Cathar Castles
Château d'Avignonet ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about Occitan. Castèl de Avignonet)

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Avignonet-en-Lauragais is a small town in the Haute-Garonne lying on the road between Carcassonne and Toulouse, the old Aquitaine road, not far from the Canal du Midi and the modern motorway (A62).

It is famous as the site of a massacre of a group of Inquisitors in 1242, part of a general uprising against the invading French crusaders. This event precipitated the final siege of Montségur.

 

 

La Tour

"The tower" is built in 1610 in the pepper pot style typical of the period it was built. It was added to the "Cers gate" the principal entrance to the west of the town, which still possessed a draw bridge at that time. (The Cers is one of the characteristic winds in the Languedoc, blowing from the West or South-West).

Later, around 1850 the statue of a crusader was added. Many have interpreted this as a monument to the Inquisitors killed here, but there is no evidence to support this idea. According to the panel (photograph below) the figure may represent Simon de Montfort who was himself already long dead at the time of the killing. Oddly the knight's coat of arms bears the arms of the town, while those of his shield show some other arms (not those of Simon de Montfort).

Google map showing the location of Avignonet (Lauragais)

 

Historical Significance

After the failure of Raymond Trencavel II in 1240, Raymond VII of Toulouse had one last hope of popular uprising in the Languedoc against the French occupiers and the Inquisition. The uprising was planned for 1242, supported by the Holy Roman Emperor, James I King of Aragon, Henry III King of England , Roger IV Count of Foix, Raymond Trencavel II, and other allies. 

It proved a disaster.  The Holy Roman Emperor kept delaying until it was too late.  Henry III was defeated at Taillebourg by Louis IX King of France.  The Aragonese forces were not enough to galvanise the exhausted population, and the new Count of Foix deserted his family's ancient ally, sealing both their fates. 

The only achievement of note was the killing of a few widely hated Inquisitors at Avignonet, along with their retinue, during the night of 28 May 1242 by soldiers from Château of Montségur ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Montsegùr) led by Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix. The removal of these Inquisitors was enormously popular. Church bells were rung to celebrate the event as the solders passed through villages on their way home.

The Château at Avignonet, where the Inquisitors were lodging, belonged to Raymond VII of Toulouse, and was kept by his his brother-in-law, Raymond d'Alfaro.

The events at Avignonet prompted the final notable action of the war - the famous siege of the Château of Montségur ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Montsegùr) in 1243-4.  Many of those who had participated in the killing of the Inquisitors were captured at Montsegùr and interrogated by the Inquisition. This is why historians have a remarkable amount of detail about them and their movements.

 

Today the castle where the killing of the Inquisitors took place is gone, but the church is built on the site of the castle chapel. As everywhere else in the Languedoc, the people here are still proud to fly the flag of their ancient count. The fact that the church here stands on the site of his castle is commemorated in a small stained glass window (shown above) depicting his arms surmounted by his coronet with a star above. It may just be a coincidence, but the Cathars thought of stars as perfected souls in heaven.

Many attempts have been made to have the dead Inquisitors elevated to sainthood - normally a formality for Catholic clergy killed for "upholding the faith" - but the Inquisitors were widely hated and a suitably discreet time for their canonisation has never been found. The townspeople have still not forgotten that their Catholic ancestors were punished for their complicity by the Church for a generation after the killing.

 

 

 

 

Google map showing Avignonet (Lauragais)

The Church

The church, dating from the Fourteenth and Sixteenth centuries is constructed of limestone and sandstone.

 

The polygonal tower rises 40 metres above the Lauragais plateau.

The nave is 40 metres long, with five bays on each side, seven of the ten bays used as side-chapels and one housing the organ. The spectacular alter features gilded wood.

The church is dedicated to Our Lady of Miracles, one of the many avatars of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Towards the west end of the nave is an imaginative painting of the Inquisitors being killed and being welcomed into heaven (shown further up the page). There are also some interesting bosses in one of the easternmost chapel on the south side.

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 

 

The Town of Avignonet

The modern town is pleasant enough, or at least it was until a wind farm was built next to it, so it and the surrounding countryside is now disfigured by ugly modern windmills behind it and an electricity station displayed prominently in front of it - next to the main road without the slightest attempt at cosmetics or concealment.

 

In happier times the town grew rich through the Pastel trade. Located between Carcassonne and Toulouse Avignonet lay within the Land of Cocaigne, a large triangular area which grew rich by making what was then an expensive and much sought after blue dye. You can still see the large houses on the Grand rue, built by merchants who grew rich on the trade.

 


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La massacre des légats a Avignoet, 1960, by Jacques Fauché, oil on wood, 118 x 83cm

Inquisitorsat avignonet are shown being hacked to death by sword and ax in 1242

 

 

 

 

 

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