Published: September 14th 2009September 14th 2009
An iconic image round here, this was where the besieged Cathars spent so may months, including the coldest winter for decades.
The Cathars are - were - a Christian sect flourishing particularly from the 11th - 13th centuries, particularly in this part of the world. They were dualistic, believing there was a God of Good, and a God of Evil, and they lived simply, abjuring the temporal power that was such a feature of the Catholic church of the time. The Catholics hated this heretical sect and called for a crusade against them.
All this happened 800 years ago, and the bloody events of the Albigensian crusade are being commemorated this year in the Pyrénées Cathares. We’ve been on walks, talks, all sorts of things organised by Pays d'art et d'histoire des Pyrénées Cathares over the last few months, but yesterday was A Big Challenge.
We met at Montségur, scene of a long siege that ended with the burning alive of some 220 heretics in 1244, and started the day meeting our fellow walkers over breakfast in the open air. Then a fantastic talk by a man who not only knew his stuff, but also helped put us in the frame of mind of the besieged Cathars, and understand their day-to-day lives, and the conduct of the siege.
were 2 walks to choose. For some reason, we went for broke. Why climb only 200 metres when you can do well over 600 (that’s 2000 feet in real money)?. So after an easy intro (which included another ‘intervention’, this time on the red ants which are so common here, we began to climb….and climb…and then climb some more. Somewhere along the line, we had lunch, but that was only softening us up for more climbing. When we reached our highest point, Mal and I imagined ourselves in the Lake District, perhaps the Peaks, surrounded by extra large mountains, and the weather, cloudy, misty, spotting occasionally with rain seemed appropriate too. There were clouds below us, and then, blow me - we had to climb down again. Sooo steep, soo difficult. I love the French word, ‘penible’. It describes this descent exactly.
Part way down, we relaxed with a herd of cows in attendance, and had another great lecture on the early history of the Cathars. And then we climbed down some more, and saw the summit of Montségur way BELOW us. Through tussocky North Yorkshire style hillside, forest deep in desiccated autumn leaves, through pasture we continued our
descent. Finally, we emerged once more at the foot of the pog, Montségur, and claimed a welcome drink.
By the way, as part of his welcome speech, one of the animateurs for the day linked our walk with the recent ‘manifs’ in Laroque and Lavelanet. It’s all part of the effort to ‘sensibiliser’ the locals, the government, anyone who will listen, to the value of this fantastic area, whether its history, its landscapes, or its economic strengths and potential. So to those of you who’ve been asking, on Sunday, that’s how the struggle continued.
There are more photos below