At A Glance:
  • Upcoming departures:
    June 2 - 9, 2024
    June 1 - 8, 2025

    Sojourn begins:
    Toulouse, France

    Sojourn concludes:
    Toulouse, France

    Price from:
    $3,995/person (DO)
    $4,495/person (SO)

    Combines with:

    Castles at the Crossroads

  • For most of the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church, along with its teachings and traditions, was the single most unifying force in all of Western Europe. While the common people suffered centuries under the burden of unpredictable feudal lords, arduous manual labor, and the constant threat of invasion, the church and its promise of heavenly rewards provided comfort and hope to help the masses endure thier daily hardships. Yet over time, divergent sects emerged with doctrines that presented challenges to the church’s supremacy and, quite often, were at direct odds with its orthodoxies and teachings. Of these, perhaps the most fascinating and enigmatic were the Cathars of southwestern France.

    This colorful region–known as the Languedoc–had a unique character in the Middle Ages. Land husbandry, the independent attitude of its nobility towards the French crown, and even the language (the langue d’oc dialect that gave rise to the region’s name) all seemed fairly at odds with the rest of France. Strong local traditions of cuisine, poetry, and music also contributed to its individual cultural character. But what brought the area to the attention of the established church was the unorthodox and widely-exercised religious practices of the Cathars. The Cathar faith (or Albigensianism, as it also came to be known owing to its strength in the region around the city of Albi), was a divergent form of Christianity with a set of beliefs and practices regarded as heretical to the authorities and guardians of Roman Catholicism. Thus, the 13th century was to see a crusade against the Cathars that was no less vigorous and brutal than those carried out in the Holy Land. In fact, so devastating was this crusade and the Inquisition which followed it, that the Cathars were forced underground and eventually eradicated. While the remaining historical records were written by the victors of this conflict, the Inquisition Court depositions have nevertheless bequeathed a means of reconstructing a robust picture of the practices and daily lives of those who followed this obscure doctrine.

    Starting in the prominent medieval city of Toulouse, we journey north to Albi, the city that gave Catharism its other name and the crusade that was launched against it—the Albigensian Crusade. We then head south, walking in the very footsteps of both the Cathars and the crusaders who were sent to root them out. Along the way, we explore the settlements that became centers of Catharism. These fortified cities and towns are set within the stunning backdrop of the Midi landscape, bordering on the shimmering waters of the Mediterranean Sea and in the shadows of the awe-inspiring Pyrenees mountains. Together we explore the castles and their architecture which have become so connected with the story of the Cathar’s struggle—strongholds such as Queribus, Peyrepertuse, Montsegur, Foix, and Carcassonne. The majority of these sites were witness to the horror of what defeat meant, as appalling atrocities were inflicted upon the vanquished by the merciless conquerors—the stories of each we learn as we travel from site to site.

    Who exactly were the Cathars? Why did they present such an imminent threat to the authority of the Catholic Church leading Pope Innocent III to call for a crusade to eradicate them? These questions engross scholars to this day. Our sojourn seeks to arrive at a greater understanding of the Cathars, their beliefs, traditions, and lifestyle—as well as the Church’s actions against them. Together we will discover these fascinating people and come to understand their plight as we marvel at the amazing legacy they have left behind for us in the form of fairy tale-like castles, fortresses and citadels that furnish the evocative landscape found here.

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