Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Dreadful 800 Year Anniversary

Before I started today's walk home from Quillan, I read in the local newspaper that it is exactly 800 years ago today that the Pope, in his wisdom, declared a crusade against the Bonshommes, the people who are known today as the Cathars. These were members of a peace-loving (sounds as if it should be the mainstream) branch of Christianity. The Cathars were in great numbers in the Languedoc - what is now Southern France - and were perceived as a threat to the Pope's own sect. So, in his wisdom, this (ironically named Innocent!) representative of the Prince of Peace decided to exterminate the Cathars and their numerous followers. The military action went on for decades. Among other measures taken was the invention of the Holy Inquisition (hundreds of years before its Spanish activities).

For most of my walk I could see Puivert castle, because the town, and our abode, stand in the shadow of it. I can see it from one of our windows. So-called "Cathar castles" such as this belonged to local lords who supported the Cathars and tried to protect them (they were slain or dispossessed for their trouble). They are visible reminders of those terrible times, but what about the far more numerous invisible markers? How many of the steps I took today in my 17 kms walk were crossing the paths of marauding armies or fleeing defenders? How many scenes of ancient horror did I pass? How many unmarked graves or long-dead Inquisition fires?

If only the rocks could give up their secret witness.

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