Cathar Country

It’s often strange to think that this region of France we’re now in was once the site of one of Europe’s bloodiest persecutions. Hundreds of years ago this was the land of the Cathars, a religious group who believed that the material world was the creation of Satan and that worldly possessions were something that should be abandoned. It wasn’t long before the Catholic Church feared their growing sway over people’s hearts and sent in the Inquisition.

It didn’t end well for the Cathars who now exist as much in legend as they do in history. They have been tied to grail stories, troubadours and many other interesting speculations.

In the evenings there’s a prolonged twilight that stretches across the landscape, the hum of insects dying down after another hot day, and the wind washing through the tress of the fertile lake basin. This is wine country of the Minervois appellation. In the towns, you see no more than a handful of people in the streets. There’s no hurrying, except when you hear a train in the distance. Instead, there’s a deep, deep quiet  that pervades, and makes it hard to believe that this was ever the site of such hostility and intolerance. But then you see a medieval church rising on the horizon that’s been fortified with arrow slits pointing back on its own town, high and menacing in the evening light.

One day mid afternoon something shattered the sky, and I clutched my head and crouched as a low-flying jet bomber on practice maneuvers tore through the air only a few hundred meters above me. It reminded me that peace is not the norm, but a temporary state, and a blessing we can’t hope for until we think of some way to find it with everyone. Otherwise, we’re just retreating to some borrowed quiet, which isn’t a reality, but a beautiful illusion and a trick, much like what the Cathars thought this world to be.