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Montsegur

     
 
The Castle of Montsegur is famous as the last stronghold of the Cathars 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 Ark 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)

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 (Montsegur III)

Model of the original Castle of Montsegur(Montsegur III)

The castle was besieged later in 1443 by Hughes des Arcis, Seneschal of Carcassonne 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.

 

 
 
 

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