|Carcassonne. Photo: Garry Shaw|
Here's the opening section:
It isn't recorded what Guillaume Bélibaste, the last Cathar ‘Perfect’, thought as he slowly burned to death at the stake, but given his beliefs, it was probably something like, ‘thank god!’. Now, this isn't because Bélibaste liked the idea of such a death, but rather because he, like the other Cathars, saw anything physical as associated with evil, even his own body. Your flesh was a prison for the perfect soul, stuck in a world created by an evil god and only released in death. If you'd lived a perfect life, your soul went straight to heaven. If you hadn't, you'd be reincarnated. It says a lot about life in the 14th century that to this Christian sect reincarnation was a worse threat than hell.
Intrigued by this unusual medieval religious movement, now wiped from existence, I'd travelled to the Pays Cathare, ‘Cathar Country’, as it's advertised by the French tourism authority, in the Aude Department of Languedoc-Roussillon, just north of the Spanish border. In the 12th century, when Cathar beliefs first became popular, this area hadn't yet fallen under the control of the French crown and remained divided up among the Count of Toulouse and his vassals, and the King of Aragon and his vassals. Even before the Cathars, this region, mainly left to its own devices, had a reputation for liberal sympathies. And it wasn't just among the common folk; the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VI, one of the most powerful men in the region, was twice excommunicated by the Pope. Towing the Catholic line wasn't the region's strong suit.
You can download a pdf of the article here: The Heretics of Languedoc.
And if you enjoy it, please download the rest of the Winter 2015 issue of Timeless Travels (it's free!). It's full of wonderful history-themed travel pieces. You can find it at: http://flickread.com/edition/Timeless-Travels-Magazine/