ALBIGENSES, generic name, deriving from the city of Albi, loosely applied to a number of Christian heretical sects which developed in Provence and south France in the 12th century, the term being used especially in connection with Cathari. Knowledge of their precise doctrines is vague, being derived mainly from the vilifications of their Roman Catholic opponents, now partly reinforced by the information embodied in Inquisitional trials. The Roman Catholic Church suspected that some of these heresies were deliberately stimulated by the Jews. This is out of the question, especially as in most cases the sectarian doctrines embodied dualistic elements which were even further removed from Judaism than those of normative Christianity. On the other hand, some of the allied bodies, such as the "Passagi" and "Circumcisi," had an Old Testament basis and can be characterized as Judaizing sects (see
). Some of the other sectaries also apparently studied Hebrew in order to have a better understanding of the Old Testament, and personal relations between Albigenses and Jews seem to have been relatively cordial, this fact itself adding to the suspicions and animosities of the church. The Cathari accused the Roman Catholic Church of corruption, ritualistic pomp, and superficiality. Seeing them as a challenge to its power, the Church in return condemned them as Manicheans and Church Judaizers. However, though the Cathari rejected image worship, maintained certain prohibitions on the consumption of meat, and denied that Jesus was God, their theology and ritual contained a variety of contradictory elements. In fact, their attitude toward Judaism and the Old Testament was clearly hostile, as is borne out by the records of the Inquisition and the contemporary chronicles which cannot be suspected of a Catharistic bias. Jewish law was rejected by the Cathari as evil, because the "devil in the shape of a calf" (diabolus in forma vituli) had given it to them. Judaism as a whole was held to be an emanation of the material, visible, and consequently evil God.
Catharist hostility toward Judaism on the theological level, however, was not reflected on the social and cultural plane. Jews were held in high esteem in the French Midi, where their status was probably the best in Europe. Cities like Albi, Béziers, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Lunel, Montpellier, Marseilles, Beaucaire, and Nîmes, which were most affected by the heresy, also had large Jewish populations. Concomitantly, rulers of the Midi openly favored both Albigenses and Jews, whom they appointed to important functions in the fiscal administration. Roger II, of Béziers, probably a Cathar himself, intermittently appointed Jews to the office of bailiff (bailli), a tradition apparently carried on by his son Raymond-Roger. Count Raymond VI of Toulouse, patron of Provençal poetry and tolerant of Catharism, generally favored Jews and employed Abba Mari b. Isaac of St. Gilles as one of his officials. In granting privileges to the Jews, the princes were motivated by reasons more powerful than mere sympathy. Owing to their commercial activity Jews often were a considerable source of revenue and some princes were in debt to them. More generally, the degree of independence of thought in Provence and the good will displayed to one another by Christians and Jews are probably explained by the fact that the whole region was then exposed to a wide range of outside influences which made it an island of civilization and tolerance, far removed from medieval obscurantism.
The situation which thus obtained in Provence Jewish prosperity expanding in the midst of heresy was doubly intolerable to the established church. In 1195, at the Council of Montpellier it was decreed that anyone who allowed Jews (or Muslims) to exercise public office would be excommunicated. In 1209,
III (1198–1216) ordered the Cistercians to preach a crusade against the Albigenses (January 1209). An army of monks, fanatics, and nobles marched into southern France. It was headed by Arnold of Citeaux, Cardinal Bertrand, and the rapacious Simon de Montfort, King Philip II of France having refused to lead the enterprise. The first stage of the operation ended with the capitulation of Raymond VI of Toulouse. In June 1209, at Montélimar, he and his nobles pledged themselves by oath "to forever removing the Jews from all administration and office, not ever to restore them, nor to accept other Jews for any office… nor use their council against Christians, nor… to permit them to employ Christians, men or women, in their homes as servants." Next the Crusaders took Béziers and Carcassone (July/August 1209), defended by young Raymond-Roger. Twenty thousand Christians and 200 Jews were massacred at Béziers. Many others were carried away as captives. In September 1209 the Council of Avignon decreed that "the Jews should be restrained from the exaction of usury by excommunicating those Christians who enter into commercial relations with them… and that the Jews be compelled to remit what they had gained through usury. We also prohibit them… to presume to work in public on the Sundays or festivals. Nor shall they eat meat on days of abstinence." Seven years later the wife of Simon de Montfort emulated her consort by having all the Jews of Toulouse arrested. Children under age were promptly baptized, but the adults resisted conversion and were eventually set free.
The Albigensian Crusade came to an end in 1229 with the Treaty of Paris, which destroyed the power of the princes in the south. The remaining adherents of Catharism were left to the care of the Inquisition, which dealt them a final blow by setting up a collective stake at Montségur (1245).
S. Grayzel, The Church and the Jews in the Thirteenth Century (1959), index; L.I. Newman, Jewish Influence on Christian Reform Movements (1925), index; G. Saige, Les Juifs de Languedoc (1881); Graetz, Gesch, 7 (c. 19004), 8 ff., 53; A. Borst, Die Katharer (1953); C. Schmidt, Histoire et doctrine de la secte des
Cathares ou Albigeois (1849); H.C. Lea, History of Inquisition in the Middle Ages (1958); J.M. O'Brien, in: Comparative Studies in Society and History, 10 (1967/68), 215–20.