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 by the Church for their complicity for a generation after the killing.

The bodies of the dead Inquistors to be buried in their respective churches. The three Dominicans were buried together in Les Jacobins, but the church was rearranged several times over the centuries. It is thought that the bones were transfered to Saint Sernin at the Revolution.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Painting by Claire Donnier, 1868., showing the murder of the Inquisitors below and their reception as saints into heaven. The painting was done for the three Dominicans, so the three Dominican victims are given precedence in heaven.

 
 
 
 
 

 

Engraving of a painting J.-B. Besson, showing the murder of the Inquisitors below and their reception as saints into heaven. The painting was done for the three Dominicans, so the three Dominican victims are given precedence in heaven. Next in line is a Franciscan, followed by the others.

 
 
 
 

 

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 Avignonet, 1960, by Jacques Fauché, oil on wood, 118 x 83cm

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

 

Depositions of Arnaud Rotger de Mirepoix, (brother of Raimond de Pareil, cousin of Pierre Roger) to the Papal Inquisition based at Carcassonne,

Translated into French

 

 

Depositions of Arnaut Rotger de Mirepoix, (brother of Ramon de Pareil, cousin of Peyre Rotger) to the Papal Inquisition based at Carcassonne,

Translated into English (and leaving Occitan names in Occitan)

Dans son premier interrogatoire (12 avril 1244),
Arnaud Roger de Mirepoix raconte

:

Item, un jour (le 25 mai 1242), Guillaume de Plaigne vint à Montségur et parla à part à Pierre Roger de Mirepoix. Ce dernier m'appela ainsi que tous les chevaliers et sergents du château et nous dit que tous, tant chevaliers que sergents, nous nous préparions à l'accompagner car il y avait grand butin préparé pour nous.

Alors moi-même, Alzieu de Massabrac, Guiraud de Rabat, Raimond de de Rabat, Bernard de Saint-Martin, Pierre de Saint-Martin, Barrau, écuyer de Bernard de Saint-Martin, Guillaume de Lahille, Pierre Landric, écuyer à l'époque de Guillaume de Lahille,, Pierre Roger de Mirepoix, Perrou, écuyer à l'époque de Pierre Roger, Gaillard de Oth de Villarzel, Guillaume Azéma, Perrin de Pomas, Raimond de Corbières, Raimond Guillaume Tournebois, Pierre Roger de Lissac, fils de Jourdain de Lissac, Pierre Vital, Guillaume de Tournebouix, Pierre de Montolieu, Oth de Massabrac, Arnaud de Bensa, Pierre Faure de Saint-Martin-Lalande, Jean Cathala, Imbert, Arnaud Gous, Guillaume Guibert, Guillaume de Péreille et Raimond Monic sortîmes du château et nous mîmes en route pour Avignonet (26 mai 1242)

Arrivés près de la force de Saint-Martin qui s'appelle Genebrières (canton de Belpech - Aude), nous y restâmes, moi et les autres ; Bernard Saint-martin m'apporta alors à manger ainsi qu'à tous les autres. En ce lieu vinrent Jourdain du Villar, fils de Pons du Villar, Pierre Viel, Raimond de Verzeille (canton de Saint Hilaire - Aude), Arnaud Izard, le neveu de Pierre Rais, Raimond Aicart, Pierre Laurens, le bâtard de Mazerolles, Pons del Capela junior et Astier, tous de Gaja et d'autres jusqu'à vingt-cinq de Gaja.

Et, dans la nuit, moi-même et tous les autres (une cinquantaine d'hommes) vînmes près du château d'Avignonet. Quand nous fûmes auprès, tous ces chevaliers et sergents, sauf moi, Alzieu de Massabrac, les frères Guiraud et Raimond de Rabat et Pierre Roger, entrèrent dans ce château d'Avignonet et tuèrent les Frères, savoir Guillaume Arnaud et ses compagnons. Après être restés dans le château un certain temps, ils en sortirent, avec Guillaume Raimod Golairan d'Avignonet, dans la maison duquel on avait fait les chandelles. Donat d'Avignonet et plusieurs autres hommes d'Avignonet, jusqu'à trente, qui avaient assisté au meurtre des Frères et nous dirent à moi et à tous ceux qui étaient avec moi, que frère Guillaume Arnaud et son compagnon (frères prêcheurs), étaient tués. Et Guilaume Golairan dit alors qu'il n'avait jamais eu une telle joie de sa vie.

Après avoir entendu cela, moi-même et tous les autres partîmes de là et prîmes la route du château de Montségur.

Raimond d'Alfaro, le bayle du comte de Toulouse, Raimond VII, a envoyé Guillaume de Plaigne à Montségur pour que Pierre Roger de Mirepoix et les autres vinssent assassiner ces Frères (26 mai 1242). Et c'est pour cette raison que Guillaume de Plaigne eut le palefroi de Raimond Escribe, archidiacre de l'évêché de Toulouse. Pierre Roger de Mirepoix demandait avec beaucoup d'insistance la tête de Frère Guillaume Arnaud Guillaume, disant à ceux qui avaient pris part à sa mort qu'ils ne feraient désormais plus rien qui lui fît plaisir, parce qu'ils ne lui avaient pas apporté sa tête.

Pour l'époque, il y aura deux ans à la prochaine Ascension (28 mai 1242 à Avignonet. Voilà donc le récit du meurtre des inquisiteurs et de leur suite par un témoin).

 

Dans le deuxième interrogatoire (4 mai 1244), Arnaud Roger de Mirepoix ajoute à propos du massacre d'Avignonet :

 

Item, Bertrand d'Aguilar et Guillaume Laurens, gendre d'Arnaud Roger de Castillo en Catalogne (les principaux assassins du massacre d'Avignonet) prirent part à la mort de Frère Guillaume Arnaud et de ses compagnons ; après leur mort, ils retournèrent au château de Montségur avec Pierre Roger de Mirepoix. Et plusieurs fois ce Bertrand d'Aguilar et ce Guillaume Laurens ont adoré Bertrand Marty et ses compagnons parfaits à ma vue.

Pour l'époque, il y a deux ans ou environ.

Item, alors que le chevalier Ath Arnaud de Châteuverdun était malade à Montgradail (canton d'Alaigne - Aude) dans la maison d'Ermengarde de Routier de Fanjeaux, qui fut la femme de Bernard de Pomas, il m'envoya chercher et me dit qu'il voulait à tout prix se donner aux parfaits. Vinrent alors les parfaits Guillaume Tournier et son compagnon.

Il y avait dans la maison avec ce malade quand les parfaits arrivèrent moi-même, Huc de Durfort, Bernard de Pomas, Arnaud de Miglos et le chevalier Isarn de Fanjeaux qui amena ces parfaits avec moi, Guillaume de Lahille, Pierre de Lahille et Sicard de Durfort, madame Cavaers (fille de Bernard de Routier de Fanjeaux éxécuté à Lavaur ; elle fut condamnée à la prison perpétuelle) et Ermengarde de Routier, femme de Bernard de Pomas. Et là moi-même et tous les autres avons adoré ces parfaits comme il a été dit.

In his first interview (12 April 1244), three weeks after the massacre at Montsegur, Arnaut Rotger de Mirepoix says:

 

Item: one day (25 May 1242), Guilhem de Planh came to Montsegur and spoke to Peyre Rotger de Mirepoix. The latter called me and all the knights and sergeants of the castle and told us all, both knights and sergeants, that we should prepare to accompany him, because there was great booty prepared for us.

So myself, Alzieu de Massabrac, Guiraut de Rabat, Ramon de Rabat, Bernard de Saint-Martin, Peyre de Saint-Martin, Barrau, squire to Bernard de Saint-Martin, Guilhem de Lahille, Peyre Landric, écuyer à l'époque de Guilhem de Lahille, Peyre Rotger de Mirepoix, Perrou, then squire to Peyre Rotger, Gaillard de Ot de Villarzel, Guilhem Azéma, Perrin de Pomas, Ramon de Corbières, Ramon Guilhem Tournebois, Peyre Rotger de Lissac, fils de Jourdain de Lissac, Peyre Vital, Guilhem de Tournebouix, Peyre de Montolieu, Ot de Massabrac, Arnaut de Bensa, Peyre Faure de Saint-Martin-Lalande, Jean Cathala, Imbert, Arnaut Gous, Guilhem Guibert, Guilhem de Péreille et Ramon Monic left the castle and set off for Avignonet [26 May 1242]

We arrived near the Force de Saint-Martin, called Génébrières [canton of Belpech], we stayed there, me and the others; Bernard Saint-Martin then brought us food. We were joined there by Jourdain du Villar, son of Pons du Villar, Peyre Viel, Ramon de Verzeille [canton of Saint Hilaire], Arnaut Izard, the nephew of Peyre Rais, Ramon Aicart, Peyre Laurens, the bastard Mazerolles, Pons del Capela junior and Astier, all from Gaja, along with twenty-five others from Gaja .

And at night, myself and all others (around fifty men) came to a place [Antioch] near the Castle of Avignonet. Once we had arrived, all of these knights and sergeants, except me, Alzieu de Massabrac, the brothers Guiraut de Rabat and Ramon de Rabat, and Peyre Rotger [de Morepoix ?], entered this castle and killed the Brothers, namely Guilhem Arnaut and his companions. After staying in the castle for some time, they came out with Guilhem Ramon Golairan d'Avignonet, in whose house the candles had been made. Donat d'Avignonet and other men from Avignonet, around thirty, who had witnessed the killing of Brothers, said to me and to all those who were with me, that Brother Guillaume Arnaud and his companion, had been killed. Guilaume Golairan then said that he had never had such a joy to his life.


After hearing this, I and all others departed from there and took the road to the Castle of Montsegur.

Ramon Alfaro, the bailiff of the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VII, had sent Guilhem de Planh to Montsegur for Peyre Rotger de Mirepoix and the others to come to assassinate these Brothers. And it is for this reason that Guilhem de Planh had the palfrey belonging to Ramon Escribe, archdeacon of the diocese of Toulouse. Peyre Rotger de Mirepoix asked very emphatically for the head of Brother Guillaume Arnaud, telling those who had taken part in his death they would never be able do anything to make him happy again, because they had not brought him his head.

As for the time, it will be two years next Ascension. Such is the story of the murder of the inquisitors and other events, by an eye witness.

 

In the second interview (4 May 1244), Arnaut Rotger de Mirepoix adds to the massacre Avignonet :

 

Item: Bertrand d'Aguilar and William Laurens, son-in-law of Arnaut Rotger Castillo in Catalonia took part in the death of Brother William Arnaud and his companions; after the Brothers' death, they returned to the castle of Montsegur with Peyre Rotger de Mirepoix. And on many occasions I have seen Bertrand Aguilar and William Laurens adore Bertrand Marty and his fellow Perfects.

As for the time, this was about two or years.

Item , while the knight Ath Arnaut Châteuverdun was sick at Montgradail [canton of Alaigne] in the house of Ermengarde de Tours de Fanjeaux , who was the wife of Bernard de Pomas, he sent for me and told me he wanted at all costs to give himself to the Perfects. Then came the Perfect Guilhem Tournier and his companion.

There was in the house with the patient, when the perfect arrived, myself, Huc de Durfort Bernard de Pomas, Arnaut de Miglos and the knight Isarn de Fanjeaux who brought these Perfects with me, Guilhem de Lahille , Peyre de Lahille and Sicard de Durfort , Madame Cavaers (daughter of Bernard de Routier de Fanjeaux, executed at Lavaur; she was sentenced to life imprisonment) and Ermengarde de Tours, the wife of Bernard de Pomas. And there I and everyone else adored these Perfects, as has been said.

 

 

We do not know the exact route taken by the knights from Montsegur to Avignonet and back, but we do know some of the places they passed through. This is a Google map with a route obtained by specifying the known places in order and asking for an optimised walking route. It is therefore a reasonable approximation to the route taken by the knights.

The place known to Google as "La Tour" was known to the knights as "Antioch".

The walk takes 32 hours round trip to cover 150 km - about right allowing for the fact that, although the knights were mounted for most of the journey, they would have been accompanied by foot soldiers.

 

 

Clik here for a detailed account of what seems to have become ofthe relics of the the three Dominicans massacred at Avignonet (in French)

 

 

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