Morbid History: The Massacre Of Beziers

The modern town of Beziers.

The modern town of Beziers.

I love history! Especially the parts that are all gruesome, sad and tragic. The story of the massacre of Beziers perfectly fits into that mold and is quite interesting. Many people think that crusaders only fought against the followers of Islam. Not so!

The Albigensians were a group of Cathars centered around mostly southern France during the 12th to 14th centuries. They were called this because the movement first gained hold in France in the town of Albi. The Cathars were a Christian sect that believed in dualism: they thought that this plane of existence was inherently evil, and that included the Catholic Church. Cathars wanted to achieve perfection and the Catholic Church was anything but that. I wonder how the Catholic Church reacted when the Cathars would point out that they were perfect, while the Church was corrupt? Let’s find out!

As you can imagine the Church was deeply concerned about the Cathars poaching believers from them. Their numbers were growing and they were beginning to exert influence upon the local nobility. Dangerous indeed, how dare they! During this time in history the Catholic Church was stamping out the last of what they considered to be heretical believers. In other words they were destroying any other form of Christianity that went against what they believed. How Christian of them! In order to stomp out the turncoat nobles who were supporting the Cathars the French king, Phillippe II Augustus,declared a crusade. No doubt he was urged to do so by the Catholic Church. This event is now known as the Albigensian Crusade. It was fought on and off for about twenty years and it’s aftereffects would be felt for centuries to come.

'Kill them all, and let God sort them out.'

‘Kill them all, and let God sort them out.’

Beziers, an ancient town in southern France, was the first major place to be attacked by these crusaders on July the 22nd in 1209. It was a stronghold of the Cathars so it would seem logical for the Church to choose it first. The crusaders gave the inhabitants of the town a choice, either surrender the Cathars to them and be allowed to leave, or not give them up and be slaughtered along with them. Well, rather courageously I would say, the town refused the request to surrender the Cathars. A commander of the crusade, Papal Legate Arnaud-Amaury, famously answered  ‘Kill them all, and let God sort them out.’ when asked as to how to tell the difference between a Cathar and a Catholic. Yes, that famous quote comes from this event! Neat, eh? Over 20,000 men, women and children were murdered that day and the town cathedral was burnt in order to collapse onto frightened townspeople huddled inside there for safety. Nobody was spared, not even Catholic priests. Afterwards the town was razed and its remains burned.

As I said before this crusade lasted for twenty years before the remaining Cathars either converted or were burned at the stake. Can you imagine what the religious climate would be like now if the Cathars were never massacred? Would their brand of Christianity be as popular today as the Catholic variety? This victory of the Catholic Church, in the battle of which Christian sect would dominate the West, was not won by logic or good deeds, instead it was won by the side that was willing to murder the innocent in order to get ahead.

What is interesting to note is that this crusade spawned not only the Dominican order of monks, who were charged with combating heresy, but the fist ever Inquisition. That’s right, before this crusade there was never a declared Inquisition. In my opinion this crusade in particular ushered in quite possible the ugliest and bloodiest time in the history of the Catholic Church.


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  1. Fascinating, I never knew anything about the Cathars. There seems little doubt that if the Cathars were around today their brand of Christianity would be more popular than the Church of England.


    • Definitely! I think a lot of people don’t realize that there used to be lots of different versions of Christianities way before Protestantism came into being. It’s kind of fun to think of what could have happened if another would have been the winner. 🙂



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