Chapter 28b


The Canals of France,


Hapgood went on.  “In return for their help, Martel created a homeland, Septimania de Midi, for the Jews in the Midi.  Unfortunately the arrangement did not last long, although the Jewish community still remained.” 


Rashi was a scholar of world class proportions.  He made a commentary on the Talmud, which is a commentary on the Old Testament, which you could call a long involved commentary on the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible as we know it.  That, in turn, you could call a commentary on the covenant, which is the Law.  And most of the Law is a commentary on the Ten Commandments. 


“So Rashi was a great man in a great tradition.  One of the things he was aware of was that Christians are welcomed and even encouraged to pray for things from God.  Rahsi was in the tradition that the duty of man is to serve God and not the other way around.  He taught that it is not proper to ask for things when praying.  His scholarship was above reproach.  And in effect it was brilliantly helpful in facilitating the survival of the Jewish community among a Christian majority which was not always friendly.  The distinction was profoundly different from Christians, who did not hesitate to ask for things, and it was different from Classical pagans, who also asked for blessings. But deep as the difference was, the observance could be carried out in total secret, even if one were under the control of an enemy.  They cannot prove you are not praying for things in your heart. 


“Two things happened after Rashi that are interesting to us.  One was the beginning of the Holy Grail story, and the other was the writing of the Cabala.  The Cabala takes the position, ‘All right.  We don’t ask favors from God.  But what if – just saying suppose – we wanted to do just that.  How would be go about it?


“The result was a brilliant and thoroughly intriguing piece of work.  Some days when I look at it I think, ‘This, not the Bible, might actually conceal a code.’


“The Cabala was written in the south of France, although it was assembled later in Catalonia in Spain.  The Jewish community survived there under the protection of the Muslims long after the Christians murdered them all in the Midi.


“There was another remarkable document written here.  Just about everyone who has been to a Christian church in America has heard a creed being read.  It just rattles off what are held to be the key beliefs the church encourages.  We do it in my church, but as long as my flock are seeking God, I seldom have much trouble with what they believe. 


“As you know, during the early days of the church, there were tensions between Arian Christians and Athanasian Christians.  Constantine, that guy from York, who spent all of his life trying to hold the Roman Empire together, became a Christian.  But instead of peace breaking out, he found that the two branches were hostile toward each other.  So he called a great council at a place called Nicea, now called Iznik in Turkey.  Pretty little town, sitting on a lake.  The man who first measured the size of the earth grew up there. 


“The point of the council was to decide the minimum beliefs one had to have to be Christian, and anything else would be optional.  That way the two sides could agree to disagree.  Well, the council came down heavily on the side of the Athanasians, and peace did not come easily. 


“The creed is called the Nicean Creed or the Athanasian Creed, as if it were written by Anthanasia himself.  It wasn’t.  It was written here, and it is still used.


“I probably ought to qualify that.  There were creeds in existence before and there have been changes since.  And as Tracy would be happy to point out, if it changes, you shouldn’t say it’s the same.  Still the big one, the historically important one, was the one written here.


“And of course the troubadour tradition that the Holy Grail is the best known example of started here.  And there was the ‘Song of Roland,’ possibly the first work of real literature to come out of Europe after the fall of Rome.  The story happened right here.”


Hapgood paused and looked unhappy before he went on with his story. 


“Pretty much all the things I just described happened in the Dark Age or maybe very early Middle Ages.  The Dark Age began with the fall of Rome and just about ended at the time of the Norman Invasion, ten sixty-six.  What happened next in the south of France was not a pretty story.


“One of the things that came with the Middle Ages was what we call the Crusades.  The First Crusade, when much of Europe went and took the Holy Land by conquest, was a success from a tactical standpoint.  They achieved their objective and ruled the area for years.  That was the time when the Knights Templar were given access to the Temple grounds where they did some excavating and either did or did not find something, which they did or did not spirit away and hid and may or may not be hiding to this very day. 


“After that the crusaders were driven out, and subsequent crusades by and large went worse and worse.  The Fourth Crusade at the time of Pope Innocent III was in effect directed not at the Holy Land at all but amounted to the conquest of Constantinople, where the Orthodox Church was in charge. 


“The worst of all was the Albigensian.  There are those who say it was not Pope Innocent III’s fault.  And one shouldn’t confuse him with Innocent VIII, who launched the witch hunting and killing campaign in Europe.  That was a matter of the renaissance.  But the crusade happened on Innocent III’s watch, and although he denied interest in such matters he could easily have stopped it.


“For some time a group called Cathars had been collecting there in the Midi.  It is also called ‘Languedoc’ meaning the language of ‘oc’ or ‘Pays d’Oc’ meaning the land of ‘oc.’ The Cathars – the name means purity; they always wore white – spoke an entirely different language from French and said ‘oc’ instead of ‘oui’ for ‘yes.’  Albi was a Cathar strong hold, whence the name of the crusade.


“The Cathars were Manichaean’s who shared some ideas with the Arians, if not the same history.  They did not recognize the Pope’s authority.  What is worse, they were clean living people who typically spent their lives in charitable service so they were immensely popular.  They had not been responsive to persuasion to join ranks with the church of Rome.  Resort was made to force. 


“The crusaders had a problem at the beginning because the whole watershed of the Aude river, named after Roland’s wife, was dominated by the great fortress of Carcassonne.  They arrived with an army and saw that it was going to be a sticky business besieging it, so they asked the commander of the castle to come for a parlay under the flag of truce.  As soon as they had the commander out of sight they killed him.  They waited a plausible period of time and then sent word to the city that peace had been achieved and to open the gates.  Then they went in and killed everybody.


“Now the strategic location of the fort worked against the Cathars.  The crusaders simply went up one valley at a time and cleared it.  But resistance was very determined.  The crusade became more and more savage.  Official policy was to kill everybody, since only God would know who really was a heretic.  It was here that the procedures for persecuting heretics were worked out, including pro-active pursuit of the victims, secret testimony, torture-execution of those who were ‘obstinate’ and torture pure and simple.  It was called the Inquisition. 


“It was from this time that the words, inquisition, witch hunt and crusade get their extraordinarily evil overtones.  The crusades against Islam may have actually been effective at reversing the tide, which even after the battle of Poitier seemed to run Islam’s way. 


“Among the people who died at the hands of the Albigensian crusaders were the Jews.  At this point the degree of treachery begins to stagger the mind.  Had it not been for this very Jewish community and Charles Martel, there would probably have been no Christians left in the world.  And there was no conceivable way Jews could be heretics, because you cannot be a heretic unless you are baptized Christian.


“At the end, the Cathars were reduced to a single castle under siege.  When, with the help of some Basque mountaineers, the crusaders were able to bring up their siege engines and batter the walls, it was evident that all was lost.  That night a group of Cathars climbed down the back side of the mountain and either did or did not hide an object or a message.  They came back before first light.  Then the whole group walked down the mountain and surrendered.  They were promptly burned alive.


“The Knights Templar took no part in the Albigensian Crusade.  To what extent they may have even had ties with the Cathars no one knows.  Whether they both guarded the same secret is a matter of the wildest speculation. 


“Later, when the Templar turn came to be persecuted, they were rounded up and tortured and killed, but neither their hypothetical secret nor their undeniable vast fortune has ever been discovered.


“As for the Midi, that is almost the end of the story.  It is a land blessed by geography in its location, spoiled rotten by nature in its sweet climate and rich soil and fascinating in history.  The renaissance and enlightenment nearly passed it by.  Some things happened.  Long after the Albigensian crusade the Pope put his headquarters in Avignon.  But the population is a tiny fraction of what it would be based on what the place has to offer.”


Hapgood stopped speaking, and the group sat silent as evening gathered.  It had been a deliciously warm Indian summer day.  They pondered what lay ahead as the stolid barge nosed onward toward the Canal du Midi and the unconquered “Virgin of Languedoc,” the mighty Carcassonne. 


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