One of the absolute highlights of our spiritual journey 2014 “In the footsteps of Mary Magdalene and her successors” through the Languedoc is doubtlessly going to be the visit we are going to pay to the former heartland of the Cathars, namely Albi. This town won notoriety during the Albigensian Crusade, since the Albigenses, the important group of Cathars who used to inhabit this region, namely the North-East of Toulouse, originally come from there. The interior of the church is so breathtakingly beautiful that I rank it among the most impressive sacred buildings I have ever seen. Unfortunately, the photos I have taken are unable to fully express its ravishing beauty. For this reason, I am all the more looking forward to visit this impressive monument of the Cathars together with my fellow travelers in October 2014 again.
Montségur, which means “secure mountain”, is situated on the eastern edge of the Pyrenees, the border mountain range between France and Spain, on a steep and rugged knoll. The ruins of the probably most widely known castle of the Cathars sit enthroned on the peak. In the course of the crusades against Mary Magdalene’s successors, the Cathars, the castle was attacked time and again. The year 1243 is especially noteworthy in this context, since the fortress was besieged by nearly 10.000 crusaders for 10 months.
They tried to starve the Cathars and forced them either to renunciate their faith or be burned at the stake. Subsequently, 225 Cathars together with their bishop were burned, because they would not submit to the Catholic faith. Only a few could escape and those who managed to flee were murdered soon afterwards as well. We are going to visit this castle in the course of our spiritual journey.
You can find more photos on my homepage.
Mainly records of the Cathars which have been written by their persecutors and murderers have survived the centuries, but hardly any writings which have been produced by themselves. This is why this religious group, which probably dates back to the Essenes, a religious group to which Jesus and Mary Magdalene belonged as well, is often seen in a negative light. The Cathars lived in the South of France and in some other Mediterranean countries and were wide-spread during the Middle Ages. They practised their own “Christian religion”, which, however, deviated strongly from the institutional Church. This is why they were suppressed and nearly extinguished.
The Cathars used to ordain both men and women as priests. Before they could take the holy orders, they had to prepare themselves for this ritual in dedicated caves for years. Then the ritual was performed. In the course of our journey we are going to visit some of those caves.
A journey on the trails of Mary Magdalene and her successors through the Languedoc – without visiting Rennes-le-Château – is impossible! After all the small mountain village is situated only a few miles from our castle hotel.
Over the centuries treasure hunters have been looking for the “Holy Grail” in and around the village and the small town also gained fame in the last 150 years owing to the legendary country curate Bérenger Saunière, who was an ardent worshipper of Mary Magdalene. Today I am going to show you the charming landscape around Rennes-le-Château, there will be more information on this place in the next blog entries.
Once upon a time the castle of Carcassonne was inhabited by a lady named Carcas. Rumour has it that she wangled to end the long lasting siege of the castle through Charlemagne. When nearly all the food supplies had been consumed and the inhabitants of the castle town came near suffering death by starvation, she ordered the last pig to be fattened and to be thrown across the castle walls. The enemies fell for this trick and thought that the castle still was far from being conquered, since the inhabitants obviously still had enough to eat and were not starving. Resignedly they withdrew. Subsequently, Madame Carcas let the bells chime in order to make peace with Charlemagne. Her stone bust can be admired in one of the gateways until the present day.
Carcassonne is a mere tourist village with about 250 inhabitants, the other residents stay in the town for touristic reasons only. In 1997 the beautiful old castle town with its double castle wall was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The castle town Carcassonne in the heartland of the Cathars is so tawdrily beautiful that it served Walt Disney as a model for the castle in his movie “Sleeping Beauty”. Plunging oneself into the throng of people within the castle walls one is taken back to the Middle Ages immediately. Then one is standing in a small town, which hides behind mighty battlements which have already given shelter and security to the Cathars.
Already in the Middle Ages this faith group, of whom it is said that they have the same origin as the Essenes, has been a thorn in the institutional Church’s flesh, since they refused unwaveringly to acknowledge Jesus as God’s son, but “merely” considered him to be a very enlightened human being. Also gender equality was one of their big concerns and, therefore, male as well as female itinerant preachers propagated the Word of God.
Also the inhabitants of Carcassonne had to make a heroic stand against the superior troops of the king of France and the Pope, nevertheless, the fortress was won in 1209. In the course of our spiritual journey 2014 we are going to have plenty of time to explore Carcassonne and to follow the tracks of the Cathars.
During the Albigensian Crusades in the Middle Ages the counts of Toulouse were on the side of the “dissenters”, namely the Cathars, who are often mentioned in the same breath with Mary Magdalene and her successors. The town originally carried the epithet “city of hundred towers” and in the course of the religious wars the counts of Toulouse supported those who were persecuted for their faith and harboured them. Hence the town was number one on the hit list of the king of France and the Pope. Although the inhabitants of Toulouse were able to brave the siege for some time, they ultimately had to bend to the superior numbers of the attackers.
We are going to begin and end our spiritual journey through Languedoc in Toulouse. Those who know me well won’t be surprised to hear that I have chosen two beautiful hotels, so that the delightful and aesthetic parts do not go short. On the last day of our circular tour we are going to have the opportunity to visit the most interesting buildings and places in Toulouse, and there is going to be ample opportunity for shopping and rambling about the city.
Es gibt so viele eindrucksvolle Orte, Landschaften und Plätze im Languedoc, der südwestlichsten Provinz von Frankreich, dass es mir sehr schwer fiel, eine Reiseroute mit den schönsten spirituellen Highlights dieser Region zusammenzustellen. Das größte Fragezeichen stellte sich mir bei der Überlegung, an welchem Ort wir die Rundreise beginnen würden. Denn die Bilderbuchstadt Carcassonne, die wir besichtigen werden, kann nur aus größeren mitteleuropäischen Städten direkt angeflogen werden. Jene Reisenden also, die aus kleineren Flughäfen kommen, müssten mit einem Zwischenstopp in Paris nach Carcassonne weiterreisen. Und wer das Umsteigen am Pariser Airport “Charles de Gaulle” schon einmal genossen hat, der weiß, dass er auf Abenteuer dieser Art gerne verzichten kann.
Also fiel meine Wahl auf Toulouse als Ausgangspunkt unserer Rundreise. Diese Stadt befindet sich zwar schon außerhalb der Region des Languedoc, ist aber im Zusammenhang mit Maria Magdalena und ihren Nachfolgern historisch sehr bedeutsam. Aus meiner Schulzeit hatte sich tief in mir das Wissen eingeprägt, dass Toulouse ein hässlicher Industrieort sei, in dem vorwiegend Flugzeuge gebaut würden. Deshalb hatte ich vor meinem Besuch in dieser Metropole noch einige Vorbehalte gegen sie. Doch schon nach dem ersten Streifzug durch die Stadt erlag ich ihrem Charme. Denn die malerische Altstadt mit ihren Gassen, Plätzen und Wasserläufen zog nicht nur uns, sondern auch viele andere Menschen in ihren Bann. Die Universitätsstadt ist sehr lebendig, sie pulsiert, die Menschen sitzen im Freien, treffen einander in netten kleinen Restaurants oder Parks, und es gibt viele schöne Geschäfte und jede Menge Kultur. Toulouse ist es auf jeden Fall wert, Anfangs- und Endpunkt unsere Rundreise zu sein!