MONTSEGUR
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FORTRESS (PART III)

Copyright Peter Vronsky 2002

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 5.  THE FALL OF MONTSEGUR -  MARCH 1244 

On March 1, 1244, Pierre-Roger Mirepoix emerged from the fortress and negotiated a fifteen day truce at the end of which Montsegur was to be surrendered.  The Catholic troops gave the Cathar forces generous terms.  The mercenaries would be allowed to leave with their arms.  Any Cathars who abjured their heresy, would be forgiven. Lords and ladies, knights, soldiers, craftsmen, servants, would be allowed to depart after being deposed by the Inquisition and abjuring Cathar beliefs.

Most of the Cathar perfecti declined the offer, and twenty-six mercenaries, knights, soldiers and followers actually asked for consolamentum on March 13th--the spring equinox.  This would guaranteed their death at the end of the truce.

At some point, either during the truce or before, or perhaps at two separate occasions,  two or four Cathars snuck out of the fortress and descended down the steep northern-eastern slope, carrying with them some sort of valuable objects.  Because many of the French Catholic troops were locals of dubious loyalty pressed into service, the Cathars found it easy to slip through the enemy lines.  Their fate and destination is now a subject of myth and legend.  It is, however, generally believed that the cache consisting of monetary valuables--the Cathar Church treasure and that it was smuggled from Montsegur and made its way to Cathar bishops in Italy where it was used to sustain the church there.  Treasure hunters, nonetheless, continue today to rummage and dig around the vicinity of Montsegur for this lost cache.

On the morning of March 16, between 205 and 225 Cathars marched down the southern slopes of the pog and positioned themselves on a mass execution pyre of wood and logs prepared earlier at the foot of the hill.  Either they climbed ladders to the top of the bier or entered into an enclosure and were tied to stakes positioned in the wood.  After the saying of prayers the pyre was set on fire.

Approximately sixty of these individuals have been idenitified by historians and researchers.

Montsegur was destroyed in its entirety and no trace of the Cathar fortress built by Raymond de Pereille survived.   The ruins of the terraced Cathar habitations, however, can still be seen today.  [Click to Part I for more details on the current ruin and its relationship to the Cathar epoch.]

 6. THE AFTERMATH:  MYTH AND LEGEND  

On July 1245, the new seigneur of Montsegur, Guy I des Levis, took his oath to the King of France.  The Levis would rebuild the fortress that today stands at the peak in the traditional style of French Royal military architecture.  A small village named Montsegur  was established further down the slopes where it still is located today.  A village church was built around 1620.  The fortress itself underwent extensive renovation, expansion and restoration as it was actively garrisoned by France well into the 16th century against possible Spanish incursions.  In 1757 it was still in the possession of the Levis family.  The fortress fell into disuse and ruin in the late 18th century.

During the 20th century, Montsegur became the focus of various occult and Gnostic revival cults.  In 1909 the French neo-Gnostic patriarch Synesius (Fabre des Essarts) took as his title "Bishop of Paris and Montsegur."

Because of its Grail myths, Montsegur became the focus of Nazi archeological expeditions by the Ahnenerbe ("Ancestral Heritage Society") -- a criminal agency of Heinrich Himmler's notorious SS dedicated to identifying  past Aryan links with modern Germany through archeology and anthropology.  It was the Ahnenerbe which collected skeletons and skulls of concentration camp prisoners specially selected and carefully killed as specimens.  

Montsegur was brought to the attention of the Nazi's by Otto Rahn who explored the ruins of Montsegur in 1929 and went on to write two popular Grail novels linking Montsegur and Cathars with the Holy Grail:  Kreuzzug gegen den Gral ("Crusade Against the Grail") in 1933 and Luzifers Hofgesinf ("Lucifer's Court") in 1937.    In 1936 Rahn joined the Ahnenerbe with a junior NCO's rank in the SS.  After supposed disciplinary problems he was assigned to a tour of duty at the Dachau concentration camp in 1937--a training depot and punishment center for SS men at the time.    On the13 March 1939 -- almost on the anniversary of the fall of Montsegur--Otto Rahn mysteriously died in the snow on the Tyrolean mountains.  His death is believed to be a suicide.

On March 16, 1944, on the 700th anniversary of the fall of Montsegur, Nazi planes are reported to have flown patterns over the ruins--either swastikas or celtic crosses, depending upon the sources. The Nazi ideologist, Alfred Rosenberg was reputed to be on board one of the airplanes.  None of these reports have been satisfactorily proven.

In 1947, the French government made some restorations of the fortress walls.  Between 1964 - 1976 an extensive archeological dig was conducted at Montsegur and its vicinity.  Many of the artifacts recovered can be seen today in the village museum.

The mythology of Montsegur reached a new peak during the 1980's with the publication of Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, a best-seller that linked the reported missing treasure of Montsegur with mysterious events in the nearby village of Renne-le-Chateau.   It is the authors' intriguingly original assertion that the contents of the Cathar treasure were in fact genealogies of Jesus Christ's surviving family which were looted by the Romans in 71 AD from the Temple of Jerusalem.  According to the authors, The Visigoths in turn captured this hoard when they sacked Rome in 410 AD and brought it with them to the Languedoc region of France where they eventually established their community.   The Visigoths, who practiced an Arian heretical Christianity, and did indeed settle in the region, eventually interbred with the local populace, infusing them with a propensity for heretical faiths and the key to Jesus Christ's ancestry, the authors suggest.  This genealogy is what the authors allege was smuggled from Montsegur in 1244 and hidden in the village of Rennes-le-Chateau until its discovery in the late 19th century by a local priest who subsequently became fabulously rich for it (by blackmailing the Vatican) and rebuilt the local church in a bizarre manner--still standing today for all to see.  (The village church of Rennes-le-Chateau is indeed decorated in a most peculiar and untraditional manner.)