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Siege of Montsegur

Despite Saint Bernard's proclamation concerning the Cathars that, "No sermons are more Christian than theirs, and their morals are pure", Rome made every attempt in the Albigensian Crusade to exterminate the Cathars.  When Pope Innocent III ordered a crusade, the goal was nothing less than to reduce the highest European culture of the Middle Ages to destitution and rubble.  One of the allies of this crusade was a Spanish fanatic named Dominic Guzman.  Spurred by a rabid hatred of heresy, Guzman in 1216 created the monastic order subsequently named after him, the Dominicans.  And in 1233 the Dominicans spawned a more infamous institution -- the Holy Inquisition.*    

By 1243, all major Cathar towns and bastions had fallen to the northern invaders, except for a handful of remote and isolated strong points.  Chief among these was the majestic mountain citadel of Montsequr, poised like a celestial ark above the surrounding valleys.  The fortress was besieged by invaders for ten months.  The resistance to the attackers, which numbered upward of ten thousand, was noteworthy.  Part of the reason seems to be the alleged existence of a legendary Cathar "treasure".           

On March 1, 1244, Montsegur finally capitulated.  By then its defenders numbered less than 400.  They were offered surprisingly lenient terms, but the defenders nevertheless requested a two-week truce, a complete cessation of hostilities in order to consider the terms.  In a further display of uncharacteristic generosity, the attackers acceded.  In return the defenders voluntarily offered hostages, whose lives would be forfeit if any defender attempted to escape from the fortress.   

The two week truce is interesting in that it allowed a festival or special ritual to be held on March 14 -- which coincided with the spring equinox.  On March 15, the truce expired, and at dawn of the following day, more than two hundred of the Cathar parfaits, lay priests, were dragged roughly down the mountain, locked into a large wood-filled stockade at the foot of the mountain and burned en masse.  The remainder of the garrison witnessed this burning, but nevertheless connived in hiding four parfaits among them.   

On the night of March 16, these four men, accompanied by a guide, made a daring escape -- again with the knowledge and collusion of the garrison.  With them, they carried some great treasure, but one that they must have done while dangling from ropes on a sheer mountainside.  It is believed that much of the wealth of the Cathars (and/or Templars in the area) had been secretly slipped out of Montsegur during the almost year-long siege.  That is, the gold and jewels and other mundane relics of wealth.  But this last daring escape and carrying off of some great treasure is a bit more interesting.           

The Cathars, by their contemporaries, were believed to have been in possession of the Holy Grail.  The


The Albigensian Crusade       

Forward to:

Demise of the Templars

*This very abbreviated historical perspective is taken from numerous sources, including specifically, the excellent book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln [Dell Publishing, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, 1983].    .



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