This morning, excitement pervades the group. Today we are officially pilgrims. Today, those of us willing will climb the holy mountain Montsegur, the ancient symbol to Catharism.
At an altitude of 1200 metres the Chateau de Montsegur is perched precariously on a rock formation called a pog. An Occitan word meaning peak, hill or mountain.
Montsegur has seen human settlement as far back as the stone age. Little was know about the fort until it became a haven for persecuted Cathars in the 13th century.
The weather is perfect, warm, clear skies. We leave the bus and walk towards the laurel of Catharism. Legend denotes 700 years after the last Cathar was burnt at the stake, 1321, the laurel tree will blossom once again and Cathars will return. Certainly the tree is green and while they may never have disappeared completely, the Cathars are openly returning.
In the future this day will feature heavily in my short story writing. For now, today, the intensity of the mountain and persecution of the Cathars creeps into my soul. Their story has to be told.
As we stand under the Laurel tree Isobel recites the Cathar Prophecy.
It has no fabric – only understanding
It has no membership – save those who know they belong
It has no rivals- because it is non-competitive
It has no ambition, because it only seeks to serve.
We listen intently. The opportunity to climb Montsegur with Kathleen, the author of the Magdalene Trilogy is why I am here.
We step out…the green field of the burned to our left. Our first stop is the Stele, a monument commemorating the death of the 210 perfecti and unrepentant credentes of the Cathar church. This first section of the climb is difficult, a long slow upward climb.
We move on, some faster than others. I take my time, stopping often to drink and to savour the breathtaking view down into the village of Montsegur. Finally I reach the fortress wall. I lean against its coldness and feel the energy of many souls.
Up a flight of wooden stairs and I am in the inner courtyard of the Castle ruins. Although there is no silence please sign, speaking seems wrong. We spread out, sitting in quiet contemplation of those tragic events of 1244.
Later we move through the archway to the steep rocky side. There are small ruins of a terraced dwelling here outside the perimeter walls. We sit on the low rock wall, the valley way below while Isobel sings the Hymn of the Cathars.
While Montsegur is a revered historical site, the local government has strict rules about praying or meditating while on the mountain. These practices are forbidden and while you may think the person beside you or in front of you is a casual climber, there is a risk. But here on the mountain, Montsegur is the ruler.
As was the case at St Baume, the climb down is slow. Walking past the Field of the Burned I feel the presence of many restless souls waiting for the day they will return.
The bus takes us into the village where we visit a weaver’s shop and the Church of Montsegur…a beautiful little church that is filled with symbols, secrets and statues…Jeanne de Arc, Saint Anne with her grandson and two Black Madonnas.
After a late lunch we leave for Alet-les-Bains.