The ‘Catholic’ and the ‘Believers’: Pedro II of Aragon and the Albigenses

The King of Aragon was deeply involved in the religious wars of the thirteenth century in south-western France, writes Jan Read.

To visit the quiet French town of Albi, with its splendid Gothic cathedral and a museum full of paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec couched above the placid reaches of the Tarn, one would not suppose that it had given its name to a sect which provoked one of the bloodiest and most discreditable conflicts in the history of the Mediaeval Church.

Yet there is something a little sinister about the blank brick faade of the cathedral, pierced by the narrowest of windows, which recalls the massacre of the Albigenses and the tragic death of Pedro II of Aragon.

In the early years of the thirteenth century Aragon-Catalonia had not yet acquired a Mediterranean empire, of which the farthest bounds were later to extend as far as Athens. Her policies were directed towards the reconquest of southern Spain from the Moors, in which Pedro II (or, in Catalan, Pere) played a prominent role, and in extending her grip on southern France.

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