For many of us on SF, climbing Montsegur was seen as the highlight of the trip. This year – unlike last year – I was determined to climb the mountain come hell or high water. Unfortunately this year it wasn’t hell or high water that got in the way….it was mist! We made our way up to the mountain in the bus along the twisty, stomach churning roads. All the way we hoped the mist and rain would clear up in time for us to climb.
We arrived at the foot of the mountain, still heavily shrouded in mist and light rain. It’s too treacherous to climb in the wet and mist. Nevertheless we returned to the laurel tree at the foot of the mountain and help a small ceremony there honouring the ancestors who had burnt to death here in 1244.
The massacre at Montsegur came at the end of a long siege. Some of the last of the Cathars, and preiferts had fled here as the Vatican advanced on their community. Seen as the pinnacle of the Cathar community in the region, Montsegur was a prized target.
Interestingly around this time, Louis VIIII was building the Saint Chapelle in Paris to house relics. He was obsessed with relics of Jesus but had none so it’s believed he went after Cathars because he believed that they held some ancient Cathar treasure of great importance.
There were 600 people living in Montsegur in 1243 here when siege began. The siege was believed to be black op. As the siege wore on, the church offered Cathars the chance to change their faith which would involve inquisition and torture. None converted but some escaped. Two weeks prior to the end of the siege, there was a truce where the community asked for 14 days to discuss their future as a community. Companions of the Last Hour (Catholic soldier Knights some 20) were planted in the community to watch and listen as the community consulted on their future. No one really knows what happened in those two weeks, but since no one converted, those that were left in the community – around 250 people – were burnt in pits at the foot of the mountain. People were escorted silently down the mountain to their deaths. The solider knights were so moved by this courageous act that it is thought they asked for Consolentum in the last hours and went to be burned with the Cathars. Priests accompanying the army sang as they burned – they thought they were doing gods work in burning others.
A few years ago Kathleen learnt about a nearby village who formed an association to help the Cathars during the siege. They smuggled in supplies, so did they smuggle out treasure? Louis completed the Saint Chapelle but never found any Cathar treasure. People today believe that the treasure was not something physical, but rather the message of The Way of Love. Side note – even during WWII the Nazi’s were obsessed with potential treasure and were digging all over the region including in Montsegur, Alet Les Bains and Rennes Le Chateau. This is where Stephen Spielberg got inspiration for the first Indiana Jones movie.
It’s also worth noting that Cathars believed in reincarnation and there is a prophecy that when the laurel greens again in 700 years, they will return….that’s only a few years off. What does this all mean?
Following our ceremony under the tree – complete with Issy’s breathtaking singing of and ancient Shepherd’s song in Occitan – we were given a little time to wander in the mists. I took a moment to walk into the meadow at the foot of the mountain…scene of an interesting experience last year. This time there was a eyrie muffled sense of peace as I walked through the long damp grass. I stopped, closed my eyes and instantly I felt as if my face was burning…and getting hotter and hotter. As soon as I turned around and walked back out, the burning sensation ceased. Others that walked into the meadow had similar experiences such as the sensation of burning hands. Remember, this is where 250 people were burned to death and whether you choose to believe it or not, perhaps energetically an imprint has remained. This experience – however alarming – diminished my disappointment at not being able to climb that day.
We retreated back down to pretty little Montsegur village to meet up with some old friends and explore the church. There is something so charming, so enticing about the village. I feel so drawn to this place – it reminds me so much of my late Mum as just about everyone that lived here in years past was involved in weaving in some way. In this region, traditionally, shepherds and weavers were descended from Cathars (think back to the story of St Germaine of Pibrac). Sheep were raised in the hills surrounding the village. Just about every house in the village had a weaving loom up until the Industrial Revolution and women would walk 3-4 hours away each week to sell their cloth at the local market. This cottage industry died out for a couple of centuries but now it’s making a gradual comeback thanks to the vision of some new community members who are gathering to learn how to weave and then sell their work in a gorgeous little shop in the village square. One day I’d love to return here and spend some time learning the craft that gave my mother so much joy and a creative outlet. Strangely Montsegur feels like home.
The little church at Montsegur has a charm that draws you in. Perhaps it’s the beautiful Egyptian inspired Black Madonna or the statues and stained glass paying homage to saints such as Joan of Arc and St Germaine. Legend had it that a number of survivors from the massacre in the village fled to Montserrat in Northern Spain. Today there is a sanctuary in the mountains containing a similar looking black madonna. In fact, some time ago the madonna in Montsegur was stolen. The one we saw was a copy made in Montserrat.
In the 14th century, the village place of worship was situated in the chapel in the castle on the mountain. But but the 16th century the population had grown down the mountain and required a second religious structure. The church was built closest to the oldest part of the village. The original entrance, a semi circular arch is now walled up but can still be seen. Above the arch is the coat of arms of the Levis family. Built before 1584, the church was a modest building. It was extended in the 17th century to accommodate the growing village population.
The church is also a great example of gender balance – with male and female saints depicted in pairs. Look for gender balance. For example, a statue to St Roc shows the wounded masculine seen opposite the sacred feminine (black madonna) who will heal him. Diamonds in the floor represent marriage and the intersection of male and female.
Lunch at Andy’s charming little restaurant (trust a Brit to move here!) was once again duck confit and potatoes – one of the best meals of the trip! I don’t know what it is about Montsegur but it feels as if the time is returning in this little village…and we will return there again ourselves soon.