|The Castle of Montsegur is famous as the last stronghold of the
after the Crusade against them inspired by the Pope and the King
of France. It is also the location of the Holy
Grail according to early versions of the Grail legend and of the
of the Covenant according to more recent stories.
A building on this site sheltered a community of Cathar
women at the end of the twelfth century. Early in the thirteenth,
Ramon de Pereille the co-siegneur and Chatelain, was asked to make
it defensible, anticipating the problems to come. From 1232 it became
the headquarters of the Cathar community in the Languedoc, and a
refugee centre for "faidits" - outlaws who had been stripped of
their lands and goods by the Roman
Catholic Church. These faidits, exact counterparts of the more
recent maquis, continued to wage a guerilla war against the invaders.
The Castle of Montsegur (Montsegur III)
After the failure of the uprising against the French invaders,
the defeat of Henry III of England by Louis IX of France, the events
at Avignonet, and the capitulation of Ramon VII, all in 1243, the
Council of Beziers decided to destroy the last vestiges of Catharism.
The Cathar sympathisers responsible for killing the Inquisitors
at Avignonet were known to have come from Montsegùr. The
Council therefore decided to "cut off the head of the dragon" by
which they meant to taking of the château there, the last
remaining major centre of Cathar belief. The château, perched
on top of a majestic hill (called a pog), had already been reinforced.
Model of the original Castle of Montsegur
The castle was besieged later in 1443 by Hughes des Arcis, Seneschal
for the King of France. For months the siege was unsuccessful but
shortly before Christmas a group of Basque mercenaries scaled a
seemingly impossible sheer cliff face, and overran a forward position.
From here, under the direction of a Catholic bishop specialising
in war machines, the French were able to construct catapults. This
spelled the end of all hope. The garrison surrendered on 2 March
1244 having negotiated a truce of two weeks, after which the Parfaits
would have to abjure their faith or burn alive.
The story of the siege of Montegùr is one of the most moving
of all the tragedies associated with the war against the Cathars.
Even the most hostile writers were struck by the significance of
events at Montegùr, when against expectation the ranks of
the doomed Parfaits increased during the two weeks' truce. The site
is spectacular, and well worth a visit.
If you are more interested in the Cathars of the Languedoc, you
might be more interested in Cathar Country Tours.