Cathar Castles
Château de Béziers ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about Occitan. Castèl de Besièrs)

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In the Middle Ages Béziers belonged to the Viscounts of Carcassonne. When the first Cathar Crusade arrived in the Languedoc this was their first target.

On 22 July 1209 the Crusader army arrived at Béziers on the periphery of the area in the Languedoc where Cathars flourished.  There were believed to be around 200 Cathar Parfaits in the town among a much greater population of sympathetic Catholics. The townspeople, believing their city walls impregnable, were careless, and the town was overrun while the leading Crusader churchmen and nobles were still planning their siege.

Today nothing remains of the Viscounts' Castle in Béziers, but the town still bears scars inflicted by the Crusaders. It was here that the abbott-comander gave the famous command "Kill them all - the Lord will recognise His own"

 

The earliest habitations in Béziers were on the site now occupied by the Cathedral of Saint Nazaire and Saint Celse. It was one of countless oppida in the region around 800 BC. Native Celts here traded with Gauls, Greeks, Etruscans and Carthaginians.

According to tradition, Hercules passed by this site on his way to the Garden of the Hesperides, passing along the route we now know as the Domitan Way (Voie Domitienne) which crossed the River Orb at the bridge known as the Pont Vieux, heading off to Narbonne.

Béziers had been granted a communal charter as early as 1131, reflecting the emergence of a new Middle class which would soon threaten the established nobility. In 1167, townsmen would murder their Viscount, Raymond Trencavel, causing a scandal that resulted in the excommunication of the town, and which was still remembered at the time of the Cathar Wars.

At the time of the Cathar Wars (or Albigensian Crusade), The young Viscount of Carcassonne and Béziers was lord of twin cities. Both cities sat on hill-tops by a river. Both were Castra with powerful castles within their wall. Both had Cathedrals dedicated to Saint Nazaire and Saint Celses, and the suzerain of both was the King of Aragon.

Google map showing the location of Château de Beziers

 

 


The following troubadours are known to have visited the castle at Béziers during the Trencavel period:

  • Alzais de Porcairagnos - XII Century
  • Bernard d'Auriac - XIII Century
  • Jan Esteve - XIII Century
  • Ramoun Gaucelm - XIII Century
  • Guilhem Augier - XIII Century
  • Matfre Ermincaud - XIII Century

 

Google map showing Château de Beziers

 

In 1209 the crusading army sacked and looted Béziers indiscriminately, while townspeople retreated to the sanctuary of the churches.  The Cistercian abbot-commander, Arnaud Amaury, was reported by a fellow Cistercian to have been asked how to tell Cathar from Catholic.   His reply demonstrated his faith: "Kill them all - the Lord will recognise His own".  The Roman Church has recently taken to disowning these words, but they are reliable. Not only were they recorded by a sympathetic fellow churchman, but they also accord with other sources.  The Song of the Cathar Wars, sympathetic to the crusaders at this stage [laisse 21] records that the French crusaders explicitly planned to adopt a popular terrorist tactic of indiscriminate massacre (one often used by the Roman Church against those they regarded as infidels):

Le barnatges de Fransa e sels de vas Paris,
E li clerc e li laic, li princeps e·ls marchis,
E li un e li autre en entre lor empris
Que a calque castel en que la ost venguis,
Que no's volguessan, tro que l'ost les prezis,
Qu'aneson a la espaza e qu'om les aucezis;

The lords from France and Paris,
clergymen and laymen, princes and marquises,
all agreed that at every castle the army besieged
any garrison that refused to surrender
should be slaughtered wholesale
once the castle had been taken by force

When the town was taken Catholic citizens sought refuge in a Church dedicated to Mary Magdelene.

Al moster general van ilh plus tost fugir.
Li prestre e li clerc s'anero revestir
E fan sonar les senhs, cum si volguessan dir
Messa de mortuorum, per cors mort sebelhir.

Hurridly they took refuge in the high church.
The priests and clerks put on vestments
And had the church bells rung as for a funeral
And started a mass for the dead

The mass for the dead was for themselves. The Church was set alight and the rest of the town put to the sword.   Some 7,000 people died in the church including women, children, priests and old men.  Elsewhere many more thousands were mutilated and killed.  Prisoners were blinded, dragged behind horses, and used for target practice The town was razed.  Arnaud, the abbot-commander, wrote to his master the Pope: "Today your Holiness, twenty thousand citizens were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex".   Reportedly, not a single person survived, not even a new born baby.

The town of Béziers is located in the Hérault département. Today, there is almost nothing to see remaining from the period.  There is no mention of this atrocity in any of the churches in the town, but the city council has put up discreet plaques commemorating the events that took place here. 

Perhaps the most enduring memorial is the sentiment "Kill them all - the Lord will recognise His own".  In Latin: Cædite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius; in French Tuez-les tous, Dieu reconnaîtra les siens. The words - and their fulfillment - are remembered by almost everyone in the Languedoc. 

A small plaque opposite the entrance to the church at Béziers commemorates the Grand Mazel (Great Massacre). A plaque in the Cathedral avoids mentioning the massacre altogether, just noting that the cathedral was destroyed during the "Albigensian War", and that the cathedral is held dear by the inhabitants of the city.

 

 

 

Cathedral of Saint Nazaire,
seen from the other side of the River Orb

 

The Seal of the City of Béziers (copied from the medieval seal of the Trencavel Viscounts of the City)

 

As throughout the Languedoc, the flag of the ancient Counts of Toulouse is flown everywhere

 

The site of the castle of the Viscounts of Béziers is now an open space, the "Place Jean Jaures", but its presence is remembered in its Occitan name "The Place of the Castle". Today, no trace remains of the the medieval castle of the Viscounts of Béziers

 

 


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Vaulting in the chancel of Saint Nazaire

 

The murder of Raymond Trencavel, Viscount of Béziers, on 15th October 1167 Painting by Noel Sylvestre (1847-1915)

now in the Church of the Magdelene (where the murder took place, well before the period of the albigensian Crusade).

Because of this murder, the Pope excommunicated the whole town.

 

 

A road sign commemorates the location of the Viscounts' Castle ithin the city walls

 

Pierre-Paul Riquet (June 29, 1609 – October 4, 1680) was the engineer and canal-builder responsible for the construction of the Canal du Midi.

 

 

 

Pierre-Paul Riquet (June 29, 1609 – October 4, 1680) was the engineer and canal-builder responsible for the construction of the Canal du Midi.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

The Church of the Magdelene

 

The Church of the Magdelene

 

The Church of the Magdelene

 

Interior of The Church of the Magdelene

 

Interior of The Church of the Magdelene

This window commemorates the local tradition that Mary Magdelene came to and settled in Provence.

 

Interior of The Church of the Magdelene

baptismal font, in Caunes marble

 

Outside The Church of the Magdelene

A street name commemorates the Trencavel family, Counts and later Viscounts of Béziers

 

Outside The Church of the Magdelene

Bicycle racks feature the cross of the Counts of Toulouse.

 

Outside The Church of the Magdelene

traffic barriers feature the cross of the Counts of Toulouse.

 

Feria poster

 

 
 
 
 

 

 
 

 

vv vvv

 

 

The Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint Celse

 

The Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint Celse

 

The Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint Celse

 

The Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint Celse

 

Inside the Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint of Celse

Balustrade of Caunes marble

 

Inside the Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint Celse

Choir vault

 

Inside the Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint of Celse

 

Organ, Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint Celse

 

cherub, Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint Celse

 

cloister, Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint Celse

 

Plaque in the cloister, Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint Celse - rather bizarrely recognising Bezier's troubadour tradition before it was extinguished in the wake of the Albigensian Crusade

 

Road just outside the Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint Celse

 

view from the Bishop's garden, outside the Cathedral of Saint Nazaire & Saint Celse

 

 

 

 

La massacre de Béziers, 1960, by Jacques Fauché, oil on wood, 197 x 100cm

Men, women, children, priests massacred by Arnaud Amaury's Crusaders at Béziers in 1209

 

 

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