Position of Beziers - S. Nazaire - The Albigenses - Their tenets - Albigensian "consolation" - Crusade against them - The storming of Beziers - Massacre - Cathedral of Beziers - Girls' faces in the train - Similar faces at Narbonne, in Cathedral and Museum - Narbonne a Roman colony - All the Roman buildings destroyed - Caps of liberty - Christian sarcophagi - Children's toys of baked clay - Cathedral unfinished - Archiepiscopal Palace - Unsatisfactory work of M. Viollet-le-Duc - In trouble with the police - Taken for a German spy - My sketch-book gets me off.

The position of Beziers is striking. It crowns a height above the Orb, its grand fortified church of S. Nazaire occupying the highest point, where it stands on a platform. This fine church is not the cathedral. In La Madeleine is the bishop's throne, a church that, with the exception of the tower and exterior of the apse, has been modernised out of all interest. But S. Nazaire is a stately and beautiful church of the twelfth to the fourteenth century, in the style of the country, very little ornamented externally, and very strongly fortified; even the windows being made impenetrable by their strong grilles of iron. There are two western towers, small, with an arch thrown between their battlements, over the rose window, and this battlemented archway is in fact a screen behind which the besieged sheltered whilst they poured down molten pitch on those who assailed the gateway of the cathedral. For this purpose there is an open space between the screen and the facade. The apse of eight sides, internally is fine; and there is a beautiful octagonal apsidal chapel on the north side, entered from the transept.

Beziers is the scene of a horrible slaughter in 1209, after the siege by the Crusaders under Simon de Montfort. It had been a headquarter of the Albigenses. As we are now entering the region reddened with the blood of these heretics, it will not be improper here to give a little account of them.

The Albigenses are often erroneously confused with the Waldenses, with whom really they had little in common. Actually, the Albigenses were not Christians at all, but Manicheans. The heresy was nothing other than the reawakening of the dormant and suppressed Paganism of the south of France. There are plenty of documents which enable us to understand their peculiar tenets and practices.

They held a dualism of good and evil principles in the world, equally matched; and they taught that the evil principle was the origin of all created matter. Accordingly they rejected the Old Testament, and declared that all the world and man's body were of diabolic origin, and that the spirit only was divine. With regard to the person of Christ they were divided in opinion. Some said He had a phantom body, and that He seemed only to die on the cross. The real Christ was incapable of suffering. But another school among them declared that He had a true body born of Mary and Joseph, and that this was due to the evil principle, and that this body did hang on the cross. It was the Evil God of the Jews who slew Pharaoh in the Red Sea. They held that the Good God had two wives, Colla and Coliba, from whom he had many generations of spiritual beings. Of the Good Christ, the spiritual, they asserted, that He neither ate nor drank, that He was the source of all mercy and salvation, but that the Bad Christ was the carnal one following the Good Christ as the shadow follows the body; that this Bad Christ had Magdalen as his concubine. They were not agreed as to the future of man. Some denied the existence of souls, some said that the souls were fallen angels inhabiting men's bodies, others that the soul was pure and could only attain to blessedness by emancipation from the body, all the works of which were evil.

The faithful of the Albigenses were divided into two orders, the "perfect," who wore a black dress, abstained from flesh, eggs, cheese, and from marriage; and the "believers" whose salvation was to be attained by a certain ceremony called the "consolation." This sacrament of consolation was performed by one of the perfect laying his hands on the believer; and after consolation, the newly-consoled must starve himself to death. A great number of trials of Albigenses have been collected by Limborch in his history of the Inquisition. One only can we now give. It is that of a woman who had herself consoled, and sending for a surgeon, ordered him to open her veins in a bath, that so, the blood running out more freely, she might sooner die. Also she bought poison, as the bleeding did not succeed, and procured a cobbler's awl wherewith to pierce her heart, but as the women with her were undecided whether the heart were on the right side or the left, she took the poison, and so died. [1]

[Footnote 1: We have got the Acts of the Inquisition at Toulouse during sixteen years, between 1307-1323. The whole number of cases reported is 932. The usual sentence on one found guilty - unless guilty of causing death by "consolation" - was to wear a tongue of red cloth on the garments. Of such there are 174 sentences. If a case of relapse, there was sentence of brief imprisonment, 218 cases; 38 were reported as having run away; 40 were condemned to death for having caused the death of dupes by "consolation;" 113 were let off penances previously imposed; 139 were discharged from prison, and 90 sentences were pronounced against persons already dead. See Maitland's Tracts and Documents on the Albigenses, 1831.]

We can understand what alarm this great heathen reaction in Provence and Aquitaine awoke in France, and in the minds of the popes.

Innocent III. at first employed against the Albigenses only spiritual and legitimate weapons; before proscribing he tried to convert them, but when they murdered his emissary, Peter de Castelnau, in 1208, he proclaimed a Holy War against them. It was a war undertaken on the plea of a personal crime, but in reality for the dispossession of the native princes who were believed to be in favour of the heresy. "The crusade against the Albigensians," says M. Guizot, "was the most striking application of two principles equally false and fatal, which did as much evil to the Catholics as to the heretics; and these are the right of the spiritual power to coerce souls by the material force of the temporal power, and the right to strip princes of their title to the obedience of their subjects - in other words, denial of religious liberty to consciences, and of political independence to states."

In 1208 Innocent summoned the King of France to sweep from southern France these heretics, "worse than the Saracens," and he promised to the leaders of the crusade the domains they won of the princes who favoured the heresy. The war lasted fifteen years (from 1208 to 1223) and of the two leading spirits, one ordering and the other executing, Pope Innocent III. and Simon de Montfort, neither saw the end of it. During the fifteen years of this religious war, nearly all the towns and strong castles in the regions between the Rhone, the Pyrenees, the Garonne were taken, lost, retaken, given over to pillage, sack, and massacre, and burnt by the Crusaders with all the cruelty of fanatics and all the greed of conquerors. In the account of the war by a Provencal poet, we are told that God never made the clerk who could have written the muster-roll of the crusading army in two or even three months. One of the first victims was the young and gallant Viscount of Beziers, who, the same author assures us, was a good Catholic, but whose lands and towns the rapacious horde lusted to acquire. When they sat down before Beziers, then the Catholics within the walls made common cause with the heretics, and refused to surrender.

Then the city was stormed, the walls scrambled up by a rabble rout of camp-followers, in shirts and breeches, but without shoes, who burst over the parapets whilst the envoys of the town were being amused by mock conferences with Montfort and the other leaders of the crusading host. A general massacre ensued; neither age nor sex were spared, even priests fell. It is said that news of what was being done was brought to Arnauld, Abbot of Citeaux, one of the commanders of the crusade, and he was told that faithful and heretics were being slaughtered alike. "Slay them all," said he, "God will know His own."

The story is told by a contemporary, but only as an on-dit, and may therefore be quite untrue. But Simon de Montfort, the hero of the crusade, employed like language. One day two heretics, taken at Castres, were brought before him, one of whom was unshakable in his belief, the other expressed himself open to conviction. "Burn them both," said the count; "if this fellow mean what he says, the fire will expiate his sins; and, if he lie, he will suffer for his imposture."

An attempt has been made to exculpate the leaders of the crusade from the atrocities committed at the capture of Beziers, and to clear them of the charge of treachery. It is so far certain that the town was captured and the massacre begun by the camp-followers, but the Crusaders soon joined in and accomplished the work begun by the "ribauds;" and no attempt was made by the leaders to stay the carnage. In the cathedral church of S. Madeleine some seven thousand who had taken refuge there were butchered without regard to the sanctity of the spot. The city was then set on fire and the cathedral perished in the flames.

After all, it was well that the cathedral should be purged with fire, and rebuilt. One could not pray, one would not like to see the service of God rendered in a building that had been thus bespattered with blood. S. Nazaire is later. It was almost wholly rebuilt in the fourteenth century, and within it one can forget the horrors of that hateful siege and butchery.

As I travelled on to Narbonne, there entered the carriage in which I was two girls with remarkable profiles, and I wondered whether they bore the features of the Ligurian race that first peopled all this coast, now probably represented by the Basques - a race akin to the Lap. These girls had fine dark eyes and hair, sallow complexions, and their full faces were not unpleasant, but their profiles were certainly most remarkable. Now curiously enough, on entering the cathedral at Narbonne, I saw a tomb of the eighteenth century with mourners represented on it - some six to eight, and they had all the same type of face. Not only so, but in the museum of the town is a Classic bust, found among the remains of Roman Narbona, and the same type is there.

Narbonne was once a great capital. It stood on a lagoon, and did a large trade in the Mediterranean. It was a Roman colony, founded at the same time as Arles, and had its forum, capitol, baths, amphitheatre, theatre, and temples. But, alas! the necessity for fortifying the city in the Middle Ages induced the inhabitants to go to these Roman buildings and pull them to pieces in order with them to construct the walls and towers surrounding the town, and now not one of all these monuments remains. The walls have served, however, as a rich quarry of antiquities that have supplied the two great collections in the town, one in the Hotel de Ville, the other in a ruined church. These collections are only second to the Avignon museum, and abound with objects of interest.

Among the monumental stones for the dead are several with caps figured on them. The like are to be seen at Nimes, Avignon, and elsewhere. These are freedmen's caps. When a noble Roman died he left in his will that so many of his slaves were to be given their liberty, and then this was represented by caps sculptured on his tombstone.

Thus it happened that the cap came to be regarded as the symbol of liberty. The museum contains a Christian sarcophagus on the staircase, with an orante, a woman praying with uplifted hands in the midst, on the sides the striking of the rock and the multiplication of the loaves. On the lid is the portrait of the lady who was buried in it, with hair dressed in the fashion worn by the Julias of the Heliogabalus and Alexander Severus epoch, with whose busts one becomes so familiar at Rome, 218-223 - a fashion that never came in again, that I am aware of. Another Christian sarcophagus has on it the multiplication of loaves, the denial of Peter, and a representation of Christ unbearded, which is the earliest form. Another, again, represents him unbearded holding a scroll, on the right St. Peter and two other apostles holding rolls, and three apostles on the left; on the lid is an orante.

In this museum may be seen one or two examples of bronze Gaulish sun-wheels with four and eight spokes; and, what is to me very touching, a number of children's toys made in clay, found in children's tombs - cocks and hens, pigs and horses, very rude. Similar toys are to be found in the Arles and the Avignon museums. I remember in the catacomb of S. Agnes at Rome is a whole collection of toys found in a Christian grave there, ivory dolls, a rattle, bells, and an earthenware money-box, just such as may be bought for a sou now in a foreign fair. De Rossi, the curator of the catacombs, has had them all put together under glass in proximity to the little grave where they were found. In a child's grave at S. Sebastian was found a little terra-cotta horse dappled with yellow spots. I suppose parents could not bear to see the toys of their darlings about the house, and so enclosed them with their dear ones in the last home. I remember a modern French grave, near La Rochelle; in the centre of the head-cross was a glass case, with a doll dinner-service enclosed, that had been a favourite toy with the poor little mite lying under the cross. So human hearts are the same as centuries roll by and religions alter.

The cathedral of Narbonne is very delightful, after a course of castellated fortress-churches of early date. It is of the fourteenth century, light, lantern-like, with glorious flying buttresses.

The church is unfinished, it has no nave, only the lovely soaring choir, standing alone, like that of Beauvais; and as was that of Cologne till the last thirty years. Unfortunately this choir is so built round with houses that it is only in one place at the east end that it can be seen, and just there, out of delightful play of fancy, the architect has thrown a bow across from one flying buttress to another high up, and through this stone rainbow one sees the pinnacles and the sweeping arches of the buttresses crossing each other at every angle.

The archiepiscopal palace was a fortress, with two strong towers. M. Viollet-le-Duc was invited by the town to take them in hand and construct between them a facade in keeping with their architecture, which was to be thenceforth the facade of the Hotel de Ville. There was not a man in France who had a more intimate knowledge of Gothic architecture than he; but, unfortunately, like Rickman in England and Heideloff in Germany, he was incapable of applying his knowledge. The consequence is that he has produced a facade which is disfiguring to the two grand towers between which it is planted. Viollet-le-Duc was delighted with the grand effect of the face of the papal palace at Avignon, where the buttresses run up unstaged and then are united by bold arches that sustain the parapet and battlements, so he attempted the same thing at Narbonne on a smaller scale. Now these buttresses or piers at Avignon are 5 ft. 1 in. by 2 ft. 9 in., whereas the measurements of M. le-Duc's little props are reduced to 1 ft. 2 in. by 1 ft. 6 in. Relative proportions are changed as well as sadly reduced. The result is that they are ludicrous. Moreover, instead of sinking his facade modestly - a little, eighteen inches would have been enough - he has carried the face of his niggling little buttresses flush with the massive walls of the great towers. I wished I could have had M. Viollet-le-Duc there by both his ears and knocked his head against the abomination he has created. He had a splendid opportunity, and through incapacity he lost it.

I got into trouble at Narbonne.

As I was walking on the platform of the station, a man in plain clothes with very blue eyes came to me, touched his hat, and asked if he might be honoured with a few words privately. I at once suspected he was going to beg or borrow money, and said I was willing to hear what he wanted to say on the spot. He smiled, and said that he thought perhaps it would be better that we had our conversation elsewhere, outside the station. After a little hesitation, I complied, and when we were by ourselves, "Monsieur," said he, "I must request you to show me your papers and allow me to identify you. I am in search of some one uncommonly like yourself. I am - the chef of the secret police down here. Will you come to my office, and bring your luggage?"

"Certainly, delighted to make your acquaintance. I will get my Gladstone bag, and my roll of rugs in a moment. There is a - a hurdy-gurdy - " "I know there is," said the chef sternly. "It is that vielle that is suspicious."

So all my luggage was conveyed to the office of the police. I showed no concern, but laughed and joked.

"What countryman do you say you are?"


"Impossible. You have not the English accent when you speak. It is rather German than anything else."

"You think I am a German?"

"But certainly. Your bag has a German address on it, written in German characters." So it had. I had been in Germany before going to Rome, and had never removed the address, which, as he said, was in German characters. I explained, but the chef was unsatisfied. I became now convinced that he thought I was a spy.

"Here are German newspapers and a German book in your bag!" said the chef.

"Certainly. Why not? I have been in Germany."

"Yet you say you are English?"

"Here is my passport." I extended one to him. He looked at it, shook his head, and said: "It is a very old one of 1867." That was true, and I had not had it vised since.

"Then," said the chef, "this passport is for you and your wife. Where is the wife?"

"Minding the babies. Thirteen of them - a handful," said I.

I had to produce card-case, letters, all of which the chef examined carefully, and yet he was not satisfied. Then, suddenly, a bright idea struck me.

"Monsieur!" said I, "I see what you take me to be. It is true I have been sketching in Narbonne, and along the whole coast. Would you like to see my drawings? Here is the result of my studies in Narbonne: the very remarkable profile of a Narbonnaise girl, the face of a lady carved in the cathedral, of another in the museum, some sketches of children's clay toys found in Roman tombs, and sundry Gaulish and Merovingian bronzes; also! yes, see, a bone toothcomb discovered among the remains of the fortifications."

The chef laughed, especially over the beauties of Narbonne, ran his eye through the book, took it over to his assistant to look at and laugh over the wonderful girls' faces, returned it to me, and let me off.

"And the vielle," said I, "what do you think of that - "

"Mais! with the vielle over your shoulder, and that book of sketches and thirteen babies - assurement - you could only be an Englishman."