The Magdalene of the Heretics - Part I

One of the many long-term legacies of the Albigensian Crusade was the instigation of the Inquisition, originally set up specifically for the interrogation and execution of the

A Witch at a Sabbath as envisaged in this typical period engraving. In 1335 over sixty people were accused of attending such a Sabbath

A Witch at a Sabbath as envisaged in this typical period engraving. In 1335 over sixty people were accused of attending such a Sabbath

Cathars.  Significantly, the first so-called ‘witches’ to whom the Inquisition paid its terrible attentions were in fact Cathars and their helpers from Toulouse and Carcassonne. In 1335 over sixty people were accused of attending the Witches’ Sabbath, to which they all confessed - but only after the usual methods of persuasion were vigorously applied. One of the victims, a young woman, testified that she had attended the Sabbath in order to ‘serve the Cathari at supper’.

The genocide that ended in the killing fields below the citadel of Montsegur in 1244 created shock waves that reverberate to this day, including - although outwardly Catholic - a distinctly wary attitude to the Church. The people in those parts have long memories.

Like all Gnostics, the Cathars’ belief in personal responsibility for the state of one’s own soul was a direct threat to the Church, which has always been very careful -literally - to put the fear of God into its members to such an extent that they simply dare not

The Inquisition. One of the victims, a young woman, testified that she had attended the Sabbath in order to ‘serve the Cathari at supper’

The Inquisition. One of the victims, a young woman, testified that she had attended the Sabbath in order to ‘serve the Cathari at supper’

stray from the straight and narrow path. To sin so alarmingly as to be excommunicated was the ultimate threat over life and property in an age where Hell was a grim and atrocious reality, so those who removed themselves from the threat of excommunication simply by refusing to accept the Church’s authority were - by their utter rejection of the power of conventional clergy and their continued defiance - very dangerous. Who knows how many others they would infect with their evil heresies? Best to cut out the cancer before it could spread and undermine the very foundations of the Church.

Yet, although lust for power and wealth was certainly a factor behind the creation of the Albigensian Crusade, there was indeed an underlying fear and hatred of the heresy involved, although not perhaps one that is commonly known or understood. There was clearly another major factor behind the Albigensian Crusade that began in 1208, one that involved dangerous secrets about Mary Magdalene, even hinting at the existence of an underground church that she herself founded (which will be discussed below).  

 Two Cathars awaiting execution

Two Cathars awaiting execution

Courageous to the End

So the Cathars built astonishing citadels on the very apex of dizzying, needle-like mountains all over the Languedoc, into the snowy foothills of the Pyrenees by the Spanish border, or occasionally simply took over more ancient fortresses, in which they waited, often besieged for many months, for the inevitable horror of capture, torture and an agonizing death. One by one, their strongholds fell, although not without some strange behavior on the part of their enemies: overcome by the heretics’ powers of resistance, and the dignity and sheer strength of character, many of the Crusaders themselves were converted to the heresy.

 Pope Innocent III, ordered the deaths of the Cathars

Pope Innocent III, ordered the deaths of the Cathars

Although small bands of the heretics did manage to stagger on for a while in France, after a ten-month-long siege, the fall of Montsegur finally took place on 2 March 1244, but not before the crusaders had acceded to their request to remain in the citadel for a further fifteen days. After all, after so long another two weeks or so would hardly make any difference to the outcome - and in any case, the heretics would continue to starve, whereas the pope’s men would not. What did they do in that time? Perhaps they spent their last fifteen days on earth in a measured rite whose purpose was to concentrate their will so that nothing - not even the towering flames their enemies were preparing in the fields below - could penetrate their self-energized force-field of perfected and sanctified strength. It is said that when the time came for them to give themselves up, despite their extreme physical weakness after their prolonged period of starvation,  they ran shouting their love for each other and for God down the steep hillside - and, even joyfully, straight into the bonfires. As the flames consumed their bones, they shouted from pyre to pyre that they would meet again in a future life. Among their number were crusaders who defected to their cause, for whom there had been no rites of protection against the agonies.

 The Papal legate, Arnold Aimery, informed the Pope that in the church of ‘Mary Madeleine’ in Beziers his crusaders slaughtered over 15,000 men, women and children ‘showing mercy neither to order nor age nor sex’

The Papal legate,  Arnold Aimery, informed the Pope that in the church of ‘Mary Madeleine’ in Beziers his crusaders slaughtered over 15,000 men, women and children ‘showing mercy neither to order nor age nor sex’

Of the many enduring mysteries about the Cathars there is one that has seized the imagination of many millions over the centuries: it is said that on the night before they gave themselves up, four Cathars got away with the ‘Cathar Treasure’ - but its nature has never been ascertained. What could it have been? Their material wealth has mostly been accounted for, and in any case heavy bags of gold would have been virtually impossible to carry off down that almost perpendicular Pyrenean mountain. Some have suggested that they fled with a great secret, or a sacred book - indeed, the Cathars were known to possess a version of the Gospel of John, which they used in some of their holiest rites.   Others argue that the Cathars took with them nothing less than the Holy Grail - although what this was, or what form it took, is very much open to question. Some believe it was the cup that caught Jesus’ blood as he hung on the cross, while others - most famously Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln in their The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail - argue that, as sang real, it means ‘holy blood’, and refers to the bearers of the sacred bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Whatever the Cathars spirited away on that fateful night, they deemed of the highest importance - and, as perfecti, they would hardly have shown much interest in the fate of a mere bauble or a strictly material object. Then again, why would it take four of them to carry whatever it was away to safety, away from the attentions of the crusaders? Perhaps those who believe in the ‘Holy Blood’ theory are right, and these were the ‘purest’ descendants of the bloodline. Or perhaps they had four bundles of documents or books, or one book divided into four - wisely intending to send them in different directions to safe houses. Of course carrying sacred texts on their persons would not prevent these four Cathars from also taking their secret knowledge with them, to somewhere distant, beyond the persecution where the word might be kept unsullied - and perhaps even resurrected at some future time.    Whatever they took with them was their most cherished object or secret, and the Cathars would go to any lengths to protect what they believed to be true and sacred.

A perverse miracle of entrenched Cathar belief took place at Beziers, where between 15,000 and 20,000 ordinary townsfolk willingly went to their deaths in July 1209. Just over 200 of them were Cathars, but the people of Beziers clearly shared at least one passionately-held belief with the heretics.

The people had been given the opportunity to leave unscathed and hand over the Cathars in their midst, but refused to do so, siding with them against the Pope’s men, despite the awful fate they knew awaited them for doing so. ‘Nothing could save them, not cross, nor altar, nor crucifix,’ wrote Pierre des Vaux-de Cernat. When the Pope’s legates were asked by the crusaders how they would know the heretics from the innocent townspeople they received the now infamous reply of: ‘Kill them all. God will know his own,’ which has become the cold-blooded rallying cry of all tyrannical bigots the world over. And it was no accident that the day of the massacre was 22 July, the feast day of St Mary Magdalene, for as Vaux-de-Cernat wrote:

‘Beziers was taken on St Mary Magdalene’s Day. Oh, supreme justice of Providence!... The heretics claimed that St Mary Magdalene was the concubine of Jesus Christ... it was therefore with just cause that these disgusting dogs were taken and massacred during the feast of the one that they had insulted... ‘

What made the townsfolk of Beziers so convinced of this heresy that they gave up their lives - and the lives of their children - rather than recant? While history is replete with stories of mass suicides and self-inflicted fiery holocausts among cults who have taken the most fantastic and ludicrously nonsensical doctrines to their hearts, there is every reason to believe that in this case, at least the Cathars had some inside information on the subject, some evidence to prove their otherwise astonishingly heretical assertion about the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Yet whatever this information was, its source was certainly not the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but something that they recognized to be just as authentic - and perhaps just as holy.  Their ferociously-held doctrine about her relationship with Jesus was not even inherited from their precursors, the Bogomils, for as Yuri Stoyanov writes in his The Hidden Tradition in Europe: ‘The teaching of Mary Magdalene as the ‘wife’ or ‘concubine’ of Christ appears, moreover, an original Cathar tradition which does not have any counterpart in the Bogomil doctrines.’

What was the source of the Cathars’ secret knowledge about the Magdalene? And was their devotion to this belief about her behind their annihilation? It appears that the Cathars may have overlapped with a home-grown, Languedocian, cult of the Magdalene that owed nothing to the legacy of the Bulgarian Bogomils - or any other heresy. 

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A Problem of Identity

The Magdalene of the Heretics - Part II


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