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Montsegur And The Cathars – Peter Vronsky's Commentary

Montsegur And The Cathars

Mid-12th Century – Early 13th Century

Peter Vronsky's



Note: This commentary was not written by me but by Peter Vronsky for his website.
– Maverick

The Heretic Cathar Faith and the Siege of Fortress Montsegur March 1244

The ruins of the Montsegur castle are perched at a precarious 3000 foot (1,207 m.) altitude in the south of France near the Pyrenees Mountains. Located in the heart of France's Languedoc-Midi-Pyrenees regions, 80 km south-west of Carcassonne, Montsegur dominates a rock formation known as a pog – a term derived from the local Occitan dialect – pueg or puog: peak, hill, mountain.

In 1243–1244, the Cathars – a mysterious heretical sect – were besieged at Montsegur by ten thousand Royal Catholic French troops. In March of 1244, the castle finally surrendered and the Cathar defenders were burned en masse in a bonfire at the foot of the pog.

In the days prior to the fall of the fortress, several Cathars allegedly slipped through the French lines carrying away a mysterious "treasure" with them. While the nature and fate of this treasure has never been identified there has been much speculation as to what it might have consisted of: from the treasury of the Cathar Church to esoteric books or even the actual Holy Grail.

Montsegur is often named as a candidate for the Holy Grail castle – and indeed there are linguistic similarities in the Grail romance written by Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival (c. 1200–1210). In Parzival the grail castle is called Monsalvat, similar to Montsegur and meaning the same thing: "safe mountain, secure mountain." The name of Raymond Pereille, the historic seigneur of Montsegur, has slight simularities to protagonist of Eschenbach's epic, the knight Parzival. In Jüngerer Titurel (1272) by Albrecht von Scharfenberg, another Grail epic, the first king of the Holy Grail is named Perilla.

Myths and legends apart, the history of Montsegur is in fact both dramatic and mysterious. The siege was an epic event of heroism and zealotry; a Masada of the Cathar faith.



The Cathar Faith – A Critical Introduction

The dualist Cathar heretic religion has been over time both demonized and romanticized. At the peak of their existence in 13th century Europe, primarily in France and Italy, they were characterized as satanic demon worshippers. Today the Cathars are most often portrayed as pacifist vegetarian feminists; medieval New Agers who were ruthlessly put down by a supposedly reactionary and corrupt Catholic Church. While there are elements of some truth in these portrayals, the reality of the Cathar faith falls somewhat short of the fuzzy-warm puppy-loving reputation attributed to it.

The origin of Cathar beliefs has never been precisely identified, but most historians link them to the dualist Bogomil sect in the Byzantine sphere. Like the Bogomils, the Cathars were Christian dualists – a doctrine that has existed in various forms as long as there has been Christianity and before. The dualists attempt to confront the question of how can a God that is all powerful, merciful and good, allow monstrous evil to exist. Their response is that there must be two equally powerful gods – one good and one evil. Unlike Christianity, which demoted Satan beneath God's authority, dualists see the forces of evil and good as equally powerful.

According to the Cathar approach to dualism, a good god made the heavens and the human soul, while an evil god entrapped that soul to suffer in the flesh of the human body and in material and worldly things of the earth – an evil place. Salvation, according to the Cathars, lay in the human soul's escape to the spiritual realm from its prison of flesh in the material world.

Cathars rejected sex as a continuation of the human soul's entrapment in earth-bound carnal evil. According to Cathars, marriage was a form of prostitution. Children were born as demons until they could be consciously lead to choose salvation in the Cathar path. Cathars believed that the human soul could pass on its journey through animal life, thus they were vegetarians: they did not eat meat, eggs, cheese or any fat except vegetable oil and fish. The Cathars rejected oath taking and violence in principle; they conveniently hired mercenaries to do violence on their behalf.

Cathars considered themselves Christians but rejected the Old Testament and the vengeful and angry God described within it. The God of the Old Testament was the one who created the world, thus he was the other "evil" god. The values, however, such as the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament were espoused by the Cathars. They rejected the humanity of Jesus and the doctrine of virgin birth, insisting that Christ was pure spirit which was "concealed" until birth in Mary's body – she had no power of intercession. They did not believe that Christ died on the cross, as Christ could only be spirit and they rejected any idea of bodily resurrection, since material things of the body were evil. It is unclear what sort of burial or cremation rites were practiced by Cathars.

The origin of the term Cathar is in dispute. Some link it to the Greek term katharos – "pure." Some historians believe that the term Cathar comes from a 12th century German play on words implying that the Cathars kissed cats' asses. In France, the Cathars were insultingly know as Texerants – from the practice of weaving – a trade considered in medieval times as an inhonesta mercimonia – an questionable activity practiced in cellars and prohibited to Catholic priests. As for themselves, the Cathars only referred to themselves as "good Christians" and their church as "The Church of God."

The Cathar religion was divided between a majority of credenti –(croyants) – the believers, or followers, and a minority of perfecti – (parfaits) – the "perfect ones" – those who had committed themselves to the celibate and dietary rigors of the Cathar faith and had passed through a ritual known as consolamentum – "consoling" – a type of Cathar born-again baptism carried through with a laying of hands instead of water. Only perfecti were considered as "members" of the Church.

The Cathars had no lavish church properties – services were held in homes or out in fields and forests. But while there were no priests as in the Catholic Church, the perfecti in fact functioned as priests – in a manner more restrictive than in the Catholic Church. In the Cathar Church, a mere credent was considered too impure to have his or her prayer heard by God. Only the perfecti's prayer could reach the ears of God. The credenti were required to abase themselves before the perfecti and beg them to pray for their souls in a ritual known as the melioramentum. The credent would fall to their knees and place their palms to the ground, bowing deeply three times and begging the perfect to pray on his or her behalf: "Bless us Lord", or "good Christian" or "good Lady" and on the third bow, "Lord, pray God for this sinner that he deliver him from an evil death and lead him to a good end."

The fact that women could become a perfectae and perform the melioramentum leads many modern commentators to portray the Cathar Church as a feminist institution where both men and women served equally as church functionaries. That was not the case in fact. The Cathar religion had an episcopate as structured as that of the Catholic Church, with territorial titles and geographical demarcations of dioceses, and an ambitious leadership. There were elected Cathar bishops, two subordinate ranks of filius major and filius minor and a diaconate. These were exclusively the domain of males: none of these positions were open to female perfectae.

Nor were female perfectae allowed to perform the ritual of consolamentum; the raising of a credent to the rank of a perfect was also an exclusive privilege of male Cathar perfecti.

While not expressly forbidden, female perfectae did not preach extensively either, as often implied by modern rosy accounts of the Cathars. In the records of the Languedoc Inquisition of 1245–46, female perfectae are reported in witness statements on 1,435 occasions – but only on twelve of those occasions are they reported to be preaching. Of three hundred eighteen named perfectae, only eleven are identified as having preached [Medieval Studies, XLI, (1979), pp. 227–228]. In other words, Cathar perfectae basically had a status not much different from Catholic nuns, the primary difference being that they were not cloistered and isolated from the populace as were Catholic nuns. Moreover, there was a foundation of class behind those female perfectae who preached – almost all leading women in the Cathar Church came from powerful noble families and by virtue of their secular education, wealth, and power, they gathered around them both male and female followers.

Catharism was in some ways darkly hostile to maternity and family. Pregnant credents were admonished that they carried demons in their bellies. A perfecta advised a follower to pray to God that she be liberated from the demon in her belly; another warned a pregnant woman that if she died in pregnancy she could not be saved [Wakefield Journal of Medieval History, XII, pp. 232–233 and Lambert, Malcolm The Cathars Oxford:1998. p.151]. Because the Cathars believed that baptism had to be consciously understood, children who died in infancy could not be considered as saved either.

Statistical analysis of Inquisition records show that of 719 identified active perfecti and perfectae, 318 were women – a little under 45 percent. This is a very high number, compared to how many women were nuns in the Catholic Church compared to all the priests, officials, monks, friars, clerks and other men engaged in official Church duty. Thus the elite strata of the faith drew women. On the other hand, in analyzing 466 identified credenti followers or believers, only 125 were women – roughly 28 percent – indicating that Cathar beliefs were of less interest to the average medieval woman, who probably found the anti-procreative ideology repellent. Nonetheless, female perfectae played a more direct and crucial role in forming and sustaining Cathar nuclei; as there were no formal churches, their homes became religious centers.

The Cathar Church in comparison to the corrupt practices of the medieval Catholic Church, was an honest and dedicated movement that rejected the trappings of wealth, lust and power. There were no church buildings or property. The Cathar Church did not demand tithes of its members and it educated its children, both male and female. As such it was a threat to the Catholic Church, and after numerous failed attempts to sway Cathar followers away by persuasion, the Pope finally sponsored a bloody crusade to put down the Cathars by fire and sword in 1209.

* * *


Note on the authenticity of the ruins of Montsegur

The intention of (Peter Vronsky's) website is to present a sober and factually accurate as possible history of Montsegur and its relationship to the Cathar faith. Central to this objective, is the decidedly unromantic fact that the present fortress ruin at Montsegur in France, is not from the Cathar era. The original Cathar fortress of Montsegur was entirely pulled down by the victorious French Royal forces after the fall of the castle and the surrender of the Cathars in 1244. It was gradually rebuilt and upgraded over the next three centuries by Royal forces. The current ruin dramatically occupying the site, and featured in illustrations, including those in this website, is referred to by French archeologists as "Montsegur III" and is typical of post-medieval Royal French defensive architecture. It is not "Montsegur II", the structure in which the Cathars lived and were besieged and of which no trace remains.

This is a fact that the French tourist authority underplays and one that Cathar enthusiasts often overlook; especially when discussing Montsegur's alleged solar alignment characteristics said to be visible on the morning of the summer solstice. This often mentioned solar phenomenon, allegedly occurring in an alignment of two windows in the fortress wall, has not been scientifically surveyed, measured, recorded or confirmed.

The Groupe de Recherches Archéologiques de Montségur et Environs (GRAME), which conducted a definitive thirteen year archeological excavation of Montsegur and its vicinity in 1964–1976, concluded in its final report that: "There remains no trace of the actual ruin of the first fortress which was abandoned before the 13th century (Montsegur I), nor of the one which was built by Raymond de Pereille around 1210 (Montsegur II)..."

[See: Groupe de Recherches Archéologiques de Montségur et Environs (GRAME), Montségur: 13 ans de recherche archéologique, Lavelanet: 1981. pg. 76. "Il ne reste aucune trace dans les ruines actuelles ni du premier château qui était à l'abandon au debut du XIIe siècle (Montségur I), ni de celui que construisit Raymond de Pereilles vers 1210 (Montségur II)..."]

The small ruins of the terraced dwellings, however, immediately outside the perimeter of the current fortress walls on the north-eastern flank, are confirmed to be traces of authentic former Cathar habitations.

(For further discussion on this issue see: http://www.cathares.org/heresis/heresis33-49.html and http://www.cathares.org/montsegur.html)


A Brief History of Montsegur – Prior to 1242

The Pre-Cathar Period

The south western region of France, where Montsegur is located, has some of the oldest traces of human inhabitants since the dawn of time.

The cave of Chavet-Pont-D'Arc, for example, discovered in 1994 contains the world's oldest known cave paintings – dating back an astonishing 30,000 years!

The region in the immediate vicinity of Montsegur, the Lasset Valley, is dotted with numerous prehistoric sites. The region is also densely laced with deep and complex cave formations and underground rivers sources.

It appears that some kind of fortress or temple already existed on the site of Montsegur, perhaps Spanish, prior to its conversion into a Cathar stronghold. Nonetheless, the only archeological trace discovered of pre-Cathar human habitation on the peak of Montsegur, was a Roman coin dating to the year 260–268 AD. It was found in 1964 immediately outside the north-eastern wall of the fortress where several terraced habitations were once located.

Source: Groupe de Recherches Archéologiques de Montségur et Environs (GRAME), Montségur: 13 ans de recherche archéologique, Lavelanet: 1981.

The Cathar Era 1204–1242

According to a deposition given to the Inquisition on March 30, 1244 by the captured co-seigneur of Montsegur, Raymond de Pereille (b.1190–1244?), the fortress was "restored" in 1204 at the request of Cathar perfecti Raymond de Mirepoix and Raymond Blasco.

The Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars was launched in 1209. At the time the territory in question was not a part of France – it was known as Occitania, ruled by powerful independent local aristocrats. Neighboring Catalonia and Aragon exerted their spheres of influence over the region and the English were attempting to penetrate as well. The Crusade was as much about the Capetian French Crown consolidating its power over the territory as it was a religious crusade.

In its first several years, the blitz-like crusade devastated the Cathar Church, but as the crusade petered out into sporadic summer campaigns in later years, Cathars effectively regrouped by 1229. Montsegur remained remote from the warfare and functioned as center for Cathar refugees. In 1229 the Treaty of Paris was signed, officially calling an end to the crusade – with the local lords agreeing to recognize the authority of the French Crown and to aid in the persecution of Cathars. But some of the lords only gave lip-service to the treaty and continued to aid the Cathars in secret.

In 1230, the leader of the heretics, bishop Guilhabert de Castres, asked Raymond de Pereille for permission to make Montsegur the seat of the Cathar Church.

In 1232, the Cathars asked Raymond if they could live infracastrum – within the castle. Montsegur was thereafter gradually fortified and various adjunct walls were constructed along its southern and northern slopes. With the torrent of Cathar refugees and clergy arriving at Montsegur, a small terraced village grew in size beneath the fortress walls on the north-eastern flank.

In 1233 the Inquisition was officially instituted, empowering Dominican and Franciscan friars to prosecute heresy and demanding, according to the terms of the Paris Treaty, local secular authorities to assist and enforce the Inquisition's actions. The Inquisition spread terror throughout the region, but it was not an easy going. Inquisitors were frequently attacked and run out of town – local lords issued advance warning to Cathars and secretly sabotaged Inquisitorial efforts. Even the new French masters disliked the Inquisition as they felt it was bad for commerce, disturbing local peace and order in their newly acquired domains.

In 1234, Raymond Pereille's dispossessed cousin, Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix (b.1194/1202–d.1244/62?), arrived at Montsegur with his relatives, knights and men-at-arms and married Raymond's young daughter Philippa. With the marriage he became the co-seigneur of Montsegur, and effectively its commander. The future administration and defense of Montsegur was to be conducted mostly by Pierre-Roger, and not the legendary Raymond Pereille.

Pierre-Roger Mirepoix was by reputation a young and bellicose lord who fought bitterly against the French Catholics during the crusade and as a result lost his lands to them after the Treaty of Paris. His father was Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix le Vieux, co-seigneur of Mirepoix and brother of Guillaume-Roger de Mirepoix – Raymond Pereille's father. According to Inquisition records, Pierre-Roger le Vieux died circa 1209 and received the Cathar perfect's consolamentum upon his death bed.

Upon his installation as co-seigneur of Montsegur, Pierre-Roger Mirepoix began to organize the defense of Montsegur. Pierre-Roger had brought with him a complement of dispossessed court officials, knights and men-at-arms who began to patrol and further fortify the approaches to Montsegur. Pierre-Roger himself, is reported to have made appearances in various parts of the region, plotting and aiding in rebellion and disorder in Occitania.

In 1241, the local overlord Raymond VII, the powerful Count of Toulouse, who with his father Raymond VI, had fought the Crusaders for decades, made peace with the French Crown. Part of the terms included his promise to destroy Montsegur. But Raymond VII was a Cathar sympathizer who continued plotting against the French and the Catholic authorities behind their backs. His siege of Montsegur in the summer of 1241 was nominal and half-hearted. The roads and paths to Montsegur remained opened; the besieging troops consisted of Cathar sympathizers and clandestine believers, and by the autumn the siege melted away.

It would be an assassination launched from Montsegur by Pierre-Roger the next spring, that would bring down the Cathar community forever.

The Massacre of the Inquisitors at Avignonet

In the spring of 1242, a courier brought a letter to Montsegur from a clandestine Cathar, Raymond d'Alfaro, the bailiff at Avignonet, a town between Toulouse and Carcassone. Alfaro was very highly connected: he was the son of a Navarrese mercenary captain and the illegitimate half-sister of Count Raymond VII. He was also a dedicated Cathar believer. The letter informed Pierre-Roger that the chief Inquisitors of Toulouse, Etienne de Saint-Thibery (Stephen of St. Thibery) and Guillaume-Arnaud (William Arnald), along with their assistants and notaries, were coming to Avignonet in the next few days.

Pierre-Roger quickly descended from Montsegur with a small force of men. At Gaja-la-Selve they recruited a small force of men armed with hatchets and cudgels. On May 28, 1242 – the eve of the Feast of Ascension – they positioned themselves in a copse of trees known as Antioch Wood on the outskirts of Avignonet. That evening they were met there by Guillaume-Raymond Golairan, one of Alfaro's men, who informed them that he had personally insured that the friars were lodged down in in the central chamber of the castle keep. He then rode back to the castle and visited the friars one more time, ensuring they were bedded down and the castle guards were looking the other way.

When night fell, Pierre-Roger remained behind, while his knights Guillaume de Lahille, Bernard de Saint-Martin, and Guillaume de Balaguire led the force into Avignonet under the cover of darkness.

They were quietly allowed to slip into the castle by local sympathizers and were guided to the quarters where the Inquisitors were sleeping. The knight Bernard de Saint-Martin, who had already been condemned to death in absentia by the Inquisitors a few years earlier, led the assault bearing a huge battle axe. After the Inquisitors and their assistance were massacred – a total of approximately ten friars – their clothes, funds and belongings were looted. More importantly, the Inquisition registers were carefully searched out and set on fire (other sources say they were sold.)

According to a witness statement given years later to the Inquisition, the assassins returned to Antioch Woods, where one of them, Jean Acermat, gave Pierre-Roger the news of their success. Pierre-Roger is reported to have exclaimed, "Where is my cup?" The assassin replied, "It is broken." Pierre-Roger allegedly laughed and joked, "Why did you not bring it? I would have bound it together with a circlet of gold and drunk from it all my days!" They were talking about Guillaume Arnald's skull [Source: Inquisition Records, Doat 22, 286b. See also Stephen O'Shea, The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars, Vancouver: 2000].

The news of the assassinations quickly spread. Again, in Inquisition records, it is reported that one Cathar woman, Austorga de Resengas upon hearing the news, said to her husband, "All is free"; to which he replied, "All is dead." [Source: Doat 24 fol 1r-7r – Quoted in Malcolm Lambert, The Cathars, Oxford: 1998].

This single act by Pierre-Roger essentially sealed the fate of Montsegur and the Cathars forever.


The Siege of Montsegur – 1243–1244

Following the assassinations of the Inquisitors in Avignonet in May 1242, there were widespread revolts in Occitania against the French Crown and Catholic authorities. By January 1243 it was all over. The rebellions failed and the leading local overlord Raymond VII, the Count of Toulouse, in whose territory Montsegur fell, signed a final peace treaty with the French King Louis IX. Raymond VII, who had rebelled previously, and was until then, a strong Cathar supporter, if not a clandestine believer, was once again forgiven by the King and the Church. But Montsegur was to be destroyed, and Raymond, who in the past managed to sidetrack plans of French crusading forays to Montsegur, stood aside this time.

At a Catholic conclave held in Beziers in the spring of 1243, a call to bring down the "synagogue of Satan" at Montsegur was issued. The operation was put under the military command of the King's seneschal of Carcassonne Hugues des Archis, while the Church was represented by Pierre Amiel, the arch-bishop of Narbonne. By Ascension Day in May 1243, on the anniversary of the assassination, warriors from Gascony and the Aquitiaine, buttressed by local troops pressed into service, began to pour into the valley below the pog at Montsegur. Over the next ten months, a total of ten thousand troops would mass beneath the fortress, drawing a tightening perimeter around Montsegur.

Montsegur as it might have appeared in the Summer of 1243 during the siege
(view from the South looking North)

Map of defense lines and approaches to Montsegur 1243–44

The Cathars had been living within the fortress and in a small terraced village just beneath the north-eastern slope of the current fortress wall. Small settlements also dotted the northern face of the pog, which gently sloped downwards away from the fortress like a camel's back, and finished at yet another manned outpost known as Roc de la Tour – "Tower Rock" – before suddenly dropping off into precarious cliffs. The main south-western approach to the fortress was very steep and protected by several walls. Despite all the Catholic troops, there were many secret footpaths leading up to the fortress: messages, troops, refugees and some provisions continued to infiltrate through the French lines – both into and out of Montsegur.

Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix took command of the defense of Montsegur. From his own vassals he had a total of seventy men: 18 battle hardened knights – including the assassins of the Inquisitors – six light riders and an assortment of infantrymen and sergeants and two or three crossbow men loaned to Pierre-Roger by other lords sympathetic to the Cathars. There were at least another ten independent knights, making an extraordinary concentration of nearly thirty knights at Montsegur. Other troops, archers and hired mercenaries rounded out the number of armed defenders at Montsegur to approximately 150 warriors in total.

There are myths that the Knights Templar came to the aid of the Cathars and that this set them on a long path of final destruction at the hands of the Inquisition in 1307. Many of the descendents of the Templar Grand Master Bertrand de Blanchfort (1156–1169) were Cathar sympathizers based at his family seat a mile from Rennes-le-Chateau, near Carcassonne. The Templars, in fact, did not participate in the Albegensian Crusade – but only because they did not have the available manpower at the time. There is, however, one instance on record where the Templars came not so much to the aid of the Cathars, but fought against the French Crusaders. In September 1213, Templars in the service of the Aragon King Pedro II participated in his failed attack on the French Crusaders of Simon de Monfort at Muret. These Templar actions, however, were motivated more by their allegiance to King Pedro than by any Cathar sympathies.

Interestingly enough, in 1965 archeologists digging in the Cathar era strata at the terraced habitations, uncovered an insignia from another crusading monastic order – a so-called Khi Recroisete – made in precious white metal, worn by senior members of the Hospitaller Order of St John.

Other coats-of-arms discovered and not successfully identified by the archeologists working at Montsegur:

  • 131/72 CLOU DE CEINTURE armoirie. Décor d'émaux champlevés en forme d'écu français gironne de huit pieces, bleues et rouges opposées deux à deux. Blason non identifié. L.: 18mm, l.: 16mm, ép.: 0.5 mm. Sondage: terrasse 2, habitats N.O., carré G2a42

  • 138/72 CHAPE OU BOUCHE DE FOURREAU (?) de dague armoriée. Décor d'émaux cloisonnés en forme d'écu espagnol portant deux serres de pace. Les ongles sont rouges, les pattes bleues. Blason non identifié. L.: 60mm, l.: 38mm, ép.: 38mm. Sondage: terrasse 2, habitats N.O., carré G2a34

    [Source: Groupe de Recherches Archéologiques de Montségur et Environs (GRAME), Montségur: 13 ans de recherche archéologique, Lavelanet: 1981. pp. 104–105.]

Montsegur was relatively self-sufficient with a good reservoir system of cisterns for water and a metal forge for weapons and an ample supply of wood to fire it. Meat and dairy products were not in high demand by the strictly vegetarian Cathars and supplies continued to trickle in. Furthermore, the pog on which Montsegur is perched, is riddled with an astonishing network of hidden caves which are still being discovered and explored today. What role they might have played in penetrating siege lines is still an unanswered question.

The civilian population of Montsegur consited of some fifty to one hundred Cathar perfecti and an assortment of refugees, followers, believers, wives, children and other family members, servants, craftspeople and court officials – an estimated total of approximately five hundred people of both sexes and all ages.

The siege unfolded slowly for the first eight months, with Catholic forces painstakingly attempting to take the slopes of the mountain to position powerful trebuchets – catapults – within range of the castle. Yet the slopes proved to be so impregnable that by the end of 1243, the Catholic troops were severely demoralized by their lack of progress. The break came in January 1244, when Gascon mountain troops climbed up the north-eastern tip of the pog in the middle of the night and captured the lowest point of the plateau – the Roc de la Tour. From there, Catholic troops began to effectively fight their way up towards the fortress – capturing positions for a trebuchet and using the resources of the plateau to construct the catapult and mine the stone missiles for it. Today the slopes of the plateau are still dotted with piles of stone missiles shaped in workshops set up by the attacking troops.

After two months, towards the end of February, the Catholic catapult was close enough to launch the stone missiles with deadly accuracy. The progress of the French attack can be charted by the weight of the balls. At first only light stone missiles weighing between 25 and 35 kilograms (55–77 lbs) could be fired from the initial positions established by the Royal forces. By the end of the siege, the troops were close enough to lob 80 kilogram missiles (176 lbs) into the inhabited terraces with devastating effect.

Stone missiles uncovered by GRAME archeologists on the terrace habitations in 1970

The Cathars attempted several sortie counter-attacks to dislodge the crusaders but it was too late – heavy reinforcements had poured up through rear part of the pog and were now dug in. It appears that the majority of the combat fatalities at Montsegur occurred in the months of January and February – in skirmishes on the northern slope and under the increasing bombardment of stone missiles. Again, the Inquisition records give us glimpses into some of the fatalities:

  • Knight Jourdain du Mas is given consolamentum under special circumstances in February 1244 – he is in a coma after being struck by a stone missile – and cannot consciously acknowledge the procedure before dying; [Doat 22, 209a, 241a, 281b, 253b.]
  • Knight Betrand de Bardenac, given consolamentum before dying "after Noel 1243"; [Doat 22, 209a, 241b, 254b.]
  • Sergeant Bernard Rouain, given consolamentum at his death from wounds on February 21, 1244; [Doat 24, 79b.]
  • Sergeant Bernard de Carcassonne, consolamentum at his death on February 26, 1244; [Doat 22, 254a – 24, 207a.]
  • Pierre Ferrer, Catalan and bailiff of Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix, consolamentum upon his death from wounds sustained, March 1, 1244; [Doat 22, 255a.]
  • Sergeant Guillaume d'Aragon, participant in the Avignonet assassinations, killed at an undetermined date. [Doat 22, 205a.]

Now under bombardment, the terraced habitation outside the walls of the fortress had to be evacuated for the safety of the fortress walls. By the end of February, Pierre-Roger understood that there was no hope of relief from the outside and that Montsegur could not hold out much longer.


The Fall of Montsegur – March 1244

On March 1, 1244, Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix emerged from the fortress and negotiated a fifteen day truce at the end of which Montsegur was to be surrendered. The Catholic troops gave the Cathar forces generous terms. The mercenaries would be allowed to leave with their arms. Any Cathars who abjured their heresy would be forgiven. Lords and ladies, knights, soldiers, craftsmen, servants, would be allowed to depart after being deposed by the Inquisition and abjuring Cathar beliefs.

Most of the Cathar perfecti declined the offer, and twenty-six mercenaries, knights, soldiers and followers actually asked for consolamentum on March 13th – the spring equinox. This would guaranteed their death at the end of the truce.

At some point, either during the truce or before, or perhaps at two separate occasions, two or four Cathars snuck out of the fortress and descended down the steep northern-eastern slope, carrying with them some sort of valuable objects. Because many of the French Catholic troops were locals of dubious loyalty pressed into service, the Cathars found it easy to slip through the enemy lines. Their fate and destination is now a subject of myth and legend. It is, however, generally believed that the cache was consisting of monetary valuables – the Cathar Church treasure – and that it was smuggled from Montsegur and made its way to Cathar bishops in Italy where it was used to sustain the church there. Treasure hunters, nonetheless, continue today to rummage and dig around the vicinity of Montsegur for this lost cache.

On the morning of March 16, between 205 and 225 Cathars marched down the southern slopes of the pog and positioned themselves on a mass execution pyre of wood and logs prepared earlier at the foot of the hill. Either they climbed ladders to the top of the bier or entered into an enclosure and were tied to stakes positioned in the wood. After the saying of prayers the pyre was set on fire.

Approximately sixty of these individuals have been identified by historians and researchers.

Montsegur was destroyed in its entirety and no trace of the Cathar fortress built by Raymond de Pereille survived. The ruins of the terraced Cathar habitations, however, can still be seen today.


The Aftermath – Myth and Legend

In July 1245, the new seigneur of Montsegur, Guy I des Levis, took his oath to the King of France. The Levis would rebuild the fortress that today stands at the peak in the traditional style of French Royal military architecture. A small village named Montsegur was established further down the slopes where it still is located today. A village church was built around 1620. The fortress itself underwent extensive renovation, expansion and restoration as it was actively garrisoned by France well into the 16th century against possible Spanish incursions. In 1757, it was still in the possession of the Levis family. The fortress fell into disuse and ruin in the late 18th century.

During the 20th century, Montsegur became the focus of various occult and Gnostic revival cults. In 1909, the French neo-Gnostic patriarch Synesius (Fabre des Essarts) took as his title "Bishop of Paris and Montsegur."

Because of its Grail myths, Montsegur became the focus of Nazi archeological expeditions by the Ahnenerbe ("Ancestral Heritage Society") – a criminal agency of Heinrich Himmler's notorious SS dedicated to identifying past Aryan links with modern Germany through archeology and anthropology. It was the Ahnenerbe which collected skeletons and skulls of concentration camp prisoners specially selected and carefully killed as specimens.

Montsegur was brought to the attention of the Nazis by Otto Rahn who explored the ruins of Montsegur in 1929 and went on to write two popular Grail novels linking Montsegur and Cathars with the Holy Grail: Kreuzzug gegen den Gral ("Crusade Against the Grail") in 1933 and Luzifers Hofgesinf ("Lucifer's Court") in 1937. In 1936, Rahn joined the Ahnenerbe with a junior NCO rank in the SS. After supposed disciplinary problems, he was assigned to a tour of duty at the Dachau concentration camp in 1937 – a training depot and punishment center for SS men at the time. On 13th March 1939 – almost on the anniversary of the fall of Montsegur – Otto Rahn mysteriously died in the snow on the Tyrolean mountains. His death is believed to be a suicide.

On March 16, 1944, on the 700th anniversary of the fall of Montsegur, Nazi planes are reported to have flown patterns over the ruins – either swastikas or celtic crosses, depending upon the sources. The Nazi ideologist, Alfred Rosenberg was reported to be on board one of the airplanes. None of these reports have been satisfactorily proven.

In 1947, the French government made some restorations of the fortress walls. Between 1964–1976 an extensive archeological dig was conducted at Montsegur and its vicinity. Many of the artifacts recovered can be seen today in the village museum.

The mythology of Montsegur reached a new peak during the 1980s with the publication of Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, a best-seller that linked the reported missing treasure of Montsegur with mysterious events in the nearby village of Rennes-le-Chateau. It is the authors' intriguingly original assertion that the contents of the Cathar treasure were in fact genealogies of Jesus Christ's surviving family which were looted by the Romans in 71 AD from the Temple of Jerusalem. According to the authors, the Visigoths in turn captured this hoard when they sacked Rome in 410 AD and brought it with them to the Languedoc region of France where they eventually established their community. The Visigoths, who practiced an Aryan heretical Christianity, and did indeed settle in the region, eventually interbred with the local populace, infusing them with a propensity for heretical faiths and the key to Jesus Christ's ancestry, the authors suggest. This genealogy is what the authors allege was smuggled from Montsegur in 1244 and hidden in the village of Rennes-le-Chateau until its discovery in the late 19th century by a local priest who subsequently became fabulously rich for it (by blackmailing the Vatican) and rebuilt the local church in a bizarre manner – still standing today for all to see. (The village church of Rennes-le-Chateau is indeed decorated in a most peculiar and untraditional manner.)

Source: Peter Vronsky's Website


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