Montsegur Day is a feast day held annually in the Apostolic Johannite Church to commemorate the fall of Montsegur Castle and its Cathar defenders. The event happened on March 16, 1244 and marks one of the most significant moments in Gnostic history. On this day, more than two hundred brave men and women gave up their lives for what they believed was right. As such, it has become an important symbol for freedom and justice throughout for all gnostics. This post will explore the history behind Montsegur Day, some of the practices of the Cathars, and how we can commemorate the Cathars in our own lives.
The Cathars of Montsegur were a religious group from the Languedoc region of France in the 12th and 13th centuries. They believed that humans could achieve spiritual perfection through living a life of simplicity, humility, and poverty. This was at odds with the Catholic Church which viewed them as heretics, leading to their persecution and ultimate demise. The fall of Montsegur Castle on March 16, 1244 marks one of the most significant moments in Gnostic history and the martyrdom of the Cathars is commemorated today.
The Cathars believed that humans could achieve spiritual perfection through living a life of simplicity, humility, and poverty. This belief system was based on Gnostic teachings which teach that all human beings are created equal in the eyes of God and have within them an inner spark or divine essence. The Cathars did not believe in organized religion or hierarchy, instead choosing to focus on individual spirituality. They also rejected materialism as well as any form of injustice or oppression. As such, they advocated for social justice by helping those less fortunate than themselves and standing up against oppressive regimes and structures.
Cathars who wanted to be as spiritually pure as possible lived a strict life of celibacy, humility, and adherence to the bible, and were called perfecti. They ministered to their communities through preaching and a sort of baptism: a laying on of hands called consolamentum that was meant to elevate the regular Cathar to the level of perfecti and allow the person to ascend to heaven (like the Catholic last rites, consolamentum was usually administered near death for ordinary people).
Part of this attempting to live a life of spiritual perfection was reflected in the Cathar diet. With the exception of fish, Cathar perfecti were expected to live on vegan fare, excluding eggs, cheese, and even the animal fat so often used in medieval cooking from their diets. (Their inclusion of fish likely stemmed from their devotion to the New Testament, as Jesus himself fed the multitudes with loaves and fishes.)
The Cathars allowed women to become perfectae with the same ability to teach and preach as the (male) perfecti. It’s estimated that the number of perfectae hovered around 50% (sometimes more, sometimes less), which indicates that Catharism was hugely attractive to – and accepting of – women. It would be naïve to assume absolute equality between men and women at this time; however, given that the Catholic church strictly prohibited women from nearly all positions of authority, Catharism must have seemed inviting, indeed.
The annual celebration of Montsegur Day serves to commemorate the brave Cathars who gave up their lives for what they believed was right. In many ways, their martyrdom has become a symbol for freedom and justice, and each year people gather together to honor their memory. One popular way of commemoration is by reciting the names of those who perished in the siege, while also reflection on the values of social justice and equality that they stood for. It is a reminder to all of us that freedom and justice are precious gifts that should never be taken for granted. On Montsegur Day, we remember their courage and dedication to those ideals.