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.

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