Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Siege of Montségur

The Cathars, mentioned yesterday, were a largely peaceful group that attempted to lead lives of Christian simplicity, rejecting the material world as much as possible. Their beliefs challenged official Church doctrine, and the Inquisition and the Albigensian Crusade were chief instruments in suppressing them. They were not completely successful, however.

The remains of a later structure on Montségur
In May 1243, over 200 Cathars took refuge in a stone chateau on a peak called Montségur in southern France, surrounded by French military. Montségur wasn't a last resort of fleeing Cathars, however: it had been granted to them as the headquarters of their Cathar Church by its sympathetic owner, the Occitan nobleman Raymond de Péreille. (For his trouble, he was interrogated by the Inquisition after the Siege concluded.)

The Siege took nine months. The usual tactic is to outlast the besieged while their food and water runs out. Montségur was well-provisioned, however, and sympathetic locals snuck in with supplies. Also, the Cathars were accustomed to deprivation, so emergency rations were no hardship for them. For these reasons, the 10,000 royal troops waited in vain until the decision was made to attack. After much difficulty, a position was established on the eastern side of the peak, where a catapult was constructed. The bombardment enabled the attackers to take control of the chateau's defensive gateway, the barbican, and therefore move the catapult closer in order to do more damage to the walls and interior.

The besieged were given two weeks to depart safely, on the condition that they renounced Catharism. Death by burning was the alternative. The Cathars spent the two weeks fasting and praying in preparation for departing from a world they considered sinful anyway. On 16 March, 1244, over 200 of them marched downhill to the pyre that had been prepared and of their own volition climbed onto the stacks of wood. The place is now known as Prats de Cremats [Occitan: "Field of the Burned"].

Catharism survived in southern France, but not in any organized fashion. The presence of the Inquisition caused many Cathars to emigrate to more hospitable regions, such as Spain and Italy.

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