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Catharism in the Corbières and Minervois regions

Catharism is an alternative type of Christianity, which appeared in Europe around the year 1000. This religion placed two creations opposite each other: that of a good and merciful God, an eternal and spiritual belief, and that which was born out of a wrong principle, our temporal and material world. Similarly, it considered that the soul was imprisoned in the earthly creation. Liberation was made impossible by baptism: the consolament, laying on of hands, privilege of the clergy called “Bons Hommes” (“Good Men”) or “Bonnes Dames” (“Good Ladies”). From the 12th Century onward, theses Cathar preachers were well accepted by the Occitan gentry. The purity of their Christianity and the virtue of their spiritual message made these “Good Christians” quite popular among a huge part of the population, nobility and villagers/peasants alike.

Confronted with this success, the Roman Catholic Church decided to dispatch some preachers on the spot. Faced with the way this religion was conceived and shaped, and some heated and clashing debates notwithstanding, these preachers soon found themselves at a complete loss. After all, this Catharism was well thought-out and argued and it presented the world with an image of humility and Christian charity. The authorities understood the extent of its importance. In the beginning of the 13th Century, pope Innocent III waited for the right moment to launch his Crusade on the Christian lands of the Midi (South of France, TN) against the Cathar heretics. Led by Simon de Montfort, the military troops rushed the Midi from 1209 onward.

From then on massacres and acts of brutality ensued on the lands of the Viscount de Trencavel, from Béziers to Carcassonne, including the attack on Minerve, tragic location of the first collective stake of the Crusade.
However, in the Corbières and Minervois regions, resistance started growing. The Termes family was one of the most powerful of the entire Languedoc as well as being protectors of Catharism. The village and castle fell victim to the attacks of the crusaders during the first stages of the Albigensian Crusade. In 1210, Raimond de Termes resisted Simon de Montfort’s attacks for three months. A lack of water was about to bring the resistance to its knees when a miraculous storm refilled the cisterns. Unfortunately, the water proved to be infected. This was one of the longest and most epic events of the entire Crusade.

Quéribus and Peyrepretuse alternately belonged to the Counts of Besalu and Barcelona, and to the Kings of Aragon. In the 13th Century, they asserted their resistance. Guilhem de Peyrepertuse was excommunicated in 1224. When the castrum of Peyrepertuse surrendered in 1240, Quéribus stood its ground. Some Cathar clergymen were within its walls at the time. Benoît de Termes, deacon of the Razès area, also had taken refuge and died there in 1241. Quéribus was the last bastion to fall in the hands of the French in 1255, after being guarded at all costs by the unwavering Chabert de Barbaira.

From 1230 onward, as if to top off the military occupation, the Catholic Church established the Holy Inquisition. This system of ecclesiastical tribunals was meant to fight the Cathar heresy inside medieval society. Men and women, both alive and dead were put on trial, interrogated and judged. No one was safe from being given away (even if falsely accused). The Inquisitor relied on witnesses and confessions to reach his verdict: from an acquittal over a prison sentence to a burning at the stake. In almost 100 years, Catharism was eradicated. The final scene in the Cathar tragedy took place in the castle of Villerouge-Termenès, residence of the Archbishops of Narbonne. This exceptional site, in the centre of the village, was home to the final hours of the last of the Cathars, Guilhem Bélibaste, burned alive in 1321.

The hub sites of the Cathar region