Saturday, 18 July 2015

Montsegur - The Location of the Last Big Cathar Siege

Atop of the 'Pog'
Montsegur is where many people feel the Albigensian Crusade came to an end. There were further skirmishes but essentially the siege of Montsegur is widely considered to be the last significant stand off between the Crusaders and the Cathars.

During that period it had become a refuge for the Lords who had been dispossessed of their land during the crusade. There were at least 600 of them living there, courtesy of Raymond de Pereille who had been asked to restore the castle in order to provide a safe haven on the very top of the rocky peak (or pog in Occitan).

Secondary Entrance
The single event that marked the death-knell for Catharism was the killing of eleven church inquiry members on the 28th May 1242, as they travelled through Avignonet, by a group of faydits (the depossessed lords) from Montsegur. The King of France ordered a blockade at Montsegur to appease the Pope who was angered by the killings.

The siege started about a year later in May 1243 under the command of Hugues des Arcy. It lasted 10 months and went right through a very severe winter. On the 1st March 1244 an attempt to escape the besieged castle failed and the stronghold was finally taken.  A 15 day truce was arranged and the Cathars had to choose whether to denounce their faith or suffer the consequences. The result was that on the 16th March 1244 over 220 Cathars were burned at the stake in Montsegur.

The only evidence you will find of what happened that day is a memorial on the path to the castle that commemorates the martyrdom of the Cathars. 

North West View
The castle that you can visit today is not the same castle that was there during the siege, that original castle was left in ruin and the latter day fortress that you can now visit is built on the ruins of the original site. It is still referred to as a Cathar Fortress because of it's history and the fact it is widely considered to be the place where Catharism came to an end.

To visit the castle you will have to be prepared for a steep climb and there is a modest admittance fee that gives you access to both the castle and the museum in the village below the castle rock. But 'wow' what a treat for anyone that relishes a great view whilst they explore the history of the Cathars. Makes both the climb and the fee well worth it.

There is a 'Table de Orientation' at the north west end which is where you will also find 'The Keep' and you can scramble around the outside to gain views in, literally, every direction.

A visit to the museum in the town after the castle will give you an opportunity to catch up with the full history of the fortress and is where you can find many artifacts discovered from the period of the siege, including the skeletons of a man and woman believed to have been killed by arrows during that time.

Montsegur is 30 km east of Foix and is 1200m above sea level. That is about an hour and a bit from Le Moulin. It is in the Ariege department of the Midi-Pyrénées.

The Keep

Table de Orientation

Inner Ward

Monday, 13 July 2015

Demonstrating a Little Bit of Tolerance at La Cite, Carcassonne

If you visit La Cite before the 20th of September you will be able to see a series of sculptures by the artist Guy Ferrer. Each sculpture is a letter of the word 'TOLERANCE' and they all stand around 2m high.

They are located in front of the main entrance under the watchful eye of Dame Carcas, a permanent sculpture of a Saracen princess who is once said to have ruled the city after the death of her husband. Many people believe the name of Carcassonne came about when a ruse involving a pig fed with wheat was thrown from the castle walls during a siege under the orders of Lady Carcas. This was to convince Charlemagne that the castle had plenty of food and could withstand the siege indefinitely. The ruse worked Charlemagne left and the bells rang out in celebration. Giving the city its name Carcassonne (Carcas sounds). Or at least that is how the legend goes, there are some that say this is completely fictional of course, so who knows? But it is a nice story.

So what of the temporary sculptures? They have been placed on display to represent how different letters brought together can form a word with a simple message, even though the individual letters may represent different cultures or spirituality. The message being that different cultures and religions can co-exist in peace and harmony, despite the presence of ever increasing violence in a world that is facing a serious challenge through misguided racial tensions.

The sculptures have been created to try and bring about convergence of different cultures and spirituality rather than the divergence sought by extremists. The artist intends you to draw your own conclusions through your own imagination by examining the individual letters that make the word and how they sit together to deliver a message that tolerance is required by all parties for the world to progress. Well that's my take on it and what I think he is saying. 

But of course you can go along and make up your own mind, because at the end of the day that is what we all do and sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong!

The sculptures are pretty impressive in their own right and worth a look just from the perspective of seeing the skill that has gone into their production, but the spiritual aspect certainly does add another layer of interest and delivers a message we should all perhaps be receptive to. 

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