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The Cathars are considered the most radical and revolutionary Christian sect in history.  In fact, the Roman Catholic Church invented the Great Inquisition to stamp out the Cathars as they were the greatest threat that, up to that time, had ever been posed to the Roman Catholic Church.  Simon de Montfort led the royal army to the South of France on behalf of the king and church. When asked how to distinguish Cathars from Catholics at the first military engagement at Béziers he famously answered “kill them all, God will recognize his”.

The Cathars were a religious sect of obscure origin which arose in the Middle Ages and thrived in what is now considered Southern France. They called themselves Cathars, taking their name from the Greek word for “pure”.  In every sense, the Cathars were pacifists.

After a papal legate was allegedly murdered by a Cathar, the King of France launched a so-called “crusade” against them, using it as a cover for territorial acquisition. The fact is that we have not so much as a hint in the historical record that the papal legate was killed by a Cathar. No one was ever charged with or tried for his murder.

From 1208, the Church continued to wage a war of terror against the indigenous population of the Languedoc and their rulers.  During this period an estimated half-million Languedoc men, women and children were massacred, Catholics as well as Cathars. The Crusaders killed the locals indiscriminately.

How was the Cathar religion so different than the Catholic religion?  The Cathars did not believe Jesus died on the cross.  Cathars largely regarded men and women as equals. Cathars believed in reincarnation and refused to eat meat or other animal products. They were strict about biblical injunctions - notably those about living in poverty, not telling lies, not killing and not swearing oaths. They respected nature and all living things, held their ceremonies in grottoes and open spaces and didn't believe in material possessions. As Dualists, Cathars believed in two principles, a good god and his evil adversary (much like God and Satan of mainstream Christianity). The good principle had created everything immaterial (good, permanent, immutable) while the bad principle had created everything material (bad, temporary, perishable). Cathars called themselves simply Christians; their neighbors distinguished them as "Good Christians". The Catholic Church called them Albigenses, or less frequently, Cathars.

Meanwhile, the Catholic religion was gaining power through murder, greed and building churches, amassing wealth and dressing in fine materials and jewelry.  The Crusades against the Cathars resulted in the genocide of all Cathars who would not renounce their faith.

The Church initiated persecutions of Languedoc Jews and other minorities.  The culture of the troubadours was lost as their patrons were reduced to wandering refugees known as faidits. Their characteristic concept of "paratge", a sophisticated world-view, was almost destroyed, leaving us a pale imitation of chivalry. Lay learning was discouraged and the reading of the Bible became a capital crime. Tithes were enforced.

The Languedoc started its long economic decline from the richest region of Europe to become the poorest region in France.  The language of the area, Occitan, began its descent from the foremost literary language in Europe to a regional dialect, disparaged by the French as patois.

After exterminating the Cathars, the Roman Catholic Church had proof that a sustained campaign of genocide worked, establishing the precedent for the infamous Crusades.  Crushing the Cathars ushered in the machinery of the first modern police state, laying the groundwork for the Spanish Inquisition, and again for later Inquisitions and genocides.

For more information about the very unfortunate Cathars check out:  http://www.cathar.info/

We hope you have enjoyed this brief overview of the history of the Cathars in the Languedoc region in the south of France.  Today the Languedoc region as returned to its earlier name - Occitanie.  The castle ruins still stand today as reminders of our history.  They are primarily located in remote locations and make for amazing photographic adventures.  

Maison des Rêves is a luxury photography retreat located in the south of France.  Photography workshops are run by Wendy Hicks and Renée Jacobs, one of the most celebrated photographers of the female nude of our time.  More information about Maison des Rêves can be found at www.maisondesreves-france.com .