May the forts be with you

The ancient walled town of Carcassonne


I am driving through the Languedoc region in the southern depths of France, through a taut, spare landscape that the French know as the garrigue after its fragrant vegetation. Crumbling fortresses crown the sharp limestone hills that erupt like blades, an echo of the Pyrenees that rise to my left, writes Michaell Gebicki in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Wine is a staple here and vines inch in parallel across the landscape like fat green caterpillars. Now and again a sign along the roadside reminds me that this is Pays Cathare, the country of the Cathars. Just as the Amish sect shapes Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, this part of southern France has been defined by the Cathars.

The Cathars were an offshoot of Christianity that took root in southern France starting about the 11th century. Cathars saw themselves as true practitioners of the Christian faith, deploring the moral, spiritual and political corruption of the Church of Rome.

They regarded the sacrament of the Eucharist, one of the pillars of the Catholic mass, as a farce, rejected baptism and the adoration of the crucified Christ. They also renounced war, capital punishment and marriage, and attracted a universal following that included landless peasants as well as lords.

In the courts of the Cathar nobles, troubadours, the roaming poet performers of the Middle Ages, sang of chivalry and courtly love, providing a welcome relief from the Catholic Church’s Latin hymns.

Ultimately, the growing influence of the Cathars put them on a collision course with the Roman Catholic Church. Early in the 13th century, Pope Innocent III decided that Enough was enough, and organised the Albigensian Crusade.

It was a brutal campaign that raged across the sharp hills on the northern flanks of the Pyrenees and as far north as Najac, where the Eglise Saint Jean was built by villagers as a punishment for Cathar beliefs.

FULL STORY The forts be with you (SMH)

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