We celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary at Minerve. We visited Minerve on the last day of our trip last year when I was exhausted and didn’t take it all in so we were glad to return again – this time with a little more energy!
Situated in the Languedoc-Roussillon, Minerve is sadly known as the location of one of the massacres of the Albigensian Crusade in 1210. In effect the Albigensian Crusade was genocide. Simon de Montfort (curiously a chateau is named after him nearby our home in the Dordogne – a chateau that he ordered destroyed during the crusade) was the leader of the Crusade and a ruthless soldier who would stop at nothing to wipe out not only Cathars but anyone who got in the way of his mission. Genocide is the systematic extermination of an ethnic group or nationality. Sadly genocide is still all too frequent. With the passage of time, it is easy to forget that genocide has been a form of power mongering for thousands of years. In the case of this region of France, when the Way of Love taught and handed down through generations by Cathars grew too big, the Vatican saw it as a threat and made out to systematically wipe out entire communities….often slaughtering not only their intended targets but also their very own Catholics who sought to defend their friends. For example,”Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” was allegedly spoken by Papal legate and Cistercian abbot Arnaud Amalric prior to the massacre at Béziers on July 22nd 1209 – the first major military action of the Albigensian Crusade. A direct translation of the Latin phrase would be “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.” This is why I struggle with organized religion…all too often I see one group exerting dominance and pain over another. I just don’t get why we can’t all live in harmony!
A year later on 22nd July 2010, it is thought that 140 people were burned alive in the gorge at Minerve bringing to an end a 10 week siege. After visiting the Cathar memorial at the top of the town, we retraced the steps of those who were to be killed, and silently walked down the narrow cobbled streets into the deep gorge below. Minerve is a mixture of dark and light. It’s an utterly charming village but laced with the darkness of times past. After walking down the gorge the group paused to listen to Issy’s incredible voice ring out across the landscape as we remembered what took place here. Climbing the many iron steps back up to the top of the gorge it was as if we emerged into the light once again.
We had time to explore the village before enjoying a fabulous lunch at Relais Chantovent (well worth the visit!).
Later in the afternoon we revisited the peaceful village of Aigne. Nestled among undulating hills packed with grape vines, the unusual design of the place offers natural protection to those in need of refuge. The village is often referred to as the snail village because it’s designed like the spiral of a snail-shell which is translated as ‘Cagarol’ in the local Occitan language. The small alleys and terraced cottages are now home to many artists and craftsmen. In the middle of the village is a little square with a church to one side and a gorgeous little art gallery. Honestly the peace and tranquility of this village is enticing and I can see why friends have fallen in love with its charm and it’s people.
Following a recent spate of thefts of relics and art in many local churches, most are now locked up but we were able to get the key to the little church here which was probably built on top of an ancient temple. Full of some unusual features I loved exploring this place. A river runs under the church bringing energy and unusual acoustics to the building and harks back to its ancient roots. Once again, Issy sang – just so beautiful – and we found images of the sacred feminine such as a small black madonna that was found hidden in the church wall during an excavation.
The church altar vaulted roof shows the symbols of attributes of the region: Love of God, Fidelity, Hope, Charity, Humility.
Elements of the church also show how historically – despite persecution – people were encouraged to continue practicing their faith by hiding things in plain site. For example, the image of St Anne teaching (book, scroll or both) refers to teachings being passed down from grandmothers to granddaughters (while mothers were busy working). Women were the teachers in Cathar society – which is another reason why the patriarchal structure of the Vatican wanted to stamp the group out .
The day concluded with wine tasting. The heat was up to near 40 degrees by this point and several of our group were suffering so we retreated to a shaded patio until making our way back to Alet.