Oct 302011
 

Very little remains of le Bézu castle which stands in a remote location on an overgrown, rocky ridge called the Serra Calmette. Most of the guide books to the region don’t mention it and I have only found it on one modern map which is the Carte de Randonée No 2347 for Quillan and Alet-les-Bains. This shows the footpaths in the area and marks the castle as the Chau des Templiers Rnes.

The site is approximately ten kilometres (about six miles) east of Quillan and two kilometres east of the hamlet of le Bézu. However the narrow and tortuous lanes will take about half an hour by car from the junction with the D118 main road about two kilometres north of Quillan. I would not recommend trying it without the map mentioned above or a local guide. The last part of the journey is along a well-maintained farm road to a point where the track widens enough to park a couple of cars and to provide a turning space.

The path up to the castle (see first photo) crosses a sloping grassy patch to a sign which announces you have arrived at le Bézu chateau, gives a sketchy plan of the original layout and some of its history. The place became a ruin in the fifteenth century and has gradually collapsed down the steep hillside until very little remains – just a few walls only six or eight feet high. Obviously much of the stone has been robbed to construct other buildings in the locality.

The castle was originally a long, narrow building constructed against the side of the almost vertical bedrocks of the ridge. This would have made it impregnable from the north where the cliffs are hundreds of feet high. Even to the south the hillside is very steep and rough as you discover when you take the precipitous path up to the castle remains. The slopes are densely wooded and near the top it is a mass of almost impassable undergrowth, bushes and brambles.

The narrow path leads to the original gateway to the castle at the eastern end where the ridge has dropped to a col. Here there is a threshold with the Templar cross carved into it (see second photo). Of course it is impossible to say when this rough carving was made or whether it has any relevance to the ancient Order of the Knights Templar. But it is a romantic experience to be standing nearly three thousand feet above sea level among the ruins with panoramic views all round over the former lands of the Cathars and with this ancient symbol at your feet.

There are well-documented links between the Cathars and the Templars with at least one prominent Cathar, Bertrand de Blanchefort, occupying the position of the fourth Grand Master of the Order. There are also many local legends about the Templar treasure being hidden in the area. For those who know little about the Templars I will tell you more in future weeks.

 

Next week I will continue about the castle at le Bézu.

Oct 262011
 

I apologise for not blogging last week due to being on holiday.  My blog this week continues the escape of Phillipe de Saint Claire from Montségur and his arrival at the remove castle of le Bézu carrying the Secret Treasure of the Cathars on his back.

Extract from the fictional Journal of Phillipe de Saint-Claire – translated from the ancient Occitan language into modern English. After a journey through the mountains taking a day and a night Phillipe arrived at his destination.

 

I was cheered by seeing the sun rise over the mountains to herald in a splendid day and, when it was pointed out to me by my guide, to light up the southern walls of the great castle of le Bézu, perched like a row of eagles on the ridge above us. I was mightily impressed by its location. It did not have the sheer soaring cliffs of Montségur but relied more for defence on the complete absence of any means of mounting an attack on it from any direction, being obscurely located on rocky outcrops in the midst of deep forests.

Because of the precipitous nature of the path, it was another hour before I was standing before the great entrance gateway at the east end of the castle. We had seen no person on our walk except a cowherd in the distance. Having delivered me to my destination, my guide left me with a courteous word and a pat on the shoulder. So I mounted the last few steps to halloa at the gate.

A short time later I was ushered directly into the presence of none other than Pierre de Voisins himself by his sheriff. It seemed, by the great blessing of the Almighty, that I had arrived at this stronghold only one day before he would be leaving.

As soon as we were alone in his chamber I handed over my instructions from the convocation and explained the purpose of my visit.

My lord Pierre de Voisins received me with great politeness although I fancy he was cautious about showing me too much favour or giving me too much help in case others should get to hear of his actions and it might therefore reflect badly on him with his new French masters. He explained to me that he was setting out on the following day to travel by way of Béziers and Lyons to Paris to kneel before King Louis and that he had many preparations to make before he left. Therefore he was unable to be of personal assistance to me.

However he told me he would put me in the hands of one of his kinsmen who he would instruct to help me in any way that I wished. He assured me that this person, whom he named as Raymonde de Puyvert, was totally loyal to the Cause and that I could rely on him in all things. He said that he would also instruct the said Raymonde to look after me while he was away. I took the message from this that he did not wish to be made aware of what arrangements I intended to make for disposal of the secrets. In fact he handed my instructions from the convocation back to me and told me to deal only with the said Raymonde from then on.

I will tell you more about what remains of the castle at le Bézu (see photo) next week.

 

Oct 072011
 

Extract from the fictional Journal of Phillipe de Saint-Claire – translated from the ancient Occitan language into modern English

In the very early hours of the day and long before dawn we escaped from the castle on ropes of woven fabric. It was a fearsome experience. The ropes were not long enough or strong enough to let us down the whole height of the rock-face and a fifth perfectus had to come with us to hold the ropes. He had to climb down the whole way with his hands. He would be captured, tried and put to death by burning but as he knew nothing of our orders so he would not be able to give us away even if he were to weaken under torture, which he had sworn he would not do.

The treasure of the Cathars was concealed in wax-sealed tubes of bamboo which were tied to our backs. They were not heavy but they were long and made our movements difficult, especially when we were climbing down the cliffs. We did not know what was in the tubes. However we knew it could not be anything big or heavy. It certainly could not have been treasure or gold.

I was the second perfectus to reach the valley. The first of my colleagues had already disappeared and, in any case, I did not wish to make contact with any one of the others. My orders were to go south for the first part of my journey, so I immediately set off in a loop round the east side of the mountain, keeping well away from the positions where I had been advised there were guards who were supposed to be securing the castle against the escape of the Cathars. I saw no-one, nor did I expect to since we had also been promised that the guards had been well paid to keep clear of our path.

The night was very dark with clouds obscuring any moonlight and it was necessary to proceed slowly. However it was important that I should be well clear of the besiegers before daylight exposed my progress.

I followed up the course of the small river known locally as the Lassate which led in the direction of the Peak of Saint Barthélemy. Sometimes I was able to walk along the banks of the river, but much of the time I had to follow the bed of the stream itself, stumbling over rocks and into deep pools. I often fell and I was fearful that the precious tubes on my back might be damaged even though I had been assured they were well sealed in waxed linen with the joints double-waxed. So, when I was confident that I was more than a league from the castle and knew I was well clear of the besiegers on the south side, I decided to rest up until day-break in a small cave near a water-fall.

When the dawn came I was feeling very cold and stiff and immediately decided to proceed upon my way before my body might become disabled by aches and shivers. It now being light, I could move apace and made better progress, gradually climbing out of the forest and on to the mountainside.

I directed my steps towards a col in the ridge ahead which was to the east of the twin peaks which form St Barthélemy and I achieved the summit just as the sun arose, lighting up the morning clouds. I was greatly warmed and heartened by the sight. In my innocence I felt as though the good God in heaven had blessed me and was with me in my endeavours.

 

I will give another extract next week.

Oct 022011
 

In early March 1244 the remaining 200 or so Cathars finally decided to accept defeat at the hands of the French besiegers. They negotiated a fifteen day delay before they exited from the castle of Montségur and handed themselves over to their enemies. Nobody is quite sure why they wanted this long to prepare themselves for their final destruction. It is thought that perhaps they had a special festival – maybe similar to the Christian festival of Easter – which they wished to share before they died.

They finally left the castle on 16th March. Waiting for them at the foot of the mountain was a giant pyre constructed by the besiegers. All 200 of the remaining perfecti of the Cathar faith were given the opportunity to abjure their heretical beliefs and recant their faith but none did so. They willingly entered the giant bonfire which had been prepared for them on the small plateau below the castle, now a car park known as the Field of Burning (see photo). It was set alight and during the next few hours the last of the top members of the Cathars died a slow and agonising death. There were still active members of the faith hiding in various secret locations throughout the mountains of Southern Languedoc, but the Cathar faith had been effectively destroyed.

However there was one last fascinating story connected with the heresy. When the perfecti marched out of Montségur on that cold spring morning they left behind four of their number who still had possession of the Secret Treasure of the Cathars. Nobody knows precisely what it was but it cannot have been gold or jewels or anything heavy. Because on the night of 16th March 1244 these four men, having hidden in a cave during the day while their comrades were destroyed, then climbed down the precipitous north face of the mountain on ropes carrying the Treasure on their backs.

Nobody knows what happened to these four men or to the Treasure which they carried. There is no record of them ever being apprehended or of the Treasure being recovered. It is one of the great mysteries of this period that there has been no answer to.

This mystery was the starting point of my novel, The Secret of the Cathars. In the original version of the novel I wrote a journal written by one of the four escapers which created the start to the plot round which the novel is constructed. However the publisher who was thinking of publishing the novel wanted it to be reduced from the original 110,000 words to less than 80,000 and this was omitted as part of the cutting operation.

Next week I will give you an extract from the Journal of Phillipe de Saint-Claire – translated from the ancient Occitan language into modern English – which is my idea of what may have actually happened to the Secret Treasure of the Cathars.