The Perfect Heretics

Jeff Merrifield

in July 1995 The Perfect Heretics conference took place in Glastonbury

The Conference:

The Perfect Heretics conference took place at the Assembly Rooms in Glastonbury, a historic building now used as the community meeting hall. It was a delightful summer weekend. Some one hundred and thirty people attended and guest speakers included Nicolas Gouzy, from the National Centre for the study of Catharism in Carcassonne, Michel Roquebert and Yves Rouquette, two distinguished writers on Catharism, and Jeff Merrifield, author of the book, The Perfect Heretics.

But who were the Cathars? This was a weekend exploring the Medieval sect from the Languedoc region of France, now more commonly known as the French Pyrénées, and the Albigensian Crusade that was mounted against them. In 1208, the Pope, the ironically named Innocent III, unleashed this brutal crusade, under the command of Simon de Montfort, against the districts of Toulouse, Albi and the surrounding region, because of their support for those known as the Cathars. These poor preachers had given up their worldly goods to deliver the message of Christ, by word and by example, through an austere lifestyle. Today we would regard them as devout religious extremists, then they burned them, in large numbers!

The Conference was the first major British event, outside of specifically academic circles, to examine the Cathars, their way of life, the rituals, their religious philosophy, the role of women as Perfecti in the Cathar church and links with Grail legends.

Speakers: Yves Roquette, from Beziers, an Occitanian writer, author of The Cathars, one of the best books on the subject, with a great passion for these devout people and the horrendous things that were done to them in the name of Christianity; Michel Roquebert, the most prolific writer on the subject, with over twenty books under his name, the most recent exploring the links with the Grail legends; Nicolas Gouzy, director of the CNEC (the National Centre for the Study of Catharism) at Carcassonne, who took over as director from Anne Brenon, whose particular body of work was examined on the weekend by Marie-Ange Chevrier - her books include a study of women in Cathar society; and a fabulous reinterpretation of the Montsegur legend. There was also the first performance of a new choral opera work, The Cathars, by Robert Robertson.

The Book:

Jeff Merrifield's new book,* was launched at the conference. Also called "The Perfect Heretics", it is an attempt to look objectively at the Cathar phenomenon, stripping away some of the veneer of justification that academics, ancient and modern, seem to imply when recording the treatment of the so-called "heretics". The book has contributions from the prominent French authors who were speakers at the conference, as well as the first English translation of the text of a son et lumiére performed in the small Pyrénées village of Caudiès-de-Fenouillèdes. Jeff Merrifield is an Essex based playwright and author, who has spent much time in the region, researching material and visiting the places where the Cathars lived and died. "The Perfect Heretics" is a large format paperback, with over twenty photographs and illustrations and is published by The Enabler, a subsidiary of Russell House.

The Opera:

Robert Robertson's opera, based on European choral traditions, but using diverse musical sources, from Tallis and Purcell to Russian Orthodox church music, sometimes in William Burroughs cut-up ways, recreates the nature of the Cathar persecution, the Inquisition and the battles fought against the Southern Lords who defended the Cathars. It features a choir, instrumental ensemble, plus sequenced and tape/live mix of music. It was also performed at Cressing Temple, an ancient Knights Templar site in Essex.

* The Perfect Heretics: Cathars and Catharism, Jeff Merrifield, (Enabler Publications, Dorset,1995)

ISBN 0 9523316 2 4. Available from Playback Arts Limited, Da Cutts, Stove, Sandwick, Shetland ZE2 9HH, UK

10.00 pounds sterling, including post & package (Europe) - 13.00 pounds sterling or $18 (worldwide)

The book uncovers the realities of the Cathar phenomenon - the myths, the legends and the historical truths, stripping away some of the veneer of justification that academics, seem to imply when recording the treatment of the so-called heretics and their sympathisers.

In the year 1208, Pope Innocent III (one of the most inappropriately named popes in history) unleashed the full might of a most horrendous and brutal crusade against a sect of devout Christians living in the Languedoc, an area on the French side of the Pyrenees.

These Cathars had a huge following. The spiritual leaders were known asParfaits and lived a life of chastity and purity. Though historically known as the Good Men, there is little doubt that the Cathars, with their general rejection of genderism, would today prefer the term 'Good People', or as they were commonly known, the 'Good Christians'. Women occupied priestly roles alongside the men, taking the words of Christ as their absolute guiding principle. They were simple, humble and much respected by their communities - yet they were burned alive as heretics.

The Perfect Heretics digs into the murky depths of religious intloerance and persecution. It was published to co-incide with the first major conference on the Cathars to be staged in Britain and features contributions from major Cathar scholars from France.

Completely New Edition brought out in 2007 - details here

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Book list:

  • Aue, Michele; Cathar Country (MSM, Vic-en-Bigorre, 1992)
  • Aubarbier, Jean-Luc; Wonderful Cathar Country (Editions Ouest France, Rennes, 1194)
  • Baigent, Michael; Leigh, Richard & Lincoln, Henry; The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (Cape, London, 1982; Corgi, Ealing, 1991)
  • Borst, Arno; Die Katharer (Schriften der Monumenta Germani' historica, Stuttgart, 1953)
  • Brenon, Anne; La Vrai Visage du Catharisme (Loubatieres, Toulouse, 1991)
  • Brenon, Anne; Les Femmes Cathares (Perrin, Paris, 1994)
  • Duvernoy, Jean; Le Catharisme: la Religion des Cathares (Privat, Toulouse, 1976) 2 vols.
  • Duvernoy, Jean, ed. Registres d'inquisition de Jacques Fournier; annotated translation into French of the Inquisition records from Pamiers, 1318-1325 (Mouton, Paris,1978) 3 vols.
  • Gougaud, Henri; Belibaste - a novel based on the last Cathar Perfecti (Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1982)
  • Hamilton, Bernard; The Albigensian Crusade (Historical Assoc., London, 1974)
  • Lambert, Malcolm; Medieval Heresy - popular movements from Bogomils to Hus (Edward Arnold, London, 1977)
  • Ladurie, Emmanuel Le Roy; Montaillou: village Occitan, 1294-1324 (Gallimard, Paris, 1975; Penguin, London, 1978)
  • Martin-Chabot, trans., ed.; La Chanson de la Croisade Albigeois, translation from the 13th century account in the original Occitan, one of the few remaining contemporary records (Belles Lettres, Paris 1976) 3 vols.
  • Merrifield, Jeff. The Perfect Heretics: Cathars and Catharism, (Enabler Publications, Dorset,1995), ISBN 0 9523316 2 4
  • Neil Fernand; Les Cathares de Montsegur (Paris, 1978)
  • Nelli, Rene; La Vie Quotidenne des Cathares du Languedoc au XIII siecle (Paris, 1969)
  • Nelli, Rene; Ecritures Cathares: textes preCathares et Cathares (Paris, 1968)
  • Oblensky, D.; The Bogomils: a study of Balkan neo-Manichaesism (Twickenham, 1972)
  • Oldenburg, Zoe; Massacre at Montsegur: a history of the Albigensian Crusade (New York, 1961)
  • Peyrat, Nicholas; Histoire des Albigeois (Paris, 1870-2) 3 vols.
  • Roche, Deodat; Le Catharisme (Toulouse, 1947)
  • Roquebert, Michel; L'Epopee Cathares (Privat, Toulouse, 1971-1994) 5 vols.
  • Roquebert, Michel & Bibolleet, Catherine; Light and Shade in the Country of the Cathars (Privat, Toulouse, 1992)
  • Roszak, Theodore . Flicker. (Bantam). ISBN 0553-40480-6
  • Rouquette, Yves; Cathars (Loubatieres, Toulouse, English edition, 1992)
  • Runciman, Sir Stephen; The Medieval Manichee: a study of Christian dualist heresy (Cambridge, 1947)
  • Sumption, Jonathan; The Albigensian Crusade (Faber, London, 1978)
  • Thouzellier, C.; Rituel Cathare: texte critique, traduction et notes (Paris, 1977)
  • Wakefield, Walter & Evans, Austin; Heresies of the Middle Ages (New York, 1991)

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