The village of Fanjeaux was founded on the site of a Roman temple called Fanum Jovis dedicated to the god Jupiter. By the end of the 12th Century Fanjeaux, as with nearby  Bram and Montreal, was the centre of a large Cathar presence mainly concentrated around the weaving and dyeing industries. Some of the ladies of Fanjeaux – as well as Esclarmonde de Foix – were being ordained as parfaits in the Cathar church in the early 1190s. Contrast this with other churches which today, 823 years later, still doesn’t allow the ordination of woman.

It was to Fanjeaux Dominic de Guzman decided to go to begin his campaign of preaching against the Cathars in 1206. He indulged in several disputes with Cathars in the area including a dispute in Montreal in 1207 when four referees had to examine the reports of each side regarding their opposing theological arguments. Here the Catholics hit upon the idea of a trial by fire for the texts under consideration. In a portent of what was to come the Cathar texts burned, but those of Dominic not only survived but miraculously flew up onto a beam in the ceiling. The beam partly burned.

Dominic supported the crusaders against the Cathars and he founded the Dominican order in 1215 in an effort to turn back the heretical tide. Dominic died in 1221 long before his order was given command of the Inquisition by Pope Gregory IX in 1233. These monks gradually hunted down the Cathars over the next 100 years until they no longer existed in the Languedoc.

Fanjeaux today is a very quiet place. From a parapet there are views northwards to the Black Mountains north of Carcassonne across the farmland of the region. It’s on this parapet Dominic is supposed to have had his vision in 1206 to found his order to hunt the heretics, though quite why it took him 9 years to do so is not clear. A house in the village claims to be the place where Dominic lived in Fanjeaux. A half-burned beam in the church claims to be the one Dominic’s text burned in the dispute mentioned above. There is an amazing old market hall here with a wonderfully timbered roof as well as some fine old houses on the streets leading to the church.

Near to Fanjeaux is the town of Bram with its streets forming concentric circles around the church. The official name for such a formation is a circulade. Eburomagus, the House of Archaeology is located in the heart of Bram. The House of Archaeology presents 6 themes showing the wealth of the archaeological heritage of the Lauragais area from Prehistory to the Middle Ages. It is the Roman period that is of the greatest interest in view of the importance of the town, especially in relation to its pottery workshops.

Bram was located at the crossroads of the Roman road from Narbonne to Toulouse and of another road from the Black Mountains to the Ariège. Bram existed in the 2nd Century B.C. and was the place called “Cobiomagus” by Cicero. It was one of the stops where the Italian wines bound for Toulouse paid a tax in 76-74 BC. The most abundant finds hereabouts are tombs, coins, and amphorae. Aerial photography has revealed the existence of a chequerboard plan under the circular structure of the mediaeval village.

Bram was captured by Simon de Montfort during the Albigensian Crusade in 1210 and he was determined to send a chilling message to the defenders of nearby Cabaret castle. Montfort had his crusaders gouge out the eyes and cut off the ears, noses and top lips of 100 defenders of Bram. He made them carry their body parts to Cabaret under the supervision of one defender, who was left with one eye, to ensure his fellow defenders of Bram reached Cabaret.

This extract is from the book Travels through History : France by Julian Worker

Published by Julian Worker

Julian was born in Leicester, attended school in Yorkshire, and university in Liverpool. He has been to 94 countries and territories and intends to make the 100 when travel is easier. He writes travel books, murder / mysteries and absurd fiction. His sense of humour is distilled from The Marx Brothers, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Midsomer Murders. His latest book is about a Buddhist cat who tries to help his squirrel friend fly further from a children's slide.

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