On March 16, 1244, after a year-long siege, more than 200 Cathars were captured in their fortress stronghold of Montsegur in the Pyrenees and burned alive by troops of the Inquisition. While some Cather enclaves survived into the next century, this was the death blow to a religion that had been a powerful symbol of Occitain sovereignty despite the designs of the french monarchy and the papacy.
History recorded that, on the night before the fall of the fortress, four high-ranking Cathar perfecticarried away a great treasure from Montsegur, a fact that led rebel Huguenots of the 17th century and members of Hitler's SS to believe that something of awesome spiritual power lay hidden somewhere near the ruins of the Cathar stronghold.
Seeking to untangle the true from the false, Celtic and medieval scholar Jean Markale meticulously searches through the obscure history and dualist theology of the Cathars. He examines what earned the Cathars - who practised vegetarianism, nonviolence, and tolerance - the ruthless persecution of the Church and the state, and he explores both their place in medieval Occitain culture and their secret pact with the Knights Templar.