July 22, 1209
Béziers, County of Toulouse (present day France)
The Massacre at Béziers is carried out by crusaders under the order of Pope Innocent III, with up to 20,000 murdered regardless of their age, gender, or faith
The Pope (pictured) had recently declared war upon the Cathars, members of a sect of Christianity the Catholic Church disagreed with, in part because the Church used sacraments of penance to remove sin from a person while Catharism baptized people to make them “perfect.”
A siege was ordered against the Cathars in the city of Béziers. Those seeking refuge in churches were not spared. Abbot Arnaud Amalric wrote to the Pope of the massacre explaining “Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex or age, and put to the sword almost 20,000 people. After this great slaughter the whole city was despoiled and burnt.”
A witness to the massacre, Caesarius of Heisterbach, wrote “When they discovered, from the admissions of some of them, that there were Catholics mingled with the heretics they said to the abbot ‘Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics.’ The abbot, like the others, was afraid that many, in fear of death, would pretend to be Catholics, and after their departure, would return to their heresy, and is said to have replied ‘Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius – Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His’ (2 Tim. ii. 19) and so countless number in that town were slain.” (Pope Innocent III’s remark is sometimes quoted in a modern tone: “kill them all and let God sort them out.”)
The massacre was partially responsible for the crusades to lose support from local Catholics who began to hate the force. The remaining Cathars were eventually destroyed during the Inquisition.
Photo: Eon Images