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

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In March 1211, during the wars against the Cathars of the Languedoc, Lavaur was besieged by Simon de Montfort. The town fell on 3rd of May, 1211, following which the French Catholic Crusaders excelled even themselves in cruelty and disregard for the accepted rules of war.  The head of the garrison, Aimeric-de-Montréal, was hanged along with his knights. His widowed sister, the chatelaine of Lavaur, Gerauda (or Geralda) de Lavaur, was brutally murdered.

Today nothing remains of the Medieval Castle, but you can visit a memorial commemorating Lady Gerauda' s murder and the loss of independence of the people of Occitania, and also a Cathedral built to mark the Catholic victory.

Lavaur is a commune in the Tarn department in southern France. It lies 37 km southeast of Montauban by rail. Lavaur stands on the left bank of the Agout, which is here crossed by a railway-bridge and a fine stone bridge of the late 18th century.

 

Lavaur. Detail from the Spirit of Crusade map by Forrester Roberts. Click on it to go to Forrester Roberts' website, in a new window In 1180-1181, well before the Crusade against the Cathars, There was another military expedition, led by a Cistercian against the people of the Languedoc. Henry of Marcy, Abbot of Clairvaux had taken part in a failed mission to the Languedoc in 1178. A little later, as Cardinal-Bishop of Albano, he tried again. His failure as a preacher led to him head a military expedition against the territories of Roger II Trencavel, Viscount of Béziers, anticipating Arnaud Amaury, the Cistercian Abbot who lead the Albigensian Crusade. Commanding armed forces provided by Raymond V of Toulouse, Henry successfully took Lavaur in 1181, forcing the submission of its lord and capturing two Cathar Parfaits.

A generation later in March 1211, during the wars against the Cathars of the Languedoc, Lavaur was besieged again, this time by Simon de Montfort. The town fell on 3rd of May, 1211, following which the French crusaders excelled even themselves in cruelty and disregard for the accepted rules of war.  The head of the garrison, Aimeric-de-Montréal, was hanged along with his knights. His widowed sister, the chatelaine of Lavaur, Gerauda (or Guiraude or Geralda) de Lavaur, was brutally murdered. The Song of the Cathar Wars [laisee 68] relates the event, pointing out that Gerauda had been famed for her generosity to all - any visitor would be invited to dine (see below)

Google map showing the location of Château de Lavaur

 

 

The Song of the Cathar Wars [laisee 68]

C'anc mais tant gran baro en la crestiandat
No cug que fos pendutz, ab tant cavar de latz;
Que sol de cavaliers n'i a ladoncs comtat
Trop mais de quatre vins, so me dig un clergat...

Estiers dama Girauda qu'an en UN potz gitat:
De pieras la cubriron; don fo dols e pecatz,
Que ja nulhs hom de segle, so sapchatz de vertatz
No partira de leis entro agues manjat.

Never so far as I know has so great a lord
Been hanged in all of Christendom,
Nor with so many knights at his side
More than eighty of them, there were, so a clerk told me...

Beside this, they threw Lady Geralda into a well
And heaped stones on top of her, a shame and a sin
For no one in this world, you may take my word for it,
Ever left her presence without having eaten.

 

 

As in all other cases, Cathar parfaits declined to abjure their faith.  400 Cathars were burned alive by the crusaders, "with great joy" as the Catholic chronicler de Cernay noted.  (The crusaders generally burned people alive "with great joy" - cum ingenti gaudio).  One Parfait allegedly renounced his faith.  The rest sang canticles as they were being led to the pyres.  Here is the account of the whole series of murderous events given by Pierre des Vaux de Cernay (§227, p 117):

Soon Aimeric, the former lord of Montréal. of whom we spoke above, was led out of Lavaur with up to eighty other knights. The noble Count [de Montfort] proposed that they should all be hanged from fork-shaped gibbets. However, after Aimeric, who was taller than the others, had been hanged, the gibbets started to fall down, since through excessive haste they had not been properly fixed in the ground. The Count realised that to continue would cause a long delay and ordered the rest to be put to the sword. The crusaders fell to this task with great enthusiasm and quickly slew them on the spot. The Count had the Lady of Lavaur, sister of Aimeric and a heretic of the worst sort, thrown into a pit and stones heaped on her. Our crusaders burnt innumerable heretics, with great joy.

Today a sign at the top of the steps from the street to the esplanade tells the same story, pointing out that the massacre here was the largest of the crusade.

Haut lieu du Catharism, emplacement du chateau de Dame Giraude, 1211, prise de Lavaur par S. de Montfort, chef de la Croisade contre les Albigeois. Dame Guraude fut jettée dans un puits, 400 Cathares furirent jetté dans les flammes du plus grand bucher de la croide.

High place of Catharism, location of the castle of Lady Geralda, at Lavaur, 1211, taken by Simon de Montfort, leader of the Crusade against the Albigensians. Lady Geralda was thrown into a well, 400 Cathars were thrown into the flames in the largest mass-burning of the crusade.

 

 

 

 

Google map showing Château de Lavaur

 

Des Vaux de Cernay clearly identifies his hero Simon de Montfort as personally responsible for multiple murders here. Even by the standards of medieval warfare the killing of prisoners of war and captive women was not acceptable. For the people of the Languedoc these were crimes against paratge, in modern terms, crimes against humanity. For Des Vaux de Cernay these actions were examples from a series of wondrous victories for the soldiers of Christ.

A Gothic Cathedral at Lavaur - shown on the right - was erected to commemorate the proud triumph of these soldiers of Christ. 

A little way down the road "rue Dame Guiraude" at Le Plô del Castel at Lavaur (The Plain of the Castle) where the chateau once stood, is a memorial marking this event. As at Minerve, a dove is carved into the stone. an inscription says in Occitan (with the webmaster's translation):

A LA VAUR LO POBLE
OCCITAN PERDET SON
INDEPENDENCIA
MAS DINS SET SEGLES
LO LAURIER TORNA
VERDEJAR

AT LAVAUR THE OCCITAN
PEOPLE LOST THEIR
INDEPENDENCE
BUT IN SEVEN CENTURIES
THE LAUREL WILL AGAIN
FLOURISH

 

Is also says on the base in French, with the webmaster's loose transl;ation:

En ces lieux Dame Giraude et ses chevaliers affronteront les croises de Simon de Montfort. avril-mai 1211

At this place Lady Geralda and her knights faced the crusaders of Simon de Montfort. April-May 1211

 

Each year since 1971 the local archaeological society has organised a ceremony to mark the fall of Lavaur and the murder of Dame Guiraude de Laurac. Garlands of flowers are placed on the memorial, with the motto "Pretz, Paratge et Convivença"

The Cathedral at Lavaur

 

The annual commemorative ceremony in 2010

 

Dame Guiraude jetée dans un puits, 1960, by Jacques Fauché, oil on wood

Dame Guiraude, Lady of Lavaur, murdered by the crusaders by being thrown into a well on 3 May 2011

 


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La siège de Lavaur, 1960, by Jacques Fauché, oil on wood, 195 x 97cm

Catholic Crusaders (right) attack the people of Lavaur (left) in 1211

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