The Inquisition of Southern France Cathars:

The Socio-Economic Pressures and Religious Obligation as Driving Force behind the Papal Inquisition against the Cathars and the Testimonies of the Inhabitants of Southern France.

“The Penance of all the Cathari is, beyond all doubt, false, vain, delusive, and noxious. For in order to constitute true and fruitful penance, three things are required, namely, the contrition of heart, the confession of the mouth and the satisfaction of works,” 

Rainer Sacconi, a Catholic priest on Cathars

In the year 1209, Arnauda da Lamotha of Montauban and her sister Peirona arrived at the house of Raymond Aymeric in Villemur, a region in the Midi-Pyrenees of southern France. Both women were asked by Raymond to swear themselves to God and the Gospel, and to refrain from eating meat, eggs, and cheese. The women promised not to swear or lie, not to give themselves to any passion and never to leave the sect in fear of punishment. After reading a prayer together, Raymond kissed both women on the mouth before witnesses while the women stood together with their shoulders turned sideways. The participants of this particular event were known as the Albigensians or Cathars. The ceremony performed by Raymond was referred to as consolamentum, which was an initiation ceremony for a widespread heretical sect in the medieval Europe.

From eleventh century onwards, Christian Europe witnessed the growth of many forms of “religious dissents” that threatened the stability of orthodox Christianity. In particular, the


1. “Trial of Arnauda da Lamotha of Montauban (1244),” in Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society, ed. Michael Goodich (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), 200. This case is one of the earliest surviving trial records by the inquisitor Ferrarius in 1244. Arnauda was a perfecta who lived a life of strict asceticism. The records pretaining to the outcome of her trial has been lost.

2. Michael Goodich, Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), 198.


sect of Catharism became influential in northern Italy and southern France. The first known site of Catharism in southern France was in the region of Albi, thus the given name Albigensians.  The Cathars believed in the dualistic God of good and evil, rejected the Old Testament, refused baptism by a priest, and questioned the sanctity of marriage and confession in the manner that it was imposed by the Catholic Church. By 1167, Cathars had established churches or bishoprics in most of the southern France regions that challenged the existence of the orthodox Christian beliefs. Wakefield argues that in the twelfth century, southern France flourished economically, culturally, and intellectually, which resulted in people disputing the socio-economic inequality and “alienation” from the church. Catharism as an alternative religious belief spread in the southern France, specifically in Languedoc with the support of the counts and lords who self-governed the towns and villages. The Catholic Church responded first by sending missionaries to convert the Cathars and then through a religious Crusade authorized by Pope Innocent III in 1209, which took drastic measures from punishments, to destruction of property and massacre of thousands of Cathars in the span of twenty years in the region of Albi (Languedoc). The Crusade formally ended in 1229, giving way to a mass of inquisitorial trials against the Cathars. This essay will argue that the repressive nature of the Papal Inquisition imposed religious obligations and socio-economic pressures on the local clergy and the inhabitants of southern France, forcing them to accuse and prosecute the members of their own community as heretics.

This project will focus on the decrees and statutes, which the Catholic Church levied against the Cathars during the Papal Inquisition. In addition, this essay will analyze the Inquisition trial testimonies and confessions of the inhabitants of the southern France towns and villages that resulted in the prosecution of the Cathars in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The statutes are a collection of rules, regulations, decrees and methods to facilitate the Inquisition in order to obtain confessions and levy sentences. In 1229 in a joint venture, the Catholic Church and King Louis IX demanded that all “town governments” include laws against heresy in their statutes. Within these laws, both the lay and clergy were given lawful and religious responsibility of removing the threat of “enemies of peace” from their lands. Between 1179 and 1246, there were various decrees pertaining to the obligations of the authorities in charge as well as methods in searching and prosecuting the Cathars. The first major source of analysis is a document called Repressive Measures and Decrees: Promulgated against the Cathars by Councils between 1179 and 1246, which was produced by the secular and local church authorities in different council gathering to deal with the matter of Cathar heresy. I will concentrate on various statutes that resulted from these council meetings. This particular list of decrees came from the councils of Gascony in 1179, Toulouse in 1229, Beziers in 1233, Arles in 1234, and Norbonne in 1243. The purpose of these measures was to deal with the appointment of authorities, secular and religious against the Cathars as well as with punishment, imprisonment and penance of the accused persons.  The most significant aspect of these measures are the drastic actions and the authority bestowed upon these individuals in order to effectively execute the imposed decrees.

Another similar source used for this project is a document called Statutes Against Heresy, which was produced by the Council of Toulouse in 1229 and authorized by Count Raymond VII of Toulouse. This particular document deals mostly with the matters of confiscation or destruction of property for Cathars and their supporters in the County of Toulouse. The measures also show the strict economic and political pressure on the local lords and counts of Toulouse in dealing with heresy. Raymond was defeated at the Albigensian Crusade and was forced to sign the Treaty of Paris in 1229, which ended the Crusade. In return he was obligated to cooperate with the Catholic Church regulations against the Cathars. As the counts of Toulouse were great supporters of Cathars in this time period, it is likely that Raymond was pressured to take measures against the residents of his town after his defeat. 

The third significant source is Processus Inquisitionis or “A Manual for Inquisitors”, which was written in 1248 by Bernard of Caux and John of St. Pierre in Carcassonne. Both were Dominican friars who were commissioned by Pope Innocent IV and the archbishop of Narbonne to prepare this document as a guideline for other friars on the procedures of the Papal Inquisition.   This was the first manual of its kind. Francois Balme, a historian of the Dominican Order, discovered the only known manuscript of this document in the late 1800s. The manual is a series of short, but descriptive sections that deal with the initial calling of the community, official appointment of inquisitors, commission letters, interrogatory procedures, and punishments, including property destruction and penance for abjured heretics. This particular manual was significant, because it became the exemplary guideline for the statutes that other local town governments and local bishoprics adopted.

The final major source that I will be drawn from are the trial records and testimonies of the Papal Inquisition during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries that took place in various regions of southern France. Specific concentration will be given to the Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier, who became the Bishop of Pamiers in 1317. During his post in Pamiers, Fournier began a series of mass inquisitions against Cathars in southern France.  The translated testimonies used here are mostly, but not exclusively from the village of Montaillou in Ariege of Midi-Pyrénées, which was one of the hotbeds of the Cathars in this time period. Fournier conducted approximately five hundred and seventy-eight interrogations over three hundred days in Montaillou. In majority of the trials he was present or was represented by Brother Gaillard de Pomies of the Dominican Order. Le Roy Ladurie indicates that Fournier had personally reviewed every statement after the scribe(s) recorded the procedures of each trial. The cases were written in a Register of which two volumes have been lost. The preserved volumes currently exist in the Vatican library, which were stored by Fournier himself when he became Pope Benedict XII in 1334. I have analyzed only twenty-one of these records, which are testimonies and confessions between 1318 and 1322 and they are translated in English by Nancy Stork a professor in San Jose University. Fournier compiled the records for the purpose of the trials he conducted, however, a close examination of these testimonies reveal important aspects of the Cathars’ daily lives and their social interactions with the members of their communities prior to and during the inquisitions. These records also demonstrate the execution of the laws and regulations, which were imposed by Processus Inquisitionis and the Repressive Measures and Decrees against the Cathars.

In the inquisitorial war against the Cathars, the local Dominican friars and the appointed laity played a significant role in capturing heretics, obtaining confessions and prosecuting them. In the towns and villages of Midi-Pyrenees, Languedoc, and Alpes-Cote d’Azur in southern France, during the twelfth century, the counts self-ruled the regions, taxed inhabitants and made judicial decisions without any interference of the Catholic Church. Church authorities faced uncooperative lords and nobility during their missions against the Cathars. Subsequently, the Third Lateran Council in 1179 issued this statement against the above indicated regions, “We do pronounce an Anathema against them, and against all who shall hence forward adhere or defend their doctrines…the whole body of the Faithful must fight this pestilence vigorously, and even at need, take up arms to combat it.” This particular statement shows the initial call to all believers to treat the heretics and their followers as enemies. After 1229 this Anathema became effective in commissioning clergy and laity in the Papal Inquisition. While the Crusade did little to eliminate the influence of the Cathars, it did remove the nobility who supported the Cathars in the regions such as Toulouse in Languedoc. Those who stayed in power were forced to obey the regulations imposed by the Catholic Church against the Cathars. For example in 1229 Count Raymond of Toulouse who supported the Cathars during the Crusade assigned barons, knights and bailiffs to “solicit” and capture heretics in the County of Toulouse. This responsibility had major economic and political consequences for the officials who did not give up heretics. The “[council] decided that [if] seneschals and bailiffs [did not] act in faith will be removed without delay” from their official positions”. 

Furthermore, the Processus Inquisitionis assigned specific duties to the local bishopric clergy and Dominicans in order to preach, invite confessions, give sermons, and other pastoral actions to encourage witnesses to abdicate and give up Cathars. Offering penance and indulgences was a significant part of these sermons. In 1229 the Council of Toulouse awarded protection and penance in a decree stating, “Whosoever shall, according to the counsel of the Bishops, take up arms against these heretics shall earn two years’ remission of penance, and shall be placed under the Church’s protection, exactly like a Crusader.” By changing the phase of the inquisitions to a holy Crusade, the Papal Inquisition used the village clergy as a tool in seeking heretics. This method would have been successful in two ways. In the first place the local clergy were more familiar with the people in the community and may have had a better knowledge of the Cathar locations. It must be noted that the Cathars in southern France, prior to the Crusade, practiced their faith free and openly. In the second place, remission of penance would have been an attractive incentive to reaching spirituality, especially in the periods prior to reformation when indulgences through church was a common practice.

In addition, in order to receive this penance, the bishops, bailiffs, friars and any appointed laity by the town bishopric, had to take an oath to perform their duties in preserving the Catholic faith as stated by the Council of Toulouse in 1229. This oath had to be renewed every two years. Most likely it was easy for the inquisitors to recognize Cathars in this process, because it was against the Cathar doctrine to take an oath of this nature. Additionally, the Council of Beziers in 1233 stated that any appointed members by the Papal Inquisition as well as private persons had the right to arrest a heretic given that they surrendered them to the local bishop’s office. The same decree appeared later in Processus Inquisitionis, ensuring that the Dominican friars in charge followed these procedures effectively. The surviving trial records and chronicles of local clergy during the Papal Inquisition attest to the commitment of the appointment clergy in executing these regulations. Specifically, the two orders of the Dominicans and the Cistercians were instrumental during the Crusade and later in the inquisition of the Cathars. For instance, in an infamous case that has survived from 1247 in Toulouse, Friar William Garcias of the Dominican Order and his fellow friars became witnesses against a Cathar named Peter Garcias. Peter was from a noble family and a relative to William who frequently visited him in the convent. During one of his visits, he was having a conversation in the common room (schola) with William. Assuming that they were in private, Peter spoke about the myth of creation and the nature of God’s role in creating the world. Without Peter’s knowledge, William and few other friars who claimed they overheard the conversation, reported and testified against Peter. While it is possible that the other friars did not hear the conversation as accurately as they described in the testimony, this case shows that the local clergy were committed in searching and capturing heretics even if they were their own relatives. 

The Papal Inquisition doctrines also awarded extraordinary power to the local bishops and the Dominican friars in charge of the inquisitions. The early trials were sporadic and were conducted with poor procedures and registries, but by the year 1237 there was a structured procedure in place, as well as the presence of official notaries and registered files. The statutes under the Promulgation against the Cathars between 1179 and 1246 authorized the local agents, such as the bishop, bailiffs, lords and the Dominicans to inspect homes, chambers, cellarage and concealed places. If the suspicion had merit, they were allowed to demolish those properties. The Council of Toulouse in 1229 stated, “[. . .] property of those who are heretics or will be in the future is to be confiscated and occupied. Their children and other intestate heirs, even if they are of the orthodox faith, may not inherit through the sale or gift of said goods in any other way.” For example, in 1329 the bishop of Realmont, a village in the region of Midi-Pyrenees, ordered the demolition of four prominent Cathar homes belonging to William Ademor, Raymond Fauret, Raymond Aron and Peter de Medons. The inquisitorial court in Languedoc proved that all four men had harboured and supported Cathars. As a result, their houses were burned down to ground along with all their belongings. In such circumstances, the community was forbidden to build any property on those grounds unless the Pope authorized the rebuilding.

In some cases, however, the town councils under the Treaty of Paris in 1229, saw it beneficial to confiscate the property of the Cathars for the benefit of the local bishopric. This Treaty was signed between the Catholic Church and secular powers in southern France to ensure their loyalty to the Church in eliminating heresy. The Treaty also contained many provisions pertaining to the rights of the local clergy in the procedures of the Papal Inquisition. The Promulgation against the Cathars in 1229 as a result of the Treaty of Paris indicated that, “furthermore, we decree that the material stuff of the said houses shall be delivered to the flames, unless it seem profitable to us, according to our will, to employ the said material for pious ends.” For instance, in a case belonging to a deceased heretic named Guillaume Guilabert of Montaillou, in the region of Ariege, the high inquisitor Jacques Fournier in 1322 ordered his property to be confiscated from his heirs and to be handed over to the inquisitorial court of Pamiers. It is important to note that the Guilaberts were one the prominent families of Montaillou and the confiscation of their property would have brought significant amount of wealth to the bishopric. In addition, the Council of Arles in 1234 in the region of Languedoc awarded economic incentives to the local bishops and clergy for their efforts during the inquisitions of the Cathars. The decree stated, “Whosoever remain for more than a month under the ban of excommunication must, when he solicits absolution, pay fifty solidi for each additional month of delay. Half of the fine is to go to the penitent’s temporal lord, and half to his Bishop for pious causes”. Similarly in 1229, Count Raymond of Toulouse in Statutes Against Heresy demanded that “in whatever land or district heretics may be found [. . .] the men of the said city, village , or castle [. . .] should pay one mark for every heretic found there”. The cases above and the decrees show that it is likely that economic incentives were an effective tool in capturing heretics during the Cathar inquisitions.  

The decrees, regulations and the repressive measures against the Cathars and their supporters show that the role of the local bishops, Dominican friars, bailiffs, knights and the appointed laity in charge of the Papal Inquisition was significant in capturing the heretics, implementing punishments and awarding penance. The extensive power and financial rewards were the driving force behind the Inquisition. The Crusade had weakened the power of the local Counts and nobility by destroying their wealth and property. This weakness forced the local aristocrats to become allies with the local bishops in order to attack the communities in southern France, a task that they could not perform alone. The change in the political setting of southern France would have resulted in the community members to turn against each other as pressure from the secular and religious authorities increased. The next section will focus on the role of the local inhabitants of the southern France villages in the inquisitorial procedures and accusations against the Cathars.

The Cathar trial records from the southern France regions demonstrate the significant role neighbours and relatives played during the inquisitions. The repressive character of the inquisitorial procedures, social stigma, economic pressure, and fractured communities resulted in people becoming tools in the process of hunting Cathars. The witnesses in the trial records were usually neighbours, affiliates, or families of the accused. The testimonies and confessions in many ways show that the witnesses prior to the inquisitions had social relationships, engaged in economic activities and communal gatherings, such as religious masses, weddings and funerals with their Cathar neighbours. For example, in Montaillou, women created bonds of friendship in mills and market places by curiously monitoring other people’s behaviours and gossiping. Men bonded in taverns or in the fields during harvest and ploughing seasons. These gatherings were between believers and non-believers and brought people closer in the community. In almost all of the twenty-one records from Fournier’s Register, the witnesses and the accused refer to the events that occurred many years prior to the Inquisition, demonstrating that until the time of the inquisitions, relationships with the Cathars were seen as normal. For example in 1319, Barthelemy de Lagleize, a priest of Sorgeat in Ariege who testified against a Cathar named Jacqueline den Carot states, “About 12 years ago, I heard from a young girl [. . .], that the said Jacqueline and Guillaume Caussou [. . .] exchanged words and Jacqueline had said, ‘May God grant that we will see each other in the other world and be in Paradise!’ ” This statement refers to the Cathars’ belief in reincarnation of the body into another soul. However what is significant to note here is that this conversation took place twelve years ago. One can argue that remarks such as this in years prior to the Inquisition did not seem to be out of the ordinary even to a Catholic priest. 

Similarly, in her confession in 1320, a suspected Cathar named Fabrissa den Riba of Montaillou, speaks of being present in a funeral ceremony of another Cathar named Guillaume Benet that occurred twenty years ago. In another example from the same records in December 5th, 1320, Arnaud Cogul a Cathar from the region of Lordat in Ariege confesses:

“About twenty years ago, … I was coming one day from the wood of Bannieres, in territory of Bestiac and I was with the late Arnaud Excalas of Lordat, who was wearing crosses for heresy…. He told me that one day he was with his cows in the woods and Arnaud Record of Caussou, the now-dead heretic, came by with another heretic, whom he did not name. And this Arnaud gave these heretics something to eat. And for this he had had crosses imposed by the Inquisition.”

What Arnaud Cogul is referring to was the yellow crosses heretics had to wear over their clothing in the event that the inquisitorial court released them as abjured heretics. Arnaud’s confession demonstrates that interacting and sharing meals with Cathars were normal activities in the villages of southern France. For instance, Arnaude de Savinhan a Cathar inhabitant of Tarascon in the region of Alpes-Côte d’Azur denies in April 1320, that he was a Cathar. When the inquisitor Arnaude asks him why he took part in heretical meeting if he were not a Cathar, he indicates that he did not believe that he was committing a sin by socializing with his neighbours until he was told by the inquisitors. In another example, in 1320 Gaillarde, a woman from Ornolac in the region of Ariege, was brought in before the inquisitor for being present in the house of a heretic named Guillaume Autast four years ago. When asked why she did not speak of this matter earlier, she answers, “I did not believe that it was as serious as it is, but this year, urged on my conscious, I revealed this to Bernard Peyreou, the priestof Orancle [. . .] and he told me to reveal it to my lord the bishop of Pamiers.” Gaillarde also confesses to knowing Guillaume’s family, stating that she did not feel her association with them was wrong at the time. From the twenty-one records that I have examined almost all Cathars and non-Cathars claimed that their interaction was either out of ignorance or innocence, but in the eyes of the inquisitors, even the slightest contact with the Cathars was incriminating enough. The heretical thoughts and events described by the witnesses were usually insignificant or just a passing comment, but it was enough for the inquisitorial court to summon the heretics. For example, Guillaume Bertrand a witness from Goulier, in the region of Ariege, in 1320 speaks of only one incident that occurred nine years ago where he heard Bernard Franque an inhabitant of Goulier say, “Indeed there were two gods, one good and the other bad.” Another witness named Guillaume Seguela of the same village against the same Bernard indicates that four years ago a neighbour told him that Bernard Franque believed in the existence of a dual god. In almost all of the testimonies the witnesses speak of something that they had heard once or were told by another neighbour. It was possible that the Catholic inhabitants did not like what they heard from their Cathar neighbours, but what the Cathars said in public and what they practiced in their own homes seemed harmless at the time. The Inquisition provided people with a grace or indulgence period so that they could either confess or testify against the Cathar inhabitants. This would have been enough time for people to come up with incriminating stories or recall events that might save themselves from being punished. 

At the same time the Council of Narbonne in 1243 indicated that, “the names of the witnesses [were] to be kept secret. However, an accused person [could] list the names of his enemies”. In this manner, the inquisitorial court would have succeeded in finding other heretics through these lists. Whether they were guilty or not was up to the decision of the high inquisitor. This would have been an effective tool, because people in the small communities mostly likely knew each other very well and were aware of each other’s religious beliefs. For example, in Fournier’s Register the names of the four prominent families in Pamier seem to appear repeatedly in majority of the trial records. The Guilaberts, the Clergues, the Benets and the Tavernies were among the nobility of the Pamier region. The Clergue family for example, prior to the Papal Inquisition had a significant influence over the inhabitants of Montaillou and practiced their faith without fear. For instance, Fabrissa den Riba from Montaillou who was also a cousin to Pierre Clergue, rector of the village at the time, testified against him in 1320. She indicated that she had confessed to Pierre about some heretical talks she heard from Alazias Benet, anther Cathar. Fabrissa claimed that Pierre said, “ Be quiet, be quiet, you do not know what you are saying. There are no heretics in this regions, if there were, [the inquisitors] would certainly find them.” While Fabrissa does not indicate her relations with Pierre, another testimony by her daughter Grazide prior to Fabrissa’s confession reveals that Fabrissa willingly allowed Pierre to have carnal relationship with Grazida for several years. She denies on the other hand and claims that she instructed her daughter to stay away from Pierre because he was a heretical priest. This case shows that the fear of punishment and hardship of the inquisitorial procedures pressured people to come forward even against the members of their own family. Throughout her testimonies Fabrissa refers to several ceremonies she attended in the Clergue house and other prominent Cathar houses, like the Benets, a possible indication that she was a Cathar, which she denies fully. Fabrissa also provides a thorough list of several individuals in these ceremonies, which most likely led Fournier in Pamier to summon the rest of her family members. 

The Papal Inquisition created a social stigma against the Cathars and resulted in frictions among the believers themselves. There was a constant fear of being sought and found by the authorities. Heretics and supporters were often brought to the church between the masses and ridiculed by the non-believers. The Council of Narbonne in 1243 stated that the heretics and the abjured should be brought to the local churches between the readings of the Epistle and the Gospel in order to receive punishment by rod from the priest or friar in charge. These heretics were the same people that at one point in time freely joined the rest of the community in the church masses and other neighbourhood functions. Ladurie argues that even for the Cathars going to church was a necessary community gathering even if it meant giving “blank” confessions to the local priests. For example, in 1319 Jean de Vienne a Cathar from a region in Rhone-Alps of southern France indicates that he often went to masses. He believed that prayers given in masses for the death would absolve the dead person’s sin. It must be noted that Jean was a heretic who willingly confessed to believing in Cathar faith and refused to take an oath. Even for a devoted Cathar, going to a local non-Cathar church was an acceptable social practice, but the inquisitors viewed this interaction as association of Christians with enemies of faith. The Cathars on the hand saw themselves as Christians, but rejected some of its doctrine.

It is possible that some previous friction or on going community animosity gave people the opportunity to incriminate their neighbours. Although both the Council of Narbonne in 1243 and Processus Inquisitionis emphasised that, “Only those depositions inspired by malice or personal enmity are to be set aside as valueless,” this however, did not mean that witnesses did exactly as they were told. Most of the families were related to each other. Despite their active participation in the Cathar ceremonies, in some testimonies the members of the family speak ill against each other. For instance, Guillemette Clergue from Montaillou, who was married to Pierre Clergue, was also cousin and sister-in-law to Fabrissa den Riba, but accused her of being an evil person during her testimony. In her confession in 1320, she indicates how her brother chased his wife, Fabrissa, out of the house, because while “she was in the house, the heretics could not meet there as they were accustomed to do”. She also speaks of her uncle Prades Tavernier, who was a Cathar parfait and how she did not like to associate with him. Both the Clergues and the Taverniers were active Cathars in Montaillou. Guillemette herself was present in the ceremonies as per her confession. This alone already made her a guilty heretic, however, she still testified against her own family.

Guillemette Clergue was married to Pierre who was the rector and priest in Montaillou and a known Cathar believer. It would have been impossible for her not be labeled as a heretic. Although my sources did not have Pierre’s own trial and confession, his name appears in several testimonies as well as in one of the infamous trial cases of Beatrice of Planisolles, another Cathar in Montaillou whom was interrogated extensively by Fournier himself. Lambart in his history of Cathars indicates that it is possible that despite people liking the Clergues, they did not favour Pierre because of his ill behaviour in the community. For instance, he was known to have taken bribes and manipulated many women of the village to sleep with him. This may have been one of the reasons that Fabrissa as discussed in the previous section testified against him for taking advantage of her daughter. For example, Fabrissa’s daughter Grazide in 1320 confessed that, Pierre Clergue had carnal relationships with her, even while she was married to Pierre Lizier, another resident of Montaillou. Wakefield argues that while the southern France aristocracy was known for their vulgar sexual behaviours, they were not much different from the nobility in other parts of France. For example adultery and physical relationships between the women of the villages and the local clergy, while not acceptable, did occur. Similarly, while Grazide confesses that it was not a sin to have a sexual relationship with a priest, Fabrissa argues that, “[Pierre] told [her] that one woman was the same as any other and he thought he sinned just as much with one as with any other”, a heretical thought that Fabrissa claims to have disliked. 

During the trials Cathars used these social animosities to avoid punishment. For example, Beatrice of Planisolles from Montaillou, in her testimony in June 1320 confesses that she had sexual relationships with both Pierre Clergue and Barthelemy Amilhac, who was another priest in Montaillou. In Beatrice’s case her testimony against Pierre was incriminating as she speaks of how Pierre convinced her for years that carnal relationship in marriage was more sinful than outside marriage. Likewise, Barthelemy, in his confession in 1320 admits to having sexual relationship with Beatrice, but he later indicates that they had gone to a notary and she has given him a dowry in return for his companionship. The reference to the notary and indication of dowry signified a marriage like relationship. It is possible that Barthelemy wanted the inquisitors to believe that his relationship was legitimate in the eyes of the Catholic Church, because it was a known fact by the inquisitors that the Cathars carried on sexual relationships and saw them more legitimate than marriage. While Beatrice changed her testimony several times to show that she questioned these relationships, yet she continued with the affairs and admitted that she was still in love with Barthelemy. Beatrice by speaking of her conversation with Pierre about rejecting the sanctity of marriage incriminates herself and Pierre, even though she seems to be trying to use this as a way to show her innocence.

In addition, the economic consequences and punishments were significant enough to produce confessions. It is possible that some people confessed in fear of losing their property and belongings. Even the Cathars themselves changed their testimonies several times given the circumstances around their crimes. In the Statutes Against Heresy, authorized by Count Raymond of Toulouse in 1229, the secular authorities imposed strict economic punishments on heretics, lapsed heretics, and those who aided them. For instance, “If [people] refuse[ed] to swear loyalty to the Catholic faith and to abjure heresy, they [would] be punished with penalties laid down against heretics. If after having taken the oath, persons who have aided and abetted the heretic and have taken part in any way with them should be found, they [would] be punished the same way”. The severity of these measures may have prompted some people to testify. It is possible that some Cathars may have concealed their faith so that they wouldn’t lose their property. The Inquisition ensured that these strict guidelines were enforced in order for the people to understand the severity of their affiliation with the heretics. For example, condemning heretics after death was a common practice during the inquisitorial process. In a practice called exhumation, the heretic’s corpse was dug out, dragged through out the village and handed over to the local bishop’s office in order to be burned publically. The local bishopric according to the regulations under Processus Inquisitionis condemned the memory and the body of the death heretic. The village bishop also confiscated the property of the deceased and donated to the local bishopric. An example can be read in the chronicles of William of Pelhisson from the Dominican Order. William wrote a chronicle of the events that occurred in Toulouse during his post as an inquisitor and later as a record keeper in the Dominican convent between 1230 and 1246. In the year 1235 he writes about the exhumation of a heretic in Toulouse stating, “At that time the bodies of certain deceased persons who had been hereticated, namely Bertrand Peyrier and some others, were dragged through the town and burned.” He also states that people in Toulouse protested against this spectacle in their town and went as far as physically beating the friars who went to dug out the body. In addition, the count of Toulouse denounced and called the Dominican Friars enemies. William indicates that the town bishop had to run away because no one would “break bread” with him. Although this case shows that people, including the Cathars and other inhabitants, did not support this particular decree, we can deduce that despite the opposition this practice was a necessary part of the Inquisition.

A similar example is recorded in the Register of Fournier in 1321 in the village of Montaillou. Guillaume Guilabert, son of Jean and Alamande Guilabert died when he was sixteen years of age, according to his mother’s confession in 1321. In the same year, Fournier sent letters to summon all relatives of Guillaume who inherited his property, including his siblings and cousins who married in the Clergue and the Benet families. The relatives of Guillaume ignored the court’s summon and consequently, the exhumation of his body was ordered in 1322 by Fournier. His property and possessions were confiscated from his heirs accordingly. In the same manner Guillaume’s brother-in-law, Guillaume Fort who also lived in Montaillou was convicted as a relapsed heretic in 1321. His body was burned at stake and Fournier ordered to have his property confiscated. Nancy Stork, in her translation of this specific record, indicates that there were numerous inquisitors present in addition to Fournier during the trial of this case. In an unusual decision he expedited the trial and the exhumation of the heretic. It is possible the prominent families who were active Cathars faced strict trial procedures due to the nature of their activities. These cases represent the significant hardship that economic restriction brought on the heretics and their supporters, especially for those from the wealthy families who lost their possessions and status in the community. It would have been a difficult task to prove their innocence, giving that the local church benefited from the confiscation of these properties. It is possible that many witnesses came forward to avoid the harshness of these penalties such as financial penance or imprisonment within the walls of Carcassonne where some Cathar prisoners died from lack of food and dire living conditions while waiting for the decision of their trial. The Inquisition did not forgive any crimes due to age, health or relationships. The only exception was given if the absence of the parent would result in a child’s death. In the later years of the inquisitions even the relationships with the supporters worked against the Cathars as most of them, especially the perfaits, were found through the witness testimonies and trials of the Cathars who may have confessed out of fear of punishment, social stigma or economic hardships.

Through close analysis of the decree and regulations of the Catholic Church against the Cathars and the trial records of the inquisitions in southern France regions, this essay demonstrated that the political nature of the Papal Inquisition awarded extraordinary authority to the local village bishoprics, Dominican friars and the appointed laity. The inquisitors had the power to seek, accuse and punish heretics and their supporters at any cost if they were seen as a threat to Catholic faith. The inquisitorial agents also had the power to confiscate the property of the heretics and their supporters whether they were dead or alive. The local village clergy motivated people by communion gatherings and sermons to show that the Cathars and their supporters were the enemies of the Catholic faith and threat to peace in their own towns. The economic hardship and severe punishment of the heretics to the walls of Carcassonne imposed psychological pressure on people to come forward and confess against the members of their own community. The inquisition records from the Register of Fournier showed that social stigma, punishment, animosity against other inhabitants and economic restrictions mobilized residents as well as family members against each other. The trial documents demonstrated that prior to the Papal Inquisition, the inhabitants of the southern France villages had a normal life of social and religious associations with their Cathar neighbours. The Inquisition made the past interactions questionable to the non-Cathar neighbours in the community and changed the socio-dynamics of their relationships. The Cathars themselves incriminated their own relatives and friends by providing names during their testimonies. These testimonies and the list of names provided by both the witnesses and the accused were key tools for the inquisitors to arrest more heretics.  In short, the repressive nature of the Inquisition empowered the local village clergy in putting significant pressure on the community members to become rivals of their neighbours and relatives. The Papal Inquisition fractured the bonds of solidarity that existed among the community members resulting in the break down of the Cathar influence in the southern France villages by the late fourteenth-century. It can be concluded that in a way the Catholic Church succeeded more with the Inquisition than the Crusade itself. While the Papal Inquisition had a less violent nature, the mechanisms put in place were more effective in capturing heretics. It is not surprising that the Catholic Church used these types of measures again in an effort to distinguish other dissents against the Christian thoughts in the early modern period. 


Primary Sources:

“A Manual for Inquisitors.” In Heresy, Crusade and Inquisition in Southern France 1100-1250. Edited by Walter L. Wakefield. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974.

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier.” Translated by Nancy Stork. San Jose State University. Accessed February 3, 2013,

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Alamande Guilabert of Montaillou.” Translated by Nancy Stork. San Jose University. Accessed February 3, 2013, %20FINAL.pdf.

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Bernard Franque de Goulier.” Translated by Nancy Stork. San Jose University. Accessed February 3, 2013, 5-4-09.pdf.

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Confession of Barthelemy Amilhac, Priest, concerning his complicity in and concealment of heresy.” Translated by Nancy Stork. Internet Archives: Wayback Machine. Accessed February 13, 2013, ournier/amilhac.htm.

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Confession of Grazide, widow of Pierre Lizier of Montaillou.” Translated by Nancy Stork, Internet Archives: Wayback Machine. Accessed February 3, 2013, ournier/grazide.htm.

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Confession of Jean de Vienne, a Vaudois heretic.” Translated by Nancy Stork. San Jose University. Accessed February 3, 2013, 20FINAL%20.pdf.

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Fabrissa den Riba de Montaillou.” Translated by Nancy Stork. San Jose University. Accessed February 3, 2013, a%2024.pdf.

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Guillaume Autast bailiff of Ornocle.” Translated by Nancy Stork. San Jose University. Accessed February 3, 2013, FINAL.pdf.

Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Guillemette Clergue de Montaillou.” Translated by Nancy Stork. San Jose University. Accessed February 3, 2013, %205-4-09.pdf.

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Guillaume Guilabert of Montaillou.” Translated by Nancy Stork. San Jose University. Accessed February 3, 2013, pdf.

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Jacqueline den Carot of Ax.” Translated by Nancy Stork. Internet Archives: Wayback Machine. Accessed February 3, 2013. ournier/dencarot.htm.

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Witnesses against Arnaud Cogul de Lordat.” Translated by Nancy Stork. San Jose University. Accessed February 3, 2013, %20Lordat%20FINAL.pdf.

“Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier: Witnesses against Arnaud de Savinhan of Tarascon.” Translated by Nancy Stork. San Jose University. Accessed February 3, 2013, han%20FINAL.pdf

“Jacques Fournier: Inquision Record.” In Readings in Medieval History: Church and Society in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century, 4th edition. Edited by Patrick J. Geary. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

“Repressive Measures and Decrees: Promulgated against the Cathars by Councils between 1179 and 1246.” In Massacre at Montsegur: A history of the Albeginsian Crusade. Edited by Zoe Oldenbourg. Translated by Peter Green. New York: Pantheon Books, 1962.

“Statutes Against Heresy (1229).” In Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society. Edited by Michael Goodich. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

“Testimony against Peter Garcias of Toulouse.” In Heresy, Crusade and Inquisition in Southern France 1100-1250. Edited by Walter L. Wakefield. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974.

“The Chronicles of William Pelhisson.” In Heresy, Crusade and Inquisition in Southern France 1100-1250. Edited by Walter L. Wakefield. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974.

“Trial of Arnauda da Lamotha of Montauban (1244).” In Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society. Edited by Michael Goodich. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.


Edward Peters, Edward. Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980. 

Goodich, Michael. Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Lambert, Malcolm. The Cathars. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1998. 

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French village 1294-1324. Translated by Barbara Bray. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

Strayer, Joseph R. The Albigensian Crusades. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1992.

Wakefield, Walter, Heresy, Crusade and Inquisition in Southern France 1100-1250. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974.

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