1244: Two hundred-plus Cathars at Montsegur

1 comment March 16th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1244, over two hundred Cathar heretics submitted themselves to the stake rather than submit to the Catholic church.

Though not literally the last of the Cathars, that outlawed dualistic sect in the south of France whose extirpation occupied the papacy for much of the 13th century, this date was the last great stand and the signature massacre of the Albigensian Crusade. Afterwards, only minor outposts and isolated individuals would remain available for mop-up duty.

Heretical holdouts, fleeing a malevolent Inquisition established in the Languedoc by victorious Catholic armies, holed up at a few Cathar strongholds of which the most impressive was the mountain citadel of Montsegur.


The spectacular attraction of Montsegur tourists see today is not the legendary Cathar castle — which was razed by its conquerors — but a subsequent rebuild. (cc) image from SarahLouiseHathaway

Finally in 1243-1244, a massive Catholic army invested Montsegur; one can’t help but compare this hopeless confederation of fearless zealouts ranged against the mighty temporal powers to the Jews at Masada — and as with Masada, it were death to succumb to the besiegers.

When Montsegur finally surrendered, two hundred-some — the reported counts differ slightly — were burned at the stake for refusing to renounce their faith; many of them had actually taken sacred vows in the days before Montsegur fell.

They were Nazis, Dude?

The National Socialists’ weird quest to outrace Indiana Jones for mystical artifacts also brought the swastika to Montsegur, under the direction of the occult medievalist Otto Rahn.

Rahn thought the Holy Grail may have been secreted at Montsegur under Cathar protection, a half-literal, half-metaphorical secret goblet carrying the heretics’ forbidden gnostic wisdom from the day of Mani.

(Other Nazis, allegedly including Heinrich Himmler himself, favored the similar-sounding Spanish fortress of Montserrat. Dan Brown prefers the Knights Templar, who could have laid their gauntlets on the cup of Christ when a few Cathars allegedly slipped through Montsegur’s encirclement carrying some unidentified mysterious secret.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,God,Heresy,History,Known But To God,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Religious Figures,The Supernatural

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1209: Massacre of Beziers, “kill them all, let God sort them out”

27 comments July 22nd, 2009 Headsman

Today the French town of Beziers remembers the 800th anniversary of the first sack and massacre of the Albigensian Crusade.

Rome was alarmed by the advent in southern France of a mass religious movement, Catharism, with such scandalous doctrines as spirit-body dualism and not giving tons of money to Rome.

Naturally, God said to cut them to pieces.

Beziers was the first town invested by the invading crusader army, left to its fate as the Cathars mustered in Carcassone. Interestingly, this particular city did not so much present that familiar spectacle of Christians killing Christians who thought differently — unless the thought in question was about handing over their neighbors to a throng of land-grabbing nobles.

Part of the Catholic faith did itself honor this day: those Biterrois who refused to abandon to the glories of martyrdom the Cathars in their midst, who are thought to have numbered merely a few hundred. So when the walls fell, it was mostly orthodox Catholics killing orthodox Catholics.

Well, what’s a crusading army with other cities to sack supposed to do?

“Kill them all”

After the fortified city embarrassingly got itself captured within hours by camp followers, Caesar of Heisterbach recorded one of history’s more quotably infamous instances of prayerful deliberation:

When they discovered, from the admissions of some of them, that there were Catholics mingled with the heretics they said to the abbot “Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics.” The abbot, like the others, was afraid that many, in fear of death, would pretend to be Catholics, and after their departure, would return to their heresy, and is said to have replied “Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. ii. 19) and so countless number in that town were slain.

Or, in glorious Latin:

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

And so they did.

And they killed everyone who fled into the church; no cross or altar or crucifix could save them. And these raving beggarly lads, they killed the clergy too, and the women and children. I doubt if one person came out alive … such a slaughter has not been known or consented to, I think, since the time of the Saracens. (William of Tudela, cited in Cathar Castles)

Ten to twenty thousand are thought to have been slain this day — in what proportions Catholic and heretic, only God can say.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Disfavored Minorities,France,God,Heresy,History,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Language,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable Jurisprudence,Power,Put to the Sword,Summary Executions,Women,Wrongful Executions

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