The slaughter of 20,000 men, women and children was not what I envisioned as a child singing in the choir “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war with the cross of Jesus going on before.”  But that is just what happened in Beziers, the closest big city to my little village.

Beziers is a mighty old city. It has been inhabited since Neolithic times and later was an early Roman settlement. Later the Moors ruled it. But the most well known, and gruesome, event took place there in 1209 during what is known as the Albigensian Crusades.

This region was not part of France at that time. The area which stretched from the southern Pyrenees on the west, Toulouse to the north, the Mediterranean to the south and Montpellier to the east was known “the Midi” and consisted of multiple city/states such as Beziers, Toulouse and Carcassone.  

Although the population was primarily Catholic it practiced religious tolerance.  Each city had a Jewish quarter.   Catharism, a new Christian religion, originated in the midi and was growing quickly.   The Cathars believed in the doctrines of Christianity, but not Papal rule or some of the  church's formalities.  They believed that priests were not needed as each person could pray directly to God.  

The Catholic hierarchy considered Catharism to be a threat to its hold on the region.  The Pope launched a crusade led by the Abbot of Citeaux.  The crusade's goal was to kill all "heretics"; the Cathars and the Jews.

The Abbot told the ruler of Beziers  that the City, and its Catholic residents, would be spared if he would send all the Cathars and Jews out of the city walls to be killed. The ruler refused the offer.  The Catholic population supported his decision saying that the Jews and Cathars were their neighbors and that they would remain shoulder to shoulder with them against the soldiers.
First the city was attacked from the outside and the crusaders quickly overwhelmed Beziers. Inside the walls they began slaughtering every person they ecountered; men, women, and children. When the soldiers asked the Abbot if they were supposed to treat Catholics any differently than the “heretics”, the Abbot reportedly said, “Kill them all, God will know his own.” While the men of  Beziers attempted to defend the City, the women and children took refuse inside Cathedral. It was set on fire by the soldiers and eventually collapsed killing everyone inside.   All inhabitants of the city were killed – estimated at 20,000 on this dreadful day.

“Although it is only 7 am, the breeze coming in our bedroom window is already steamy  hot.  The sounds of the village awakening are familiar to me, birds chirping, cars taking our neighbors to work, and people greeting each other on their way to the boulangerie.  “Bonjour Madame, ça va?”  “Tres bien Monsieur”.

I dress quickly and head to the bakery myself to pick up a baguette while John makes coffee.  I amble through the cobblestone streets.  The sounds of quiet French conversations drift from open windows.  The aroma of strong coffee fills the air.  Old women in flowered cotton dresses stand in their windows gossiping with their neighbors.

Angel, my little geriatric poodle, accompanies me.  She has made three transcontinental flights with me to France in as many years.  She’s now so used to long distance air travel, as soon as I put her in her carrier at the airport she goes into suspended animation and sleeps for the next 12 hours.  She never makes a sound as she sleeps under the seat in front of me on the plane.   None of the other passengers are aware of her presence until we exit at Charles DeGaulle.

As we walk through the village Angel is greeted by a number of dogs.  I have learned the French here don’t “fix” their dogs so as my elderly bitch and I walk along we are joined by a parade of very horny male dogs.  They are large and small, well groomed or bedraggeled.  Angel prefers the small ones.  Dafou, a small scruffy terrier who lives up our street, is her personal favorite.  When he arrives at her side she jumps and spins, sticking her rear in the air.  Dafou is very romantically inclined so I have to pick Angel up and carry her.

The boulangerie smells of yeast, vanilla, and sugar.  The short  stocky proprietress hands me a flute, a loaf slightly larger than a baguette, before I ask for it.  She knows that is what I order each day. It is wrapped with light white paper in the middle so that one can carry it without placing your fingers directly on the loaf.  I give her a one euro coin.  The freshly baked bread is still warm in my hand as I walk home.

We have breakfast of toasted bread and marmalade in the garden under an umbrella.  For her breakfast Angel has developed a taste for toast spread with Bovril, a very thick and salty meat extract beloved by Brits and detested by Americans.