Christianity that was linked to Gnosticism. The Cathars became so firmly rooted in Languedoc that a crusade (called the Albigensian crusade) was launched against them. In March 1244, after a long siege, Montségur finally fell to the forces of the French king -- who promptly reduced the fortress to rubble (the castle visible in the picture dates from several hundred years later).

In their book Mysteries and Secrets of the Templars (2005), Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe state that the Cathars were offered a stark choice shortly before the fall of Montségur: "Provided that no-one left the fortress or attempted to take anything away from it, the garrison could more or less go home quietly as if nothing had happened -- but if anyone attempted to leave prematurely, they would all be burned." Instead of taking the first option, the Cathars elected to go with the second! During the night, a small group was lowered down the cliff face carrying something described as pecuniam infinitam - Latin for "infinite wealth". As a result, over two hundred Cathars were burnt alive. So the "pecuniam infinitam" must have been pretty valuable if it was worth that price! The Fanthorpes speculate that it may have been the Emerald Tablet of the alchemists, the Ark of the Covenant, or the Holy Grail.

In October 2004, when the manuscript of Mysteries and Secrets of the Templars was still in draft form, Lionel Fanthorpe gave a sneak preview of it at that year's Fortean Times UnConvention. At a time when Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code was making headlines, Lionel's talk was a real scoop for the event -- in effect the keynote speech. Then 18 months later, after the book had been published, Fortean Times covered it in their review section (FT211:62). It was one of the worst reviews I've ever seen! The book received a score of 2 out of 10, and was described as a "deeply cynical exercise" and "a dishonourable crock of a book". There's gratitude for you!


Anonymous said...

What an incredible location for a fortress. Wonder if Lionel got over the scathing review. I've seen clips of him hosting a Fortean Times tv show.

Nicole said...

Just for the record: the Cathars were not burned BECAUSE the treasure was snuck out (which your blog, perhaps unintentionally, seems to suggest). When the defenders of Montsegur negotiated surrender, they were granted 2 weeks during which all the Cathar decided if they wished to renounce their faith and leave unhurt, or stick to their faith and be martyred. They chose martyrdom. Their choosing martyrdom made no contribution to getting their wealth out safely. They chose to die rather than submit to the dictates of the Catholic Church. In fact, 22 non-Cathars in Montsegur (which was largely defended by non-Cathars) CONVERTED TO Catharism at the last moment, and died in solidarity with the Cathar "perfecti."

Andrew May said...

Interesting, thanks for the additional info. I was using a single source, Lionel's book, and he does give the impression that the mysterious object (Grail, Ark or whatever) was the central focus of events. But your account rings much truer in terms of the way things work in the real world. I love Lionel dearly, but he is basically a writer of fiction who never lets facts get in the way of a good theory.

Carly said...

The story of Monsegur is very complex and not always presented accurately. In fact the castle whose remains we see now was built AFTER the fall of cathars. At the begining of the 13th century the place was inhabited indeed by cathars (perfecti or just symphatizers) that were forming there a hill pearched village.
I live in Toulouse and after much research I dedicated even a web page to what is called "the biggest heresy of the Middle Ages" at:

Andrew May said...

Thanks for the comments. I did say in my post that "the castle visible in the picture dates from several hundred years later". Your web page is very interesting, and I'm happy to put a link to it here - Les Cathares - The Crusade Against the Grail