The walled city of Carcassonne in the south of France is one of the best preserved examples of medieval fortifications and architecture in Europe. It was here that the Crusading Army of Pope Innocent III laid siege against Raymond-Roger and the Cathars of Languedoc in 1209 AD.
Pope Innocent III Calls For A Crusade Against The Cathars Of Languedoc
by Steve Nordholm
Perhaps no greater injustice has ever been done to a noble and industrious people than Pope Innocent III’s war against the Cathars of Southern France in 1209 AD. Raymond-Roger and his city of Carcassonne form an important episode in this incredible story that sets the stage, and paves the way, for the barbaric Inquisition that would follow.
Today Carcassonne is the best preserved example of medieval fortifications in Europe. As a boy I had the chance to visit Carcassonne and walk its ramparts and streets, view its gates, church and citadel. It was a great way to let my imagination transport me back in time. The city always fascinated me, but it was much later that I learned of the great role this city played in history, including the fall of Carcassonne to the Papal armies of Innocent III of which I now write.
Carcassonne is located in the historic and cultural Languedoc region of southwestern France, southeast of Toulouse, near the eastward bend of the Aude River. The region of Languedoc, which was the target of the Papal crusade, included the Mediterranean lowlands of France extending from the Pyrenees in the southwest and continuing eastward to the banks of the Rhone River and northward to the Isere.
The Crusade Against The Cathari
In the 12th century, the Cathari, a Manichaean sect, were largely supported by the nobles and people of this region. The Cathari, were also known as Albigenses. Pope Innocent III and the Roman Catholic Church considered them heretics.
As with any group of people, the religious beliefs among the people of Languedoc, as a whole, varied. Yes, there were those among them who held to beliefs that were un-Biblical. However, a close examination of the time reveals that many others in Languedoc were believers in Christ and followers of the Bible. Others were Catholic or Jewish or another faith. I’m sure there were some there who didn’t believe in any religion. The main offense and ‘heresy’ of these people personally for Pope Innocent III was that they did not recognize the authority of the Pope or of the Roman Catholic Church.
Many of the region believed that the Apostolic Office of Saint Peter ended with the death of that Apostle. And they could eloquently support that claim from the Bible, as well as highlight the other un-Biblical teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In open debates, the priests defending and promoting Catholicism often ended up loosing their arguments, and looking rather foolish, in the eyes of the people of Languedoc.
Pope Innocent III, fearing the growing numbers and strength of the Cathari, instigated a crusade to exterminate the ‘heresy’ of the region. The result was the invasion of Languedoc in 1209 by a northern French Army of Crusaders numbering around 10,000 ‘soldiers of the Cross’. (The total number of soldiers involved, over the thirty years of the this Crusade, have been estimated between 300,000 to 500,000 men.) These Crusaders were promised the same reward as the Crusaders who had earlier crossed the seas in order to retake the Holy Sepulchre and Jerusalem. The wars against Languedoc continued into the mid-13th century. The thirty years of war that followed devastated the vitality and prosperity of the region.
To encourage the Languedoc Crusaders, Pope Innocent III wrote the following:
“O most mighty soldiers of Christ, most brave warriors; Ye oppose the agents of anti-Christ, and ye fight against the servants of the old serpent. Perchance up to this time ye have fought for transitory glory, now fight for the glory which is everlasting. Ye have fought for the body, fight now for the soul. Ye have fought for the world, now do ye fight for God. For we have not exhorted you to the service of God for a worldly prize, but for the heavenly kingdom, which for this reason we promise to you with all confidence.”
Chosen to be the leader of this mighty Army of the Pope was Simon de Montfort who had been one of the principal leaders of the Fourth Crusade. Simon was a dedicated and zealous supporter of the Pope. Even after some of the most bloody massacres of this Crusade in Southern France, Simon never failed to hear mass every day. What a paradox.
This vast army of Papal Crusaders set as their object the conquest of the whole of the territory of Languedoc and to rid that territory of heresy and make it a stronghold for the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the first cities attacked where those under the authority of Raymond-Roger, including those of Beziers and Carcassonne. Raymond-Roger attempted to negotiate with the Crusaders, but was refused a meeting. He then raced back to Carcassonne, his stronghold, and on the way warned Beziers to prepare for war.
The Siege of Beziers
The siege of Beziers was one of the most brutal of the Crusade resulting in the sacking of the city and the massacre of some 20,000 to 60,000, some say even 100,000 men, women and children. (Estimates of the number of people slain vary and are difficult to determine.) Neither age, sex or religious affiliation held any restraint against the carnage that followed. Every person of the city was murdered whether they were Catholic, Catharian, some other follower of Christ who rejected the authority of the Roman Church, a Jew, or an unbeliever. Fortunately many of the Jews had evacuated the city before the Crusading Army entered Beziers to slay its inhabitants.
The horrible carnage that was left behind at Beziers defies description. During the siege Arnold of Citeaux, the papal legate, was asked how the Catholics of the city should be identified. In response he issued the following command: “Fell all to the ground. The Lord knows His own.” They even slew their own people. Reports from papal legates afterwards boasted, “divine vengeance raged wonderfully against the city … Ours spared neither sex nor condition. The whole city was sacked, and the slaughter was very great.” It is astounding that they were proud of what they had accomplished. This is an example of religious zeal gone terribly wrong.
The Siege of Carcassonne
This papal army next descended upon Carcassone where Raymond-Roger had prepared to defend his subjects against the coming attack. Raymond-Roger was young, being only 24 years of age, but he was a capable and fair ruler providing for the defense and prosperity of his people. He was himself a Catholic, but he respected the Jews and the Cathari of his subjects and allowed them to hold important offices of authority in his territory. He felt the Cathari were among the best and most loyal of his subjects. They were a good and honest people, fair to all.
During the siege Raymond-Roger valiantly directed the fight against the invading Crusaders often exposing himself to danger. Under a truce agreement Raymond-Roger was allowed to meet with the Crusaders to negotiate peace. After the negotiations the Crusaders seized Raymond-Roger and wouldn’t let him return to Carcassonne. The legate in charge said that “no faith was to be kept with one who had been so faithless to his God”. The capture of Raymond-Roger disillusioned the defenders of the city, so Carcassonne also fell to the Crusaders who hanged and burned some 400 of its inhabitants, as an example, and let the remaining inhabitants of the city depart into the surrounding countryside. The men were left with only their shirts, and the women had only their chemises. They could take nothing else with them. Trying to survive in this condition must have been extremely difficult. I imagine many of the exiles died.
Raymond-Roger was thrown by the Crusaders into his own dungeon at Carcassonne where he soon after died either of disease, or as many thought, he was poisoned. It is said that Raymond-Roger was a loyal Catholic. What a way to treat one of your own. The word that comes to my mind about this is ‘treachery’.
Dread of the invading Crusaders spread throughout the whole territory of Languedoc. Village after village was abandoned rather than face the terrible papal army in battle. In time stronghold after stronghold in the region fell as well, including Toulouse, until finally, after 30 years of brutal war, most of Languedoc belongs to the Catholic French crown.
The Catholic Inquisition
The Roman Catholic Church, after consolidating its power, came to look upon heretics as enemies of God and of society. In 1231, Pope Gregory IX instituted the papal Inquisition to search out and try heretics. The Church did not wait for accusations to come to them, but actively sought out heresy. The person suspected of heresy was given a time to confess and recant. If this did not happen, the accused was tried by an inquisitor along with the testimony of witnesses. The use of torture to persuade a person to confess was authorized in 1252 by Pope Innocent IV. The torture methods employed were very barbaric.
Once found guilty, a person could face many different levels of punishment from prayer and fasting to the confiscation of property and prison. Heretics who did not recant, or who relapsed, were handed over to the secular authorities who alone were authorized to exact the death penalty which could involve hanging, beheading or burning alive. Basically, anyone who disagreed with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church could be suspected of heresy. More damage and barbarity was imposed upon the people in Catholic territories by the Inquisition than by any of the Crusades that preceded it.
The Use of Force To Extend The Power Of The Church
The basic theme coming out of these events of history is that the Roman Catholic Church was willing to use force, including the sword, torture and death to consolidate its power and to force men to agree with their beliefs or face horrendous consequences. First in time and history, we see the foreign Crusades against the ‘infidels’ who held Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Next, came the Crusades against the Cathari of Southern France as a means to extend the power of the Roman Church, grant lands and property, as well as rewards in heaven, to the soldiers, nobles, princes and kings who fought in the Crusades. This was followed by the institution of the Inquisition which attempted to force all men in Catholic territories to comply by force with the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. The Office of the Inquisition sat as the sole authority on what was and was not heresy.
The Lessons of History
Whenever human kind is involved, history has taught us that it is never good to have one person, group or institution deciding what another group is to believe, especially when it comes to matters of religious faith. Only God knows who really are the true believers and it is based solely upon each person’s acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. No institution of man can determine this. There are so many variables.
For instance, earlier in his life, who could have predicted that the man who came to be called the ‘Thief on the Cross’ would, after his death, be with Jesus in Paradise. All his life he had been a thief. Only God could have known that he would believe in Jesus in the very last hours of his life.
Another case I’d like to point out is that even Jesus, who came into the World to save men from their sin, was brutally crucified as a result of the Jewish Religious Leaders of His day putting pressure on the Roman Government to carry out their desire to execute as a criminal a man they felt was guilty of blasphemy. In reality, Jesus was seen by them as a threat to their religious authority over the people. They were willing to crucify their own Messiah in order to preserve their temporal power over men.
My main point is that no one person or group can or should stand as the ‘Defender of the Faith’ or as the sole judge and tribunal of who is and who is not a true believer or who does and who does not possess correct doctrine and belief. This is a task that should be left to God alone. He is the only one who is fully equipped to carry out the difficult task of the spiritual judgement of men with complete fairness, consistency, justice and compassion for all. The lessons of history and of the Bible have taught us that whenever this task, that should be God’s alone, is attempted to be carried out by men, the result is usually injustice, hypocrisy and cruelty.
Of course, we are to teach and preach the truth of God from the Bible to others to the best of our ability and understanding. And we should always be open to let others show us the truth of God more accurately from the Scripture. And we should be ready, in love, respect and humility to show others the error of their ways, the unsoundness of their beliefs, or the sin in their lives. We should preach the truth boldly even as Jesus did, without fear. But never should we stand as a tribunal to carry out God’s judgements on others. There are some Biblical qualifications and exceptions to this statement, especially when applied to those who have committed actual crimes against other people. Criminals need to be punished by society and the punishments need to be deterrents to further crime. In addition, if a person comes into a church or group and seeks to be undermining and divisive in that church or group, he or she should be removed. This is good common sense. However, the general principle of not judging others holds true and should be looked to for guidance and direction in all areas of life, even in the application of criminal punishments.
The Bible gives us guidance on this subject of how we should live in the world with believers and unbelievers. In the following parable the ‘wheat’ represents the believers, and the ‘tares’ represent everyone else. The ‘harvest’ represents the Last Judgement and the events that surround it. The burning of the ‘tares’ represents the punishment in Hell and the ‘wheat’ gathered into the ‘barn’ represents Heaven. Concerning the ‘wheat’ and the ‘tares’ Jesus says: “Let both grow together until the harvest”. In the light of history, this is good and sound advise. It is God’s task alone to separate the ‘wheat’ (believers) from the ‘tares’ (the lost) and determine their ultimate end.
“Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man that sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat , and went away. But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. And the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it tares? And he said unto them, An enemy hath done this. And the servants say unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he saith, Nay; lest haply while ye gather up the tares , ye root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather up first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn.”
— Matt 13: 24 – 30 ASV
The Best Telling Of This Story
One of the best renderings of this story of Raymond-Roger and Carcassonne, and the events leading up to the story and following it, is found in the classic Miller’s Church History by Andrew Miller (1810-1883). I have included the entire 25th chapter of this book at this link: ‘Innocent and the South of France‘. What is great about Miller’s Church History is the spiritual perspective and commentary he gives to the history of the Christian Church. No writer of Church history I have ever read does this better.
Miller’s Church History: From the First to the Twentieth Century
by Andrew Miller (1810-1883) and extended to the present day by Kingsley G. Rendell
Chapter 25: Innocent and the South of France
– If you would like a physical copy of Miller’s Church History: From the First to the Twentieth Century: click here.
– Also see the article I have included below from Wikipedia about Raymond Roger:
—from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Raymond Roger Trencavel (also Raimond, Occitan: Raimon Rogièr; 1185 – 10 November 1209) was a member of the noble Trencavel family. He was viscount of Béziers and Albi (and thus a vassal of the count of Toulouse), and viscount of Carcassonne and the Razès (and thus a vassal of the count of Barcelona, which was also ruling Aragon at this time).
Raymond-Roger was the son of Roger II Trencavel (d. 1194), and of Azalais of Toulouse (also known as the “Countess of Burlats”), daughter of Raymond V of Toulouse and sister of Raymond VI. Raymond-Roger was married to Agnes of Montpellier. His aunt, Beatrice of Béziers, was the second wife of Raymond VI of Toulouse.
Raymond-Roger lived in the Château Comtal in the fortified hill town of Carcassonne. The château was built by his ancestors in the 11th century. Raymond-Roger was not a Cathar, although many of his subjects were. He adopted a laissez-faire attitude to Catharism – and to other cultures and religions. He relied strongly on Jews to run Béziers, his second seat of power.
By mid-1209, at the beginning of the Albigensian Crusade, around 10,000 crusaders had gathered in Lyon and began to march south. In June, Raymond of Toulouse, recognizing the potential disaster at hand, promised to act against the Cathars, and his excommunication was lifted. The crusaders headed towards Montpellier and the lands of Raymond-Roger de Trencavel, aiming for the Cathar communities around Albi and Carcassonne. Like Raymond VI of Toulouse, Raymond-Roger de Trencavel sought an accommodation with the crusaders, but Raymond-Roger was refused a meeting and raced back to Carcassonne to prepare his defences. The city of Béziers was sacked in July and its population massacred.
The town of Carcassonne was well fortified, but vulnerable and over-populated with refugees. The crusaders, led by a papal legate, Arnaud Amaury, Abbot of Cîteaux, arrived outside the town on August 1, 1209. As vassal of King Peter II of Aragon, Raymond-Roger had hoped for protection, but Peter was powerless to oppose Pope Innocent III’s army and could act only as a mediator.
The siege did not last long. By August 7 the crusaders had cut the town’s access to water. Raymond-Roger accepted a safe-conduct to negotiate terms of surrender in the Crusader camp. At the conclusion of these negotiations he was taken prisoner while still under safe conduct, and imprisoned in his own dungeon, where he died, possibly of dysentery, though there were suspicions of poisoning.
The town of Carcassonne had surrendered on August 15. The inhabitants were not massacred but were forced to leave the town. Simon de Montfort was granted control of the area encompassing Carcassonne, Albi, and Béziers. Raymond-Roger’s dispossessed son, Raymond II (1204-1263), formally ceded his rights to Louis IX of France in 1247, after several failed attempts to recover his patrimony.
— Sources: Graham-Leigh, Elaine. The Southern French Nobility and the Albigensian Crusade. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2005. ISBN 1 84383 129 5.