For many of us the Inquisition brings up frightening images of black robed men questioning terrified prisoners, torturing them and then having them burned at the stake. Most of us also associate the Inquisition with the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th and 16th centuries, which was set up to guarantee the orthodoxy of people who had converted to Catholicism from Islam and Judaism. So you may be surprised to learn that the Inquisition had actually been set up much earlier in the 13th century by the Papacy, in response to a heresy that had swept the Languedoc region of south west France. This heresy that so alarmed the Church, was Catharism, a dualist sect that believed that the material world was intrinsically evil and ruled by a dark deity that was sometimes called Rex Mundi or King of the World and that the god of light and goodness, whom they worshipped, existed entirely in the spiritual realms. The Catholic Church dominated most of Europe during the Middle Ages, and this Church, headed by the Pope in Rome, demanded that the beliefs and rituals that they espoused were adhered to rigidly and uniformly across the continent. Even powerful rulers could not escape the controlling hand of the Church, as the Pope routinely punished Kings who stepped out of line by excommunicating them or putting their lands under interdict, which punished the whole populace by closing churches and not allowing sacraments such as marriage, baptism or anointing of the sick to take place.
|St Dominic Presiding Over a Cathar Burning by Pedro Berruguete|
Cathar image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
St Dominic Presiding Over a Cathar Burning by Pedro Berruguete Image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain