In the Middle Ages the Montsegur region was ruled by the Counts of Toulouse, the Viscounts of Carcassone and finally the Counts of Foix. In 1243–44, the Cathars (a religious sect considered heretical by the Catholic Church) were besieged at Montségur by 10,000 troops at the end of the Albigensian Crusade. In March 1244, the Cathars finally surrendered and approximately 220 were burned en masse in a bonfire at the foot of the pog when they refused to renounce their faith. Some 25 actually took the ultimate Cathar vow of consolamentum perfecti in the two weeks before the final surrender.
In the days prior to the fall of the fortress, several Cathars allegedly slipped through the besiegers’ lines carrying away a mysterious “treasure” with them. While the nature and fate of this treasure has never been identified, there has been much speculation as to what it might have consisted of — from the treasury of the Cathar Church to esoteric books or even the actual Holy Grail.
Montségur is often named as a candidate for the Holy Grail castle — and indeed there are linguistic similarities in the Grail romance Parzival (circa 1200–1210) written by Wolfram von Eschenbach. In Parzival, the grail castle is called Monsalvat, similar to Montségur and with the same meaning: “safe mountain, secure mountain.” The name of Raymond de Péreille, the actual historic seigneur of Montségur, has a slight similarity to the protagonist of Eschenbach’s epic, the knight Parzival. In Jüngerer Titurel (1272) by Albrecht von Scharfenberg, another Grail epic, the first king of the Holy Grail is named Perilla.
Myths and legends apart, the history of Montségur actually is both dramatic and mysterious. The siege was an epic event of heroism and zealotry: a veritable Masada of the Cathar faith whose demise is symbolized by the fall of the mountain-top fortress (although isolated Cathar cells persisted into the 1320s in southern France and northern Italy).
The present fortress ruin at Montségur is not from the Cathar era. The original Cathar fortress of Montségur was entirely pulled down by the victorious royal forces after its capture in 1244. It was gradually rebuilt and upgraded over the next three centuries by royal forces. The current ruin so dramatically occupying the site, and featured in illustrations, is referred to by French archeologists as “Montsegur III” and is typical of post-medieval royal French defensive architecture of the 17th century. It is not “Montsegur II,” the structure in which the Cathars lived and were besieged and of which no trace remains today.
ZUIKO 4/3 14-45mm