Travel in Languedoc France: vacation rentals, gite rentals, Carcassonne France hotels, Cathar castles

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Cathar Castles in Languedoc and Carcassonne France
 First person reports from the world's travel destinationsCathar Castles in Languedoc

Travel Article on Languedoc France & Carcassonne France

Three Cathar Castles - Languedoc, France

Excerpt from Ockham's Razor - Part 1
by Wade Rowland

There was dew on the grapevines when we left our rented farmhouse near Carcassonne. We drove south up the Aude River Valley through the low, vine- carpeted hills around Limoux, climbing into the beech and pine forests of the Pyrenees foothills, past the turn-off for Rennes-le-Châteaux, the tiny village made famous by The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

Southern France Languedoc region Cathar castles In this exclusive excerpt from Ockham's Razor: A Search for Wonder in an Age of Doubt, author Wade Rowland, his wife Christine, and their two teenagers explore the romantic ruins of Cathar castles in southern France's Languedoc region.
From the lumber and plastics town of Quillan, once known for fashionable felt hats, we followed a loop that took us to three "Cathar" fortresses farther south along the Aude through narrow gorges and then east, up and across the Atlantic- Mediterranean watershed and back through the Galamus Gorge with its hair-raising, two-metre-wide road carved into the limestone nooks and crannies of the precipitous hillside. Clefts in the earth such as this had special significance during pre-Christian times, when the earth was still thought of as a living entity, as a "person," and minerals were organic substances that ripened and matured in the earth's womb. Like the famous fissure at Delphi in Greece, this canyon would have been thought of as a genital opening ("delphi" being the Greek word for vagina). It was in a cave not far from here that the oldest known human skull in Europe was discovered, dating back 450,000 years.

From a small parking area at the gorge's mouth we could see, on a narrow rock shelf halfway down to the roaring, invisible River Agle, a little cottage that once was the home of a Christian hermit and is now a small hostel, surely one of the most memorable in Europe. There was so much history here in this one small circuit, no more than a few hours' ride by car, such varied and spectacular scenery, so many beautiful villages and breathtaking vistas, that it deserved to be seen on foot from the well-maintained hiking trails that lace the region or by bicycle, over a period of weeks, if not months.

Cathar Castle in Southern France We stopped first at Puilaurens, and climbed for half an hour along a well-worn path through the privet, juniper and scrub oak clinging to the limestone, up to the crenellated walls at seven hundred metres, high above the surrounding countryside. It had been built by the local baron as an impregnable redoubt in troubled times of invasion and conquest and had sheltered Cathars midway through its active life.

And like other so-called Cathar sites, Puilaurens is associated with chivalry, courtly love and the romance of troubadours. Early medieval Languedoc had a reputation for religious tolerance, for sexual permissiveness and for egalitarianism that is related to the culture of courtly romance fostered by the troubadours, but also, in an odd way, attributable to the very strictness of the moral precepts of Catharism. Because everything material was of the devil, earthly pleasures, including the carnal ones, were forbidden to the Perfecti (as clergy and initiates were called), who were supposed to be celibate and vegetarian, and who fasted frequently.

There is a saying the French use when trying to define their national character and it has some application here: "In Germany, everything that is not permitted is forbidden; in France, everything that is not forbidden is permitted." In Cathar Languedoc there existed a third scenario: everything was forbidden, and so everything was permitted. The surviving records of Inquisition interrogations contain many references to this point of view: because sexual relations even within marriage were "of the devil," there was no logical distinction to be drawn between sex within and outside marriage, between intercourse with a prostitute and one's wife. One was as sinful as the other. Since the Church doctrines recognized that not everyone could attain the moral standards of the Perfect, and that in any case sinners could achieve complete redemption if they underwent the ritual consolamentum before death, the practical effect was to encourage a sexual permissiveness that recognized few taboos other than that of incest. Among ordinary Cathar villagers, men and women, sexual relations were defined as right or wrong according to whether or not they involved joy for both partners.

At the same time, France's Languedoc culture accorded an equality of status to women, particularly among the nobility, that was unusual for its time and this was due at least in part to the Cathars' acceptance of women clergy. Several of the most famous Perfecti were female.

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