Thought for the Month – August 2018

“May your God go with you”
Thoughts for August
Do you remember Dave Allen, the Irish comedian, and his final words in his TV shows? Was he promoting tolerance, just being witty, or perhaps a bit of both? Following Sylvia’s “Thought for the Month” last month, I started thinking about tolerance or even intolerance. Having just returned from the South of France, I was reminded that there was not much tolerance around in the Middle Ages.
Did you learn about the Crusades at school? There were five to the Holy Land between 1095 and 1219. Richard the Lionheart was a famous Crusader. I remember pictures of valiant knights dressed in shining armour, swords held high, saving Jerusalem or Damascus from the Muslim oppressors led by Saladin. Reading today about those events, it seems that these professional Crusaders, after gaining entry to a city, usually killed everyone inside it. It was too complicated, it seems, to separate Jews from Christians from Muslims. So the Christians they had come to save – were usually not saved!
We were staying with my sister in the Languedoc region of southern France. They live in the foothills of the Pyrenees, a 40 minutes drive south of Carcassonne. It’s a beautiful rural area of France. Spectacular ruined castles are everywhere, vineyards abound. This part of France, especially in the 13th Century, felt independent from the North. It was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the wealth, corruption and lack of pastoral care from the Church in Rome.
The Languedoc had its own language and dissent flourished there. A Christian Sect developed called Catharism. The citadel or Medieval fortress in Carcassonne was its epicentre. In 1209, a frustrated Pope Innocent 3rd called for a Crusade, not in the Holy Land, but in mainland Europe! Northern nobles set out to wage war on the Cathar strongholds. It was the start of a 20 year military campaign.
On 21st July 1209, the Crusader army arrived outside the walls of Beziers in eastern Languedoc. The tolerant Catholic inhabitants refused to give up the Cathars who had sought refuge with them. By trickery the army managed to enter the city and massacred the whole population of about 20,000. The Papal Legate had ordered his troops not to discriminate between Catholics and Cathars, “Kill them all, God will know his own” he said. Unbelievable , or maybe believable. These were cruel intolerant times.
One week later, Carcassonne fell to the Crusaders and Simon de Montfort became their leader. Another name you might remember? The Cathars had fled to fortified castles perched on high ridges. But one by one they were overcome and their populations destroyed.
Back to 2019. There are road signs in Languedoc announcing, “PAYS CATHARE” (Cathar country). You can walk local paths linking Cathar sites -“SENTIER CATHARE”. From my sister’s home you can see three of those ruined Cathar castles. They are a constant reminder to me of times when people (even Christian people) were far from tolerant of each other, never mind those of other faiths. We’re lucky to live in lovely countryside among the hills here in the Blackrod area. Languedoc sometimes seems like home from home, albeit a tad warmer.
Let’s hope that we can draw lessons from the fate of the Cathars and try to be always tolerant of everyone in our society, whatever their faith, lack of faith, or their beliefs.

Helen Gambles