Cathars, Catharism and Co

800 years ago… They called themselves Good Men and Good Women. History named them Cathars to define the followers of this new belief that took a strong hold in the South of France from the 12th century. Catharism emerged in a context where the Church had become rich and powerful but was targeted by a succession of militant movements by dissidents demanding a return to the ideals of poverty.
Visite de l'Abbaye Villelongue ©Vincent Photographie

A perfect world...

It was their dualism, their belief that the pleasures of the flesh were the work of the Devil, that opposed the Cathars to the Catholics. They lived by their own rules and recognised only one sacrament, the consolamentum, which replaced the rituals of marriage, extreme unction and baptism.
Abbaye Saint-Papoul détail
Visite du Château de Villerouge Termenes ©Vincent Photographie

The end of a “heresy”

While it was a Catholic movement, Catharism was quickly considered to be heretic by the Pope of the era. He launched the “Albi Crusade” in opposition of the movement. The “Holy War” of the Crusade gradually turned into a full-scale geopolitical battle serving the interests of the King of France. Some of the previously seigniorial castles became sanctuaries for the Cathar peoples.
Seized by the King, they were transformed into proper military fortresses whose role was to protect the French border from the kingdom of Aragon. In this relentless fight, the abbeys rallied behind the Catholic Church. One by one, the castles fell to the hands of the King’s lords. The Good Men and Good Women had no choice but to flee. The Crusade gave way to the Inquisition. Faced with this tribunal, the Cathar followers had to choose between renouncing their religion or burning at the stake. The Inquisition got the better of Catharism. The last Perfect was burned in 1321 in Villerouge-Termenès, nearly a century after the start of the Crusade.