Skip to content

1.8 Was it Really the End?

Le Roy Ladurie in his well-known book “Montaillou, Village Occitan de 1294 à 1324″ clearly shows that in the specific case Catharism lasted longer that it is generally thought. Of course it is first necessary to define the final official date of the Cathar movement. This is not easy and a choice has to be made. We will assume that Catharism stopped after the fall of the last castle, Puilaurens in 1256. This is nothing more that a choice with all the limitations that goes with it. There is little doubt that some people still went on practising the Cathar religion later on and especially in the little villages out of the main lines of communication. It must be remembered that the Inquisition did not stop and was still hunting heretics for a long time as the above mentioned book shows.

Even in the 14th century many people, rich and poor, were still living under the influence of the Cathar religion in many small villages of Languedoc like Montaillou. And this although heresy had been militarily eliminated nearly a century before. (e)

Le Roy Ladurie book is based completely on the minutes of the inquisitorial activities of Jacques Fournier, Bishop of Pamiers from 1317 to 1326. It was also the head of the Inquisition for this region. He became Pope later on under the name of Benoit XII. He interrogated many peasants from the county of Foix. He did not use much the torture but he was extremely patient and interrogated the suspects for long periods of times. His aim was to track the heretics and, even the simple deviations from the official Roman Catholic doctrine. He kept very detailed minutes of the interrogations and this material has reached us intact. J.Duvernoy has published it integrally in 1965 and 1966. (k)

The County of Foix was known as a Cathar place for more that a century. The Inquisition had been very active there from 1240 to 1250 and also in 1265 and in 1272-1273. In 1295 the Pope Boniface VIII created the dioceses of Pamiers to improve the control of the heretics. The Inquisition was at work there again from 1298 to 1300 and from 1308 to 1309. These actions are under the responsibility of the Dominican tribunal of Carcassonne. The Bishop of Pamiers, on the opposite, is very quite during this period but this will change from 1317 with the arrival of Jacques Fournier. He based his action on the decision of the Council of Vienne of 1312 that gives the bishop the right to fight heresy in collaboration with the Dominicans. Jacques Fournier created his own Inquisition Office in 1318 and he led it in collaboration with Brother Gaillard de Pomies from the Carcassonne Dominican office. This local office will be very active during the presence of Fournier to fall back to a more relaxed routine after his departure. Jacques Fournier was totally incorruptible and very good to get the truth out of the accused. He was also very competent to distinguish immediately if somebody was a heretic or a good catholic. He was an expert in interrogating people and used very rarely torture to obtain information. He did not delegate and was personally involved in every action. All the Inquisition Registers from Pamiers bear his mark and that explain its quality. Brother Gaillard de Pomiès is reduced to the role of a simple assistant. Many external Inquisitors came to assist to the trial to learn their job. The minutes of the meetings are written by about 15 clerics, notaries and scribes who work under the orders of Guillaume Barthe himself assisted by Jean Strabaud and Bataille de la Penne. There were also, of course, the underdogs who did the menial work. J.M.Vidal has published the result of their work in 1910. The Court was at work 370 days from 1318 to 1326 and did 578 interrogatories. These include 418 appearances of accused persons and 160 from witnesses. These proceedings concerned 98 cases. The Court has been at work mainly in Pamiers but when required it went to different villages as required or because it suited the Bishop. These 98 cases involved 114 persons -48 women- of whom 94 persons have personally appeared in front of the Court. Most of them were Albigean heretics. Among the accused we find people of different social levels: a few nobles, some priests, notaries but the majority were peasants, artisans and tradesmen. Most of them are from the high land of the Foix county or Sabarthès who were under the influence of the Authié brothers. Twenty-five of the accused were from Montaillou and three from the adjoining village of Prades. They all gave a very clear and detailed testimony. (k)

Very often the procedure against a person started with one or more deletions. The accused was asked in writing to appear before the Court. The local priest delivered the notification. If the accused did not appear then the
Bayle” (local police officer) tried to locate him and bring him to the Court. The accused had to swear to tell the truth on the book of the Gospel. The interrogation began and Fournier asked the questions to which the accused had to answer in details. The minutes of a single interrogation can fill 10 pages of the Register. Between interrogations the accused can be kept in jail or left free to go home where he must stay. If he tried to escape then the prison was mandatory. The prison aims to induce the accused to confess. As we say before, the torture was rarely applied but the use of excommunication and narrow cells was quite common. In this case the prisoner was bound with iron and his food consisted of bread and water. The Bishop was looking for the slightest trace of heresy. He always tried to obtain some kind of corroboration. If they were contradictions, the Bishop tried to reduce the differences by more interrogations. His aim was to save souls by detecting faulty behaviour in the accused persons. In order to arrive where he wanted he took all the time necessary even to clarify a small detail. As a result of the investigations, if the accused was found guilty, various punishments could be applied: confinement in short cells, obligation to wear yellow crosses on all clothes, pilgrimages, confiscation of the guilty person’s properties, … Among all the cases Fournier dealt with only five persons were condemned to be burned at the stake. All these procedures have been recorded in writing. Two volumes containing the final sentences were lost but we know the decisions from another record. A big register has been saved and records all the procedures. A draft was written during the interrogations; a better copy was made and shown to the accused who could ask for modifications. Finally the final minutes were written down. The complete register was finished after Fournier had been made Pope. He asked for it to be sent to Avignon and at the present time it is in the Vatican library. It was put at the disposal of different experts in particular J.M Vidal and J.Duvernoy who published it in 1965. (k)

The fact that 28 accused came from Montaillou and Prades as mentioned before has been a disaster for these villages. The total population of Montaillou and Prades was around 200 to 250 people. On the opposite it has been a great opportunity for the historians. Montaillou, in the period between 1290 and 1320, has been a refuge for the heresy. It had been eliminated in the low part of the country but had survived in the higher part of Ariège. The local animal breeding activity required the “transhumance” towards Catalonia, Aude and the Pyrénéan mountains. This continuous journeying of the shepherds allowed heretics to hide easily and to escape capture by the Inquisition.

At the time of this story all the little towns and villages of the low country including Pamiers were free of the heresy and back to the normal orthodoxy. The propaganda of the Mendicant Order and the action of the police or better the Inquisition had solved the problem. In Pamiers Fournier had little problems to solve: a few homosexuals, the appearance of some ghosts, … At Montaillou and the regions of Aillon and Sabarthès the question was completely different. In the absence of police force, the village had offered a fertile ground for the teaching of the brothers Authié, missionaries of the rebirth of the Cathar faith. Moreover this was done in the absence of real danger. This situation did not last. The Inquisitors from Carcassonne first, then the actions of the Bishop Jacques Fournier, reacted strongly in front of this situation that the Church could not tolerate. Fournier was also inquiring about the suspicious activity of some people in the region. Even after the death of known heretics, Fournier summoned and interrogated the eventual witnesses still alive among the inhabitants of the guilty village. He discovered a lot of heterodox actions that date back to 1290. By fighting the deviance and the heresies he also put a light on the life on this small community. (k)