What is Catharism?
French history books are at pains to point out that “heretics” imported Catharism into a basically Roman Catholic France about 1000AD. Their general theory was that Catharism was a branch of Manicheeism.
But in researching the 13th century Inquisition records of Cathar testimonies, I found an account of an articled clerk, searching through the ledgers of his employer and finding a book written in Occitan and bound with parchment. Occitan was the language spoken in southern France at this time. The book contained arguments for and against Manichéeism compared to Catholicism. To make this sort of study shows the Cathars had found out about Manicheeism and were interested in it academically.
Therefore I concluded that Catharism was never Manicheeism before it was Catharism.
The Manichees of Bagdad in the 3rd century saw a conflict between the realm of God, represented by light and spiritual enlightenment, and the realm of Satan; darkness and the world of material things, a primal struggle between God and Satan; between the forces of light and those of darkness.
The Judaic idea of the Fall and of personal sin was repugnant to the Manichees; the soul suffered not from a weak and corrupt will but from contact with matter. But this was not a Cathar belief; the Cathars had a great belief in sins and the forgiveness of them.
Alternatively, said French history, Catharism came from Bulgaria or the people called the Bulgares or Bogomils. Some of these settled at Bugarach, which was how it got its name.
But Bugarach mountain and its village, near Rennes-le-Château, was not named after the Bogomils, or the Bulgarians or even the Buggers! It was named after a Roman villa there, owned by a man called Bugarius.
French historians like to think that France became Roman Catholic all at once in the very year that Roman Christianity was declared the Roman state religion by Constantine in 329AD, if not before.
Christianity existed around the ports on the Mediterranean coast, before that date, but this was not the Christianity of Constantine (Roman Catholicism); it was a faith based on the teachings of Jesus as taught by his disciples in very early days – Jesus Christianity.
The earliest Jesus Christianity began in Narbonne around 50AD, with St. Paul Serge, whose tomb still exists underneath the basilica dedicated to him in Narbonne. He had been converted by the Apostle Paul in Cyprus in 48AD – the story is in Acts. (Read about St. Paul Serge in our Peyriac article.) Ten years later Jesus Christianity existed at Marseille, for a stone proving this and dated 60AD was found there.
The harbour at Marseille – Notre Dame du Gard in the distance was built on the site of a Roman Temple to Artemis that was there in Roman days
This early Christianity in the south of France existed in small pockets, as one cult amongst many. There was never an overnght conversion of any region, anywhere.
I live near Narbonne and my research found that Mary Magdalene and Jesus came to the Corbières, specifically to Rennes-les-Bains, which was almost a suburb of Narbonne at the time, because Narbonne had no luxurious suite of baths of its own. Jesus was in hiding from the Romans and the Jews who had condemned him to death, and Mary baptised people and made them Christians.
In the departments of Ariège and Aude, where the Cathars lived in the Middle Ages, the earliest traces of Christian religion can be dated 5th or 6th century, that is, the period between 414AD and 507AD. This was the time that the Visigoths arrived in our region.
The Visigoths were Christian after the teachings of the Alexandrian priest called Aruis, thus they were Arian Christians. The bishops at the Constantine councils in the early 4th century who decided the Roman dogma, refused to listen to Arius, who said the Son was not the same substance as the Father.
The Visigoths did not believe Jesus was the Son of God, nor did they believe in the Trinity. Neither did the Cathars. Coincidence?
Meanwhile, of all the “heretic” faiths such as Manicheeism that the history books said imported Catharism into the south of France, not one of these faiths believed that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married. Only the Cathars have ever had this belief. So where did this belief come from, how did it originate?
To answer that question, let’s look at the philosophical concept called Occam’s Razor which says that the most obvious and simple answer to a question is the most likely to be the true one. In this case that simple answer is stunning. The Cathars of Aude and Ariège believed that Jesus and Mary were married because their ancestors living there in the first century had met Mary and Jesus as a couple.
The early Jesus Christianity was the basis of the Cathar beliefs. In these mountain strongholds of Languedoc, undisturbed for centuries, these beliefs were passed down from father to son or from mother to daughter, for hundreds of years.
Catharism was never a heresy that was imported into Roman Catholic France by strange foreign cults. Catharism was here before them all, as Jesus Christianity.
The arrival of Roman Catholicism
The later Roman Christianity took hundreds of years to impregnate itself here in Languedoc, beginning with Charlemagne in the late 8th century. Abbeys and monasteries were built. Churches were founded in the countryside and villages grew up around them. They became known by the name of their church and their saint; St. Martin, or St. Nazaire.
Look at your maps. Compared to the bulk of France, the Languedoc region has few villages named after their church, especially in the Corbières mountains and the department of Ariège. The vast majority of names were of Roman origin; the villages were there long before the Catholic bishops were.
Catharism was the original Jesus Christianity of our region. In the homelands of Catharism – the Corbières and Ariège – the people were Cathar right up to the time of the persecutions from the north of France against them.
At Rhedae, now known as Rennes-le-Chateau, Charlemagne instituted a survey of the region. A Roman Catholic church to St. Pierre existed there, so we know that conventional Roman Christianity came to Rhedae under Charlemagne’s rule.
There were two churches in Rhedae at that time, one to St. Peter, who ran and hid when Jesus was crucified but was later declared the leader of the Roman Church, and an earlier one to Mary Magdalene, who stayed with Jesus to the very end.
But the church of Mary Magdalene was not consecrated until 1059.
History tells us that by 872AD the Visigothic Counts of Razès, the area ruled by Rhedae, were “fully Christianised.” But the church of Mary Magdalene was not, for it had to be consecrated in 1059. But if the church at Rennes-le-Château was not Roman Christian before 1059 – what was it?
The wicked Archbishop of Narbonne
I knew from my Visigothic research that if a church had been used by Arians in Visigothic times, it had to be reconsecrated by a Catholic Bishop before being used by “christians” as opposed to “heretics.”
The consecration of the church at Rennes-le-Château was done by Archbishop Guifred of Narbonne, a businessman first and a bishop second. His position had been purchased for him when he was ten years old, for his Cerdagne family wanted the riches of the Narbonne region – the Narbonnais.
Archbishop Guifred was particularly busy that year of 1059, for the Viscount of Narbonne had tried to curb his business actvities, and Guifred was building a ring of fortresses and castles all around Narbonne so no one could stop him. This ring of protection invaded the Corbières and got as far as Auriac castle and Montferrand castle, at today’s Rennes-les-Bains. One of these fortifications was the village where I now live, Canet d’Aude, which had been owned by the Archbishop of Narbonne, whoever he might be, since 782AD. Guifred here fortified the Visigothic château (similar in style to the one at Rennes-le-Château except that all the towers are square) to protect himself, his soldiers and his wealth.
Now the plot thickens. As well as the château with its Archbishop’s Tower, my village has an old mill beside the river Aude. The mill part was added in the 14th century, but the building was originally a stone fortress built in 1059 by Archbishop Guifred. It is still standing, the architecture practically intact, except that one cannot climb completely to the top of the tower, from which the soldiers could see the traffic on the river. Those were the days when tolls were levied on roads and rivers, the owners of which were either the Viscount of Narbonne or the Archbishop of Narbonne. They were deadly rivals.
I walked down to the river with my Irish friend Roibeard and told him all about Guifred on the way. The mill is on privately owned land, but I know the family there and they don’t mind people looking inside the mill, at their own risk, so Roibeard went in for a look, waving to me from the battlements above. When he came down I asked as a joke; “Well, did you meet the wicked archbishop there?”
I asked that because he had “sensed” a lot of energy near the old Roman bridge to the south of the village.
“Yes, I did actually,” he said. I thought he was joking!
The next morning I woke up thinking that I must write down events of the day before and wrote, half-asleep, “Arnold sensed the wicked archbishop at the moulin.”
Roibeard and I were intrigued about the “Arnold”, Roibeard saying he always thought he had been reincarnated from Arnold Aimery, one of the Cathars that attacked the Papal legate at Avignonet, but that event took place much later in 1243. So we looked up Guifred in my Narbonne history book to see if he had anyone in his suite called Arnold, but couldn’t find anybody. However, it was a common enough name in the region at the time, and Guifred’s soldiers had fought battles for him at Villerouge, Fontjoncouse and Canet.
Maybe Roibeard was one of the soldiers.
Then something I saw in the book about Guifred sprang out of the page at me. During his troubles of 1059, Guifred “took refuge in an unconsecrated church in the Razès.”
The capital of the county called Razès, at the far western end of Guifred’s territory in the Corbières, was Rennes-le-Château, called Rhedae in those days. (Other villages Guifred used were Auriac, Castelmaure, Castelnau, Durban, Fabrezan and Thermes.) He was in hiding and then realised the church was unconsecrated. I had often wndered why he, the great archbishop, came all the way from Narbonne to consecrate this tiny church, little more than a graveyard chapel, of no interest to a great archbishop; but that was not the original purpose of his visit at all.
Thus it became obvious the Mary Magdalene church at Rhedae remained Arian/Cathar until as late as 1059. Catharism was there long before Catholicism was.
a window in today’s ruined Auriac, another of Guifred’s defenses
Bérenger Saunière and Mary Magdalene
Three years ago I was writing “Mary, Jesus and the Charismatic Priest” all about Rennes-le-Chateau and Bérenger Sauniere. I was convinced that the priest knew something about Mary Magdalene, and that knowledge was part of his hoard of secrets. I looked at the priest’s life before he came to Rennes-le-Château. He had served for three years at Le Clat, a village in the Pays de Sault region that straddles the border between Aude and Ariège. In Le Clat village church are two bells – one dedicated to the Virgin – for the Catholics? – and one dedicated to the Magdalene – for the Cathars?
Inside the church at Le Clat
In the Pays de Sault region are three churches dedicated to Mary Magdalene, as well as ruined chapels and wayside oratories dedicated to her. Three doesn’t sound much, but the church region in which I live near to Narbonne is a similar size with a similar number of churches and wayside shrines; but not one is dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene is well-thought of in the Pays de Sault.
A local association that had studied the religious history of the area told me the Pays de Sault was fiercely Cathar and the last Cathars of all came from that region until finally executed in 1329. The link between Mary Magdalene worship and the Cathars is strong.
Berenger Saunière loved Mary Magdalene, his church at Rennes-le-Chateau proves it. I wondered if the priest knew of the “everybody knows” legend of the region that Mary Magdalene and Jesus came to Languedoc? Everybody knows about the legend, but nobody knows where it came from. Once again, Occam’s razor tells us that the legend exists because Mary and Jesus came here. It’s that simple.
The Roman church tradition is that Mary Magdalene went to Provence where she converted the entire region overnight to Roman Christianity before retiring to her cave; 300 years before Roman Christianity began! But the Languedocian legend said that they both came to Languedoc, which means that Jesus survived the crucifixion.
Many people in the region of Rennes-le-Château today believe that Mary and Jesus lived there, not in the tiny village on top of the hill, but on the lands around which belong to today’s commune and include many caves, rivers, and a Celtic oppidum. (Some people say they have seen Mary and Jesus in the flesh, or to have spoken to them.)
But Rennes-le-Château did not exist in the first century, except for the Celtic oppidum now called Las Casteillas, and a temple to Isis where is now the church to Mary Magdalene. The cult of Isis was so widespread in the Roman Empire that many researchers have explored nearby Rennes-les-Bains and its territory, looking for a temple to Isis, but there wasn’t one, for it was at Rennes-le-Château.
The Romans lived at Rennes-les-Bains and it was their habit to built temples on nearby hilltops, to make a pleasant excursion on a nice day. I can imagine the Roman aristocracy setting out, with their servants and horses, to take a picnic to the top of the hill, to make a sacrifice, probably a bird such as a pigeon or dove, and then to admire the view and laugh and flirt over the good local wine, poured from amphores into goblets. Parts of the road linking the two villages still exists.
It was the connection of Mary Magdalene and Jesus to Romans in high places that enabled the lovers to escape after Jesus survived the crucifixion, and then take refuge in Languedoc.
Mary Magdalene and Jesus lived in Rennes-les-Bains and brought with them Jesus Christianity which later evolved into Catharism.
A comparison of beliefs
The beliefs of early Jesus Christianity, and those of the Cathars of the thirteenth century, are amazingly similar even after 1,200 years. We know this from the testimonies recorded by the Inquisition, accounts given by the Cathars themselves, which still exist in the Vatican.
The early Christianity of Jesus had its initiation ceremony – whole body baptism. Mary Magdalene baptised people in the River Sals at Rennes-les-Bains, at two places, the Fontaine des Amours and Le Benitier – the word means baptismal font. At the time, as in Judea, it was whole body baptism, the naked adherent was completely covered by water, his eyes, his hair, his nostrils, before emerging to be welcomed into the Christian community with hugs and kisses. This was a ceremony of cleansing, and the cold salty water of the Sals was considered particularly suitable.
The Cathars too had a serious initiation ceremony – the consolamentum. People under 18 years of age were forbidden to take it, it was so serious.
In this new life after baptism or the consolamentum, one had personal experience of God, one did not need a priest to intervene and do ceremonies for you; it was between you and God directly, you knew God for yourself. This is exactly what the Cathars believed. After initiation one joined a community which shared all goods in common, as it explains in Acts 2,44-47. This is exactly what the Jesus Christians did.
The Cathars believed in forgiveness. On one occasion, in a Church debate, they said that God was so good he would even forgive archbishops!
Cathar churches had no crucifixes in them for they did not believe that Jesus was crucified, nor that he rose again from the dead. The Cathars followed the teachings of Jesus, but did not believe he was an incarnation of God. They believed he had married Mary Magdalene; he was a real human being.
Neither did Visigothic Arian churches of the 5th century have crucifixes.
The Cathars studied and taught solely from the New Testament, notably the Gospel of St. John and the Book of Revelations, both of which were written by Mary Magdalene’s brother, Lazarus, who was devoted to Jesus. (See our article about Lazarus.) The latter book is an account of the visions of the writer. The first Christians, the Jesus Christians, were intense, deeply spiritual people.
The Cathar holy men, called Parfaits, were teachers and priests, and healers like the Druids – or like Jesus. It’s believed Jesus did what is now known as Reiki healing. Some Cathars practised meditation as far as what today’s spiritual people call “trance work.” It could be this that enabled the Cathars to tolerate some of the inhuman punishments they suffered during the Crusade against them.
The Cathars had woman priests, Parfaites. In Jesus Christianity too, there were women priests. There is evidence from the catacombs found under St. Peter’s Church in Rome that women did preach in early Christian days, in spite of the body of Peter, turning in his grave, above them! That’s just one fact that separates early Christianity from the Roman church, which decided that women could not preach, itself based on the even older Judaic ideas that women should be seen and not heard, must cover their heads, could sit quietly in a synogogue to absorb the advice of worthies such as St. Peter.
The Cathars were sexually liberal, as sex was merely part of the material world. But they thought that to bring children into the world, who would suffer in the world as they did, was sinful. They had contraceptive measures. They were not too concerned about getting married either; how could a priest marry people in God’s name? A simple agreement by the people concerned was legally binding. Parfaits and Parfaites could marry.
We know from the Gnostic Gospels, only recently discovered historically, that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were Gnostic. Gnostics believed the follower of Christ experienced Gnosis, or mystical knowledge, for himself and thus became close to God. By knowing yourself, you can know God.
How did the Cathars know this? There was no trace of the Gnostic Gospels in their history – gospels that have only recently been found, and were lost to Christianity for hundreds of years since Contantine’s purges in the late 4th century.
The Cathars knew it because they were originally taught it by Mary and Jesus.
The Gnostics believed in reincarnation, for the search for knowledge can take you through many lifetimes. When you had absorbed many mysteries, and your life was more spiritual, then maybe you could move into heaven for good. Cathars believed that the soul never died, unlike the body. Believers could chose whether they wished to be reincarnated again, or to go to Heaven for ever.
You can see that Cathar beliefs stem from Christianity in the time of Jesus. The Cathars only appeared in history about 1000AD, but they lived here in Languedoc hundreds of years before that, from the time of Jesus himself.
In 1945 the Gnostic Gospels were discovered and added to other Gnostic fragments found earlier, which made a body of knowledge that completely changed all the Roman Christian ideas of Christ and his teachings. These gospels were hidden by monks to save them around 380AD, because of the purges against heresy made by the Roman Emperor Theodosius.
The Gospels that mention Mary Magdalene turned traditional Christianity on its head.
The Gospel of Mary was dated second century and could not have been written by Mary Magdalene; the name reflected the style of the times, and today we would call it the Gospel about Mary. The Gnostics who wrote it obviously knew of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and their circle. For the first time, it was clear how close to Jesus Mary Magdalene was.
Only 7 pages survive so over half is lost, maybe for ever, although one never knows. Various fragments in either Greek or Coptic have been found it quite different places, evidence that it was widely circulated in the 5th and 6th centuries.
The Gospel opens in a scene set after the resurrection. Jesus commissions them to go out and preach, then leaves. But the disciples are frightened that the same fate as Jesus awaits them. Mary Magdalene reassures them. But they wept greatly, saying, How shall we go to the Gentiles and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? If they did not spare Him, how will they spare us? Then Mary stood up and said to her brethren, Do not weep and do not grieve nor be irresolute, for His grace will be entirely with you and will protect you.
This makes it quite clear that the disciples such as Peter hid during the crucifixion. They were afraid they too would be crucified. And Mary, as the one closest to Jesus, was the one they came to for answers.
The other Gospel mentioning Mary Magdalene, Pistis Sophia was dated even later, about 250AD. Sophia means wisdom. This gospel uses the editorial device of setting an idyllic scene where the evangelists and Jesus debated dogma by a Socratic question-and-answer method. Mary Magdalene played a large role in this, more than Peter, more than John. It makes it quite clear that the early Christians, that is, contemporary followers of Jesus, accepted women initiates who could freely enter or even orchestrate discussions. But Mary fought hard for this. In Pistis Sophia, she had to defend her position against Peter, who thought that women should say nothing, in public life or private, never mind preach. But the other disciples supported Mary, because she had such depth of spiritual vision they wanted to share.
In this book, Jesus returns to the disciples eleven years after his ascension into Heaven to exchange views on his teachings. The discussion took place on a mountain in Galilee and during it Jesus prepared a picnic with bread and wine for his disciples. But Pistis Sophia is very long, and one man could not have written it in an afternoon with a break for the picnic. The story was an editorial device to communicate the teachings.
The mention of eleven years illuminates something else; Lawrence Gardner, in his books about the Bloodline of the Holy Grail, consistently tells us that Mary Magdalene went to Marseilles in AD44 (eleven years after 33AD) and Jesus later followed her there. Lawrence Gardner had been reading Pistis Sophia.
This does not ring true to me. Mary would not have gone to France and left Jesus at the mercy of the Herods, the Pharisees and the Romans. Jesus could not possibly have lived eleven years in hiding in the Holy Land with a death sentence for treason on his head. No, the two left the Holy Land together in May 33AD to arrive in Languedoc in the June of 33AD.
Pistis Sophia, written in 250AD, was composed to pass on the Gnostic teachings of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, rather than re-define history. It was completely natural to them that Mary and Jesus loved each other and she was his closest disciple. That was the Gnostic belief when the book was written, over 200 years after Jesus and Mary Magdalene fled to France.
I have a copy of Pistis Sophia – it can be downloaded from the Internet. And you can read it on www.earlychristianwritings.com.