(redirected from Cathar)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
Enlarge picture
The Cathars (Albigensians) were falsely accused of mistreating their enemies, as this anti-Cathar illustration issued by the Catholic Church depicts.


The Cathars were a secret society of Satanists who sought to destroy the medieval church in France.

The Cathars, also known as the Albigensians, were largely centered in Albi, the town in the French province of Languedoc in which an ecclesiastical Roman Catholic Church council condemned the group as heretics in 1208. Most of the Albigensian communities were first sacked, then burned, along with their records and their libraries, and testimony as to exactly what the Cathars believed was wrung out under extreme torture. Contemporary research now indicates that far from being the evil monsters that Pope Innocent III (c. 1161–1216) decreed should be exterminated, the Cathars were devout, chaste, tolerant Christian humanists who loathed the material excesses of the medieval church. Beliefs similar to theirs can be found in the Gnostic gospels, in the Essenic teachings discovered at Qumran, and in the Egyptian mystery schools. The Cathars called themselves the True Church of God, but they had no fixed, codified religious doctrine. Most of the few manuscripts that survived the flames of the Inquisition were written in Provençal, the old language of southern France, the rest in Latin.

The cultural life of the Albigenses far outshone that of any other locality in the Europe of their day. In manners, morals, and learning, objective historians state, the Albigenses deserved greater respect than the orthodox bishops and clergy. It is now generally conceded that the court of Toulouse was the center of a higher level of civilization than existed anywhere else in Europe at that time.

In the opinion of Pope Innocent III and many of the church hierarchy, the Cathars were teaching the rudiments of witchcraft. Although they centered their faith on Christ, they perceived him as pure spirit that had descended from heaven on the instructions of the God of Good to liberate humankind from the world of matter. According to the Cathars, because Christ was pure spirit, he did not die on the cross and the teachings of the church were false. The Cathars rejected all the Catholic sacraments, and they taught that the God of the Old Testament was the lord of matter, the prince of this world—designations that the Catholic Church reserved for Satan. Not only was the God revered by the church as the Creator really the devil, but the Cathars also instructed their followers that most of the patriarchs and prophets mentioned in the Old Testament were really demons. They also believed that it was Satan who created the material world after his expulsion from heaven when God the Father, taking pity on his once bright star Lucifer, allowed him seven days to see what he might create. The bodies of Adam and Eve were animated by fallen angels and directed by Satan to beget children who would follow the ways of the serpent.

To counter the lust of the flesh inspired by the devil, the Cathars preached chastity, vegetarianism, and nonviolence. They believed in a progressive doctrine of reincarnation, with the spirits of animals evolving into humans. In their view, it was a dualistic universe, with good and evil having equal strength, and they considered their time in the world as a struggle to resist Satan’s power.

In 1208 Innocent III declared the Cathars to be heretical and condemned the citizens of the Albigensian towns of Béziers, Perpignan, Narbonne, Toulouse, and Carcassonne to death as “enemies of the Church.” Simon de Montfort (c. 1160–1218), an accomplished military leader, was appointed to conduct a crusade against fellow Christians, cultured men and women of what is today southern France, whom the pope had deemed a greater threat to Christianity than the Islamic warriors who resisted the Crusaders. Although it took him nearly twenty years of warfare against the beleaguered Albigenses, de Montfort managed to exterminate 100,000 men, women, and children before he himself was killed during the second siege of Toulouse.

In 1244 Montségur, the last center of Albigensian resistance, fell, and hundreds of Cathars were burned at the stake. The headquarters of the Inquisition was now established in the once highly cultured city of Toulouse, and the few Cathars who had managed to escape death during the bloody decades of the crusade that had been launched against them were at the mercy of the relentless witch and heretic hunters.



adherents of a heresy that was widespread in Western Europe (chiefly in Italy, Flanders, and southern France) from the 11th to 13th centuries and which served as a vehicle of protest against feudal oppression for broad strata of the burghers (particularly artisans) and some of the peasants.

Their doctrine, borrowed to a great extent from the Bogomils, was dualistic: an opposition between good (the unseen, spiritual, and only true world, created by God) and evil (the earthly, material world created by Satan). The Cathars’ condemnation of everything earthly and carnal led to extreme asceticism; they rejected marriage, forbade the use of animals for food, and permitted suicide. They did not recognize the church sacraments, veneration of saints, or indulgences, and they exposed the vices of the Catholic clergy. (They considered the pope of Rome Satan’s deputy.) They demanded the liquidation of the church’s landholdings and refused to pay the church tithe. They created their own religious organization at the head of which stood preceptors, the perfect (perfecti), who were bound to lead an ascetic life.

The church, supported by secular power, waged a bitter struggle against the Cathars. The Cathar doctrine was the foundation for the Albigensian heretical movement. The Cathar heresy was almost completely eradicated during the period from 1300 to 1350 as a result of merciless persecution.


Borst, A. Die Katharer. Stuttgart, 1953.


References in periodicals archive ?
Three accompanying promotional videos “Illegally Constructed Terraces in Southern France Villages”, “Ruined Southern French Castles and Cathar Religious Culture” and “Hidden Disasters When Buying French Village Houses” are available for viewing on YouTube.
Bordighera - the Italian Riviera & Departs February-June, September-November 2014 8 days from PS499 Country & Catalonia Flying direct from Birmingham Selected departures Mar to Jun, Sept & Oct 2014 Cathar country in Languedoc-Roussillon is a land of legend, mystery and stunning scenery.
By the time we ended up in Cathar country in the Languedoc region, traversing through scenic rolling farmland and hay and sunflower fields, I was emotionally and spiritually spent.
Discover the land of the heretical Cathars and solve the mystery of Rennes le Chateau - inspiration for Dan Brown's da Vinci Code.
Regardless, the evidence offered here only confirms Peter's critical involvement in the Cathar repression--including an infamous street battle in Florence in 1245--from the beginning of his public career.
The Waldensians, Cathars and other groups had inherited the dualism of the gnostic sects of Christianity's earliest days, who believed that the material world was evil, created and controlled by a great malignant power, not by the good God.
These poets conceive of themselves, like the Cathar heretics, as an elite in possession of an exclusive knowledge, separate from the masses.
Perhaps the pope's sudden agreement over the contested church at Acquapendente was due to outside pressures from the Cathar heretics and/or the growing poverty movement within the church rather than the skill of the Orvietan negotiators.
There's enough to see and do to make Carcassonne a good spot for a short break, but it's also a gateway to much more: the green hills and ruined Cathar castles of the Montagne Noire hills are less than half an hour away, and the city is also is also the starting point for canal- boat cruises on the Canal du Midi.
Discerning the True Heresy: An Examination of Three Historical Perversions and Myths Surrounding the Cathar Religion.
He came home seven and a half lengths clear of the favourite, Berthram, in the pounds 9,168 event with David Dunsdon's mount, Cathar, last of the three finishers.
Despite the violent suppression of the sect in the so-called Albigensian Crusade of the early thirteenth century, the Cathar faith continued to survive in the south of France and the northeast sector of Spain throughout the thirteenth century and well into the fourteenth.