The Cathars evolved, but kept some of the beliefs that lived on in previous organizations. For example, they adopted some of the same views of the Bogomils and exhibited anti-establishment behaviors and beliefs. The Perfecti lived a life of piety that was free of the complicated nature of the corrupt and worldly clergy of their day. Another difference in the Cathars that did not show in other religions was that men and women were treated as equals within the sect.
The first record of Catharism is found in Germany, where it was documented in 1143. Northern Italy also shows early followers. However, it was southern and central France that accommodated the bulk of the sect. The Languedoc region was especially significant to the Cathars. People considered the town of Albi as the center of the sect. These followers were called the Albigensians.
The Languedoc Region
During the Middle Ages, the Languedoc was seen as being quite different from the rest of France. They had their own language. They also formed their own culture that was a combination of different influences. There was also a separation between the nobles of the region and the French monarch. They also embraced Catharism. All of these things posed a threat to the Catholic Church. This made the Church react and they wanted the Cathars to address some of their concerns. When they did not, the Church instituted the Inquisition in 1184 to use force as a way to control their beliefs. At first, this process was slow and didn’t gain momentum until Pope Innocent III made a declaration to local authorities stating that they could share in the property of convicted heretics.
In 1208, the Pope established a new crusade against the Albigensians who he felt had been committing heresy. The Languedoc region would become plagued with decades of conflict and horrific events. It wasn’t until 1255 until Catharism was finally handed a fatal blow. In the early 14th century, the group attempted a fleeting revival, but defeat was clear that the fortress of Montsegur fell in 1244 under mysterious circumstances. Once thought to be quite strong and symbolic, this was too much for the people.
Guards of Treasure?
It is said that the Cathars were keepers of a secret that no one else knew. It was suspected that perhaps a treasure was involved, and that it could have possibly been keep in the fortress of Montsegur. Over time, this legend has followed the Cathars and other similar groups, such as the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, and the Freemasons. It is believed that secret societies have guarded this treasure throughout history for centuries.