This is the Cathar monument at Montsegur, in the Field of Martyrs, where many of the remaining Cathars were burned to death in a disgusting display of religious righteousness in 1244. I’m a francophile – I love la belle France and its people. (I’m actually a big European, but that’s a story for another day). The Languedoc is one of my favourite parts of that beautiful country, but then I love the Auvergne, the Dordogne, Bordeaux, Perigoux, Paris, Bretagne, and many other parts.
However, let us focus on the Languedoc, where the people spoke Occitan rather than French. This was the centre of the Cathar faith in the middle ages, so bitterly crushed by the Cathar Crusade of the 13th century. The region consists of parallel mountain ranges of steep limestone mountains, separated by deep lush valleys, where grapes are cultivated. We took a gîte in the little village of Paraza, on the Canal du Midi. We heard the bullfrogs every evening, and watched the brilliantly coloured bee-eaters flashing across the canal in the heat of the day.
We visited Beziers, one of the largest towns in the region, and learned of the Crusader siege, where the Papal envoy, on being asked, “How shall we know which are Cathars and which are not?” replied, “Kill them all, the Lord will know which are his own.” So they did. Some 15,000 men, women and children were massacred on the 22nd of July, 1209. Later we visited the little town of Minerve (have you tried the fruity, peppery red Minervois wine?). Here too, in the dry gravel river bed, 180 Cathars were burned to death, on the 22nd July, 1210. See the pattern here? It so happens that my birthday is 22nd July. Like a gong ringing, I convinced myself I was fated to write a novel based on the Cathar story. I started it, but it’s unfinished, and may remain so, thanks to Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth. But that’s another story. In the meantime, I’m recycling part of the novel – the modern timeline featuring the break-up of a relationship – in the form of poems, several of which are in m’new collection due next March.
I’d love to go back to the Languedoc, to the hilltop castles at Peyrepertuse, Queribus, and Montsegur itself, the stunning Gorge du Galamus (a scary drive), to the little medieval towns like Mirepoix and Lavanelet, to the Canal du Midi and the River Aude. Maybe I’d get back to writing the novel, now restricted to the 13th century story? Who knows? It won’t be 2010 though – that’s Italy (Puglia), Barcelona, and Assynt again. In the meantime I’ll stick to memories, as I drink Vin de Pays d’Oc (excuse any mis-spellings that may have resulted).