” Kill them all, God will recognize his own.”
~~ Arnaud Amalric, Cistercian monk ~~
The Song of the Crusade was written in Occitan, between 1204-1218: although originally the Song was attributed to William de Tudela, it has subsequently been shown to have been written by two distinct hands. William wrote the first third, while the anonymous contributor who wrote the final two thirds, is a distinctly superior artist of words. Janet Shirley has published the finest translation into English of this important medieval work to date. The Song of the Cathar Wars: A History of the Albigensian Crusade reveals in glorious detail the medieval world`s delight in slaughter and bloody conflict.
” But clamour and shouting arose, men ran into the town with sharpened steel; terror and massacre began. Lords, ladies, and their little children, women and men stripped naked, all these men slashed and cut to pieces with keen-edged swords. Flesh, blood and brains, trunks, limbs and faces hacked in two, lungs, livers and guts torn out and tossed aside lay on the open ground as if they had rained down from the sky. Marshland and good ground, all was red with blood. Not a man or a woman was left alive, neither old nor young, no living creature, unless any had managed to hide. Marmande was razed and set alight.”
The Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar states of southern France was instigated by Pope Innocent 111 in 1209, after the Catholic Church had come to the conclusion that the Cathar sect had become too powerful and influential amongst the peasantry, and more dangerously, the local aristocracy, to ignore. Any doctrine which preached getting back to the Christian basics of simple living without monumental church buildings, bureaucracy, papal wealth, paid clergy, selling of benefices and indulgences, personal wealth, married priests with extended families, moral and financial corruption, and the advocation of equality, peace, truth and simplicity in all things, threatened the symbiotic relationship between a greedy ruling class and the priesthood, and needed to be eradicated tutte suite.
” Hear this decree, for I want everyone to know what I have ordained: Let all my disciples walk in the light, let them bring fire and water, forgiveness and clarity, sweet penitence, and true humility, let them bear the cross and the sword with which they will do careful justice, let them bring good peace on earth, maintain chastity, righteousness and true charity; let them do nothing that God has forbidden. Whoever adds to this or preaches anything further, disobeys my words and my intentions.”
~~ Pope Innocent 111, 1209 ~~
With these words, Pope Innocent 111 launches the Christian world`s first ever crusade against fellow Christians: the Church was to stamp out any dissidents which didn`t tow the party line, or they would suffer fire and sword. As it turned out, it was church sponsored mass murder; in the following years, it`s thought that around one million plus individuals died from a religious persecution which was also used as an excuse to plunder land and wealth by greedy and powerful secular Church enforcers such as the King of France, and Count Simon de Montfort, a ruthless, piratical and unscrupulous individual who had lands on both sides of the English Channel, but always felt that you could never have enough – even if it was at someone else`s expense.
The second half of the prose poem is a highly skilled piece of work; it`s more dramatic and emotionally fulfilling, as it graphically paints the murder, mayhem and horrifying cruelty of so called Holy War. The invading crusaders are referred to throughout as the “French” – the people of the Languedoc didn`t consider themselves French, and had no wish to be. For the “French” lords of war, it was the perfect opportunity for a nice little land grab, and they saw no reason to display generosity of spirit to those they were robbing……….
” The lords from France and Paris, clergymen and laymen, princes and marquises, all agreed that at every castle the army besieged and garrison that refused to surrender should be slaughtered wholesale once the castle had been taken by force.”
The Song of the Crusade has been translated several times into French, so Janet Shirley`s 1996 translation into English was a welcome addition with it`s new title of The Song of the Cathar Wars, which is probably a more accurate description of a work which is without an original title. It took another hundred years for the Catholic Church to remove the Cathars from it`s radar, but it remains as an appallingly dark episode in a history of ever bloodier episodes as the papacy struggled to eradicate religious deviancy from the religious song sheet.