Montsegur, 1989

Montségur, the last bastion of the Cathar “heresy”

Montségur, the last bastion of the Cathar “heresy”

Montsegur 2010 - Henry A Freeman

Montsegur 2010 - Henry A Freeman

Mônica and I reached the foot of the Montségur Mountain one August evening. We stood in the place where 220 Cathars were buried alive in 1224.

We had planned to climb it the following day.

The weather was overcast, with clouds so low that we could not even see the ruins at the top of the gigantic rock. Just to provoke Mônica, I said that it might be interesting to make the climb that very night.

She said no, and I was relieved, imagine if she had said yes!

At that moment a car drove up, the same make and color as mine.

An Irishman stepped out and asked us as if we were from the region, from what point the rock could be climbed. I suggested that he make the climb the next morning with us, but he was determined to go up that very night.

He wanted to see the sunrise from up there, claiming that perhaps he had been a Cathar in a past life.

“I wonder if you could lend me a lamp?” he asked.

I went to the hotel in the village where we were staying and borrowed a lamp, the only one they had.

It is a sign – we need to climb this rock now.

Mônica seemed scared, but I said that we have to go ahead. ‘Signs are signs’, I said.

The newcomer asked where the path was. I told him it did not matter and to just start going up.

And for some time, (I cannot remember how long) the three of us climbed a mountain that we did not know, at night, and with the fog that only allowed us to see a few yards ahead of us.

Finally, we were above the clouds; the sky filled with stars, the moon was full, and standing before us was the gate of the fortress of Montségur.

We entered and contemplated the ruins. I looked at the beauty of the firmament, wondering how we got there without any accident, but then I thought that it’s better not to ask any questions and just admire the miracle.

For the next few years, I sent several letters to the mysterious Irishman, but he never replied back.

I have returned to Montségur and climbed the mountain several other times, but have never again managed to find the path that we used that August night in 1989.

Posted by Paulo Coelho on his blog.

I recall many years ago climbing a Welsh mountain at night. We were not allowed torches or lamps in order that our eyes adjusted to the light. We climbed it to see the sunset and what a magnificent sight it was. We came back down in the dark. The next day I looked up at the mountain and saw that the way we had followed, to the side was a sheer drop!

I have always been fascinated by Montsegur and the Cathars. My introduction was through a lovely South African friend Estie and the Era trillogy by Eric Levi.

Era – Divano
Era – Misere Mani
Era – The Mass
Era – Mother

It is a Cathar tradition that 700 years later a troubadour will come who will resurect them. Listening to the Era trilogy I could hear this in the music. Some years later, I picked up from the Middle East a DVD that had a series of videos. The images were what I had seen.

The first Crusade was not in the Middle East, it was against the Cathars in France. They were seen as a threat to the Catholic Church, they challenged the authority and orthodoxy of the Catholic Church, they saw no need for priests to intercede between them and God, women were treated as equals. The Northern French Barons wanted the land. Montsegur was believed to be the last hiding place of the Holy Grail.

Paulo Coelho writes that ‘220 Cathars were buried alive in 1224’. This is not my understanding. My understanding is that they walked down the mountain and into a funeral pyre singing rather than recant their faith. But maybe different legends and myths have been handed down.

Brida is one of my favourite Paulo Coelho books. It is the real life story of a young woman, Brida O’Fern, learning the Tradition of the Moon. One week on from his experience of Montsegur, Paulo Coelho met Brida O’Fern in the Pyrenees, who believes that she was a Cathar in her previous life. On reading Brida I realised it was about the Cathars before they were mentioned and I was pleased to find myself proved correct.

El Camino de Santiago is a medieval pilgrims route running along northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. At its height a million pilgrims a year, by the 1980s this had dwindled to a few hundred at best. Paulo Coelho was obliged to walk this route as a penance to recover his sword which at the time he ws not deemed worthy to receive. His account The Pilgrimage was published in the mid-1980s. The route has since seen an exponential increase in those walking the route, peaking on Holy Years when a Sunday coincides with the Day of St James.

The History of the Pilgrimage to Compostela
Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today
A Pilgrimage Walk To Santiago De Compostela

Two decades on, Paulo Coelho pondered that in this day of computers games would anyone accept his challenge, the Quest of the Sword, which involved solving clues along the route, completing tasks. The first to arrive at the destination would receive a sword.

Henry Freeman (@hf) was the first there, minutes later hot on his heals, Carolena Sabah. Reading their excellent accounts of their trips, I realised for the first time how many of the books by Paulo Coelho are rooted in or are inspired by El Camino de Santiago.

Carolena’s Quest for the Sword
Montsegur, 2010
Impressions from the Quest for the Sword
A Pilgrimage Walk To Santiago De Compostela

Top story The Religion Daily (Thursday 10 February 2011).


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