Montségur. La tragédie cathare
La Nef

Dorian Recordings DOR-90243


This is a dramatic recital, using troubadour and other 13th century music to illustrate some conceptual scenes from the Crusade against the Cathars (1209-1255). The Cathars were a well-entrenched heretical Christian sect in the South of France, advocating such things as the spiritual equality of man & woman. Many people have made some small links between the Cathars and the emergent troubadour repertory. If one is to designate their theology as a major motivation for the love poetry of the troubadours, one must keep well in mind that these poems are formally similar to classical Latin poems by such writers as Ovid. —

1. OuvertureReis Gloriós”   [2:40]
Sylvain Bergeron, d'après Guiraut de BORNEIL

2. Beata viscera   [5:02]   PEROTIN
3. La Tierche Estampie Roial   [3:50]
4. Quand vey la lauzeta mover   [5:28]   Bernard de VENTADOUR
5. Loc tems ai / Lo ferm voler   [4:02]
Sylvain Bergeron, d'après Raimon de MIRAVAL et Arnaut DANIEL

6. Alle Psalite / Reis Gloriós   [1:26]
Sylvain Bergeron d'après Anonyme et Guiraut de BORNEIL
7. Des Oge mais   [3:01]   ALFONSO X El Sabio   Cantiga 1
8. La Quarte Estampie Royal   [2:24]
9. A chantar m'èr   [6:39]   Condessa de DIA
10. La Septime Estampie Real    [2:21]
11. La Seconde Estampie Royal   [1:25]
12. C'est la Fins / La Quinte Estampie Real   [3:38]
13. Falsedatz et desmezura   [5:11]
Sylvain Bergeron, d'après Peire VIDAL; Texte de Peire CARDENAL

14. Benedicite Parcite Nobis   [3:12]
Sylvain Bergeron, From the Lyons Ritual/Texte tiré du Rituel Cathare
15. Virgen, madre gloriosa   [1:53]   ALFONSO X El Sabio   Cantiga 340
16. Jhesu Crist   [3:48]   Guirault RIQUIER
17. Reis Gloriós   [8:25]   Alba · Guiraut de BORNEIL

18. Veni Sancte Spiritus   [5:02]
Sylvain Bergeron, d'après Guillaume d'AMIENS

Sylvain Bergeron

Sylvain Bergeron — oud, psaltery, bells, voice
Claire Gignac — contralto, recorders, reciter
Viviane LeBlanc — soprano, psaltery
Éric Mercier — shawm, bagpipe
Vincent Dhavernas — percussion
Angèle Laberge — soprano, harp
Isabelle Marchand — bowed vielle, voice
Rafik Samman — baritone, percussion, oud


The French word "nef" ("Nave": from the latin navis, 'ship") designated a large sailing ship of the Middle Ages, a wooden "castle" with a rounded stern and broad sails that carried crusaders to the Holy land, bringing back gold for kings. This beautiful and noble name, "nef" or nave in English, also came to be used for that part of the church reserved for worship by the laity.
A venturesome world-faring vessel, today's La Nef is seeking, discovering, exploring, making its ports of call in distant times and ancient lands. It has gathered a faithful crew: jugglers, minstrels, actors and jesters. La Nef takes you on an adventure. In lieu of gold and weapons it carries songs. Sounds heard over seas of yore, words and melodies collected from foreign shores and forgotten ports.

* * *

The ensemble La Nef was created in the spring of 1991. During the last 15 years, all of its members have been associated with the major ensembles of early music of Québec. Since its founding, La Nef has presented more than 200 performances and participated in major international series and festivals including Early Music Now (Milwaukee, 1996), Festival Internacional Cervantino (Mexico, 1994, 1996), Festival de Flandres (Belgium, 1993), and Festival de Musica El Hatillo (Venezuela, 1992).

The musical role of La Nef is to examine the ancient repertoire in its original state, being flexible and adaptable to restructuring and re-creation. The integration of a theatrical dimension in its productions throws a new light on the music. It allows the listener to better perceive the profoundness and richness of the emotions contained in this music from the past.

Montségur is La Nefs third recording. Music for Joan the Mad [DIS-80128] and The Garden of Earthly Delights [DIS-80135] are available on the Dorian Discovery* label.

Secular music/musique profane
Anthologie des Troubadours · Pierre Bec, ed., (Paris: Bibliothèque médiévale, 1979)
Poésie lyrique au Moyen-Age (Paris: Librairie Larousse, 1965)
Medieval Dances · Timothy J. McGee (University of Toronto press)
Religious music
— École de Notre-Dame (Léonin)
— Cantigas de Santa Maria (Alphonse le Sage)

Oud (Dincer Dalkilic, Philadelphia, PA, USA, 1975)
Syrian Oud (unknown builder; modified by Eduard Rusnack, Montreal, 1992)
Harp: Medieval Harp (Susie Norris, Plainfield, VT, USA, 1985)
Bowed vielle: 5-string (anonymous, NH, USA, 1984)
Psaltery: (Claude Guibord, Montreal, 1995)
Alto, tenor, soprano (Levin Silverstein)
Sopranino (Moeck, 1978)
Shawn/chalémie:  Catalonian/Spanish Shawm (John Hanchett, Dusseldorf, 1987)
Bagpipe: Veuze Bagpipe (Hervieux & Glet, Redon, Brittany, 1985)
Bells/cloches: White Chapel Bells (England, 1973)
Derbouka instruments with metal base
Egyptian Eel Skin Drum
Egyptian day drum
Ocean Drum

Recorded at l'église de la Nativité de la Ste-Viérge, Québec in May 1996

Producer: David H. Walters
Engineers: Craig D. Dory, David H, Walters, Brian C. Peters, Debbie Reynolds
Editor: David H. Walters
Booklet Preparation & Editing: Katherine A. Dory
Graphic Design: Kimberly Smith Company
Executive Producer: Brian M. Levine

Conception and Musical Direction: Sylvain Bergeron
Artistic Direction: Sylvain Bergeron, Claire Gignac,Viviane LeBlanc Historical research: Alain Bergeron
Translation: Ann Rajan assisted by Sybil Murray-Denis, Louise Lafond
Photography: Jean-Louis Gasc, Denis McCready, Craig D. Dory
Acknowledgements: Le Centre National d'Études Cathares, Franc Bardou, Pierre Vellas, Laurent Major, Normand Cazelais, Douglas Kirk

The concert that helped prepare this recording was given at the Redpath Hall of McGill University in Montreal, on June 9,1995. It was produced with the assistance of the Société Radio-Canada (French CBC network).

The creation of this program was made possible with the support of the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec (Programme d'aide aux Artistes) and the Canada Council (Explorations Program).

℗ © 1996 DORIAN RECORDINGS® a division of The Dorian Group, Ltd.


Long ago, the Cathars built a castle on the summit o a mountain, and this castle was also a temple and a refuge. Its walls were cliffs mounted upon cliffs as strong and as desperate as the hearts o its inhabitants. In the land of the troubadours , Montségur gave shelter to the most exacting purity.
But one day, barons came down from the North, crusaders of Babylon the Catholic. They burnt its flesh and left only its huge bones of stone, a twisted skeleton still crumbling today under the sand and wind o centuries.
Assassinated, Montségur survives, a proud fortress gazing, in arrogant silence, on worlds far beyond human ken.
Like a ghost ensconced high above the Occitan countryside of France Montségur, solitary, hoards the memory of a long-faded dream.


On 10 March 1208, Pope Innocent III called for a crusade. This time it was not to free the Holy Land but to root out a heresy rampant in the very heart of Christendom in the land of Raymond VI Count of Toulouse. Rome had long fulminated against these heretics and the tolerance granted them by aristocrats in the South of France. On January, Brother Pierre de Castelnau, the papal legate was assassinated by an officer of Raymond VI. The pope could not have hoped for a better pretext to strike.

Who were those people we call the Cathars and against whom was launched a merciless decades-long crusade? There is no easy answer to this question. Today, the Cathar phenomenon is still shrouded in mystery and confusion. War, the Inquisition, and the ravages of time have left us very few Cathar documents of irrefutable authenticity. What we know about them is often based on late or hostile sources. Even the designation Cathar (from the Greek kathoros meaning pure is open to debate, as those referred to by this name did not themselves use it. They saw themselves as true Christians - indeed, the only genuinely "good Christians" - and they looked upon the Roman Catholic church as a new Babylon dedicated to Satan. On the other hand many of their beliefs were closely akin to Eastern religions. The absolute opposition of good and evil, the fundamental duality of mind and matter were directly inspired by Persian Manicheism. Other elements recall Hinduism and Buddhism: renouncement of the world, praise of suicide, belief in reincarnation, and a vegetarian ethic. We know that a Christian form of Manicheism appeared in the Near East during the first centuries of the Church. It spread via the Byzantine Empire across the Balkans and the North of Italy before reaching Languedoc and Catalonia in about the eleventh century. Catharism took root in the South of France and was particularly well established in Toulouse and the western parts of Languedoc, with Beziers, Carcassonne, Albi, and Foix as the main centers.

What is remarkable about these heretics is that they lived, apparently with little friction among ordinary Christians and were even regarded with much sympathy by the population. Cathars recognized two classes of the faithful: simple believers and Perfects. Perfects were those who accepted to receive the initiatory sacrament called the consolamentum. The highest degree of moral rectitude was demanded of them. They led exemplary and often edifying lives. Their simplicity, altruism and austerity, which stood in stark contrast to the corruption and cynicism of so many among the official clergy, brought them numerous converts.

From a political standpoint, the vast region of Languedoc - called Occitania from the 19th century on - then lay under the influence of the counts of Toulouse. The kings of France, long engaged in process of state centralization saw these counts as formidable rivals. During the 12th and 13th centuries, Languedoc culture was considered one of the most sophisticated in all of Christendom, with   the possible exception of Byzance. Toulouse was the third largest city in Europe. Philosophy was there held in great esteem as was poetry, and both these forms of expression were strongly impregnated with Eastern influences. The Arabian world was not very far away, and Languedoc had seen crusaders returning from Palestine cross its lands. And just on the other side of the Pyrenees lay the kingdom of Aragon, one of the main crossroads for the highly complex exchanges between Islamic and Christian cultures.

It is well known that the Cathars enjoyed the support of the leading families of the aristocracy of the South. A high proportion of the Perfects were of noble birth. Moreover, the Catharist heresy and the courtly art of the Troubadours flourished in the same soil, although it would be presumptuous to posit a direct link between the two. Poetic and courtly Fin 'Amors nurtured new values that prevailed over the crass and violent traditions of the warlike aristocracy. Essentially opposed to the norms of Catholic morality, it flouted conventional unions through adultery. At the heart of Fin 'Amors was the Domna, the beautiful inaccessible mistress, the object of a passion that could be either erotic or mystical in nature. Some have sought a parallel between this courtly celebration of woman and the sexual egalitarism advocated by the Perfects. Unlike Catholicism which held women as instruments of temptation used by Satan,   the Cathars saw men and women on an equal footing, because, in their view, both sexes were the victims of Satan. They condemned marriage and regarded procreation as a crime since it meant the imprisoning of an innocent soul within a corporal prison subject to the Devil's law. In practice, however, the moral code of the Cathars showed them as being open-minded towards adultery with considerable tolerance for brief amorous adventures among the common believers. Only the Perfects, who represented a minority, were constrained to complete chastity.

In the early 13th century, having tried in vain to dispel the heresy through preaching, the Church deemed the moment propitious to take more effective action. The Barons who were summoned would find very conveniently, that their Crusade was close at hand. Moreover, they were granted the indulgences usually conferred on those who took up the Cross. The chief star of the Crusade was Simon IV Count of Montfort, who had won fame in the Holy Land for his campaign against the Saracens, and who coveted the title of Count of Toulouse.

While Montfort and his captains waged a campaign of armed terror, monks mandated by the Pope and his Bishops kept the people in spiritual bondage. The country was laid waste by armies and the great machine of the Inquisition judged and condemned thousands of Cathars to be burned at the stake. Countless stories of untold horrors described torture and death. Bodies of heretics were exhumed and burned. Good Christians, deemed suspect, perished in the same manner ...

In its various stages the Crusade lasted from 1209 to 1255 (Queribus taken). But the event that was to capture the imagination of future generations was the siege of Montségur. Built at the summit of an extremely steep mountain, some 1,200 meters high, this fortress served as a refuge. Here persecuted heretics found asylum, as did knights and men of arms being sought by Simon de Montfort's Crusaders. From the very beginning, the place was also used as a sanctuary by the Catharist Church and it soon became one of the main centers of resistance for the occupants. Here at Montségur, an arsenal was secured, plots devised and preparations made to enable people to go underground.

In May 1243, Hugues des Arcis, Seneschal of Carcassonne, finally established his armed forces at the foot of Montségur rock. The strategic position of the castle severely restricted the choice of operations for the attacking forces. So the siege was a lengthy one. In November, an expedition of Basque montagnards gave the French a tactical position enabling catapult attacks. While those under attack could respond in the same way, their main supply source was soon cut off. By around Christmas the attackers succeeded in taking the perimeter of the summit though the Cathars managed to hang on throughout the month of February, hoping for reinforcements that never arrived. In desperation, they tried to attack enemy positions but their situation soon became clear. On March 2, 1244, Montségur surrendered after ten months of siege. Although about 500 people were then inhabiting the fortress, this included only about 150 to 200 Perfects. The conditions of surrender were rather peculiar. A 15-day truce was called. Perfects who renounced their errors before the Inquisition would be punished but not killed. The rest would be burned at the stake.

Rather than weakening the Cathars' ranks it reinforced them. Some twenty men and women chose the supreme rite of consolamentum, joining the contingent of martyrs. At dawn on March 15, somewhere between 200 and 225 Perfects (the numbers vary depending on sources) were brought to the base of a stockade on the slope of the mountain, where a bonfire was already ablaze.

Following this event other Cathar fortresses would fall but none with the mythical significance of Montségur. Later, during the Occitan era the defeated fortress at Montségur would become the symbol of the South's resistance to the centralizing influence of the North. Thousands made the pilgrimage annually to the ruins of Montségur. And it matters little whether the ruins we view today are truly those of the Cathar fortress or whether they are the remains of a castle subsequently built by Guy de Lévis Lord of Mirepoix. Legends endure. And the spirit of the Cathars lives on among the stone ruins of Montségur.

Alain Bergeron


Virtually no authentic written document on the Cathars remains. Their musical practice is unknown to us. However, the Cathar phenomenon flourished in the same region and during the same era (12th-13th centuries) as the Troubadour repertoire. Various poetical texts of the Troubadours relate closely to the Cathar era, expressing the ideas and actions in like manner. They sing of love, religious or carnal, the higher human values, nobleness of heart.

Drawing upon basic material which is essentially medieval, La Nef here offers an original musical realization for voice and early instruments. The sources have been selected orchestrated and interpreted in keeping with the concept of opposition. The doctrine of the Cathars rests on the antagonism between Good and Evil. And history has retained a dualistic notion of the Albigensian drama: North against South, invading crusaders against a martyred people. The Church of Rome against the Perfects or Bonhommes as they were also called).

From one side loud thunderous sounds of the bagpipes, shawms, percussion. From the other, the soft instruments (harps, lutes, flutes), women's voices, the poetry of the Troubadours.

1. Ouverture "Reis Gloriós" • S. Bergeron (after/d'après Guiraut de Bomeil)

The disc begins with an instrumental piece based on the well-known melody Reis Gloriós. Successively, then in opposition, this overture renders the sounds of forces present: loud and soft instruments, women's voices. The magnificent melody, written in Dorian mode, also serves as the program's leitmotif.

El Fin 'Amors

This scene depicts the period immediately preceding the Albigensian Crusade. Evoked here is a way of life in the South of France, which is at once gentle, refined, hinting of decadence, with a rich and sumptuous but fragile beauty. The instrumentation calls especially upon the string instruments: harps, psalteries, vielle, oud.

2. Beata viscera • Perotin
3. La Tierche Estampie Roial • Anonyme / Instrumental
4. Quand vey la lauzeta mover • Bernard de Ventarour
5. Lonc tems ai / Lo ferm vole • S. Bergeron (d'après Raimon de Miravel et Arnaut Daniel) / Instrumental

Le Fléau

The main aspect of this scene is extreme brutality, the ruthless and decisive character of the devastation wrought by the Crusaders. The sonorities are loud, piercing, direct. By literally stamping out the spellbinding sounds of the people of the South, they crush them beneath their boots.

But this incipient war is no ordinary military campaign, it is also a Crusade. And from Rome, superimposed on this unleashing of brute force, is the blessing of the Church. The "Alle Psalite cum Luya" resounds over the warlike rumblings. The shawm issues its call from the heights of the ramparts, the percussion pounds the earth, the bagpipe screams out its retinue of horrors.

6. Alle Psalite / Reis Gloriós • Sylvain Bergeron (d'après Anonyme et Guiraut Borneil)
7. Des Oge mais (Cantiga 1) • Alfonso X el Sabio
8. La Quarte Estampie Royal • Anonyme / Instrumental

In this Hell of violence, a lone song of love (A chantar m'èr) tries in vain to appease the combatants.

9. A chantar m'èr • Condesa de Dia

10. La Septime Estampie Real • Anonyme / Instrumental
11. La Seconde Estampie Royal • Anonyme / Instrumental
12. C'est la Fins / La Quinte Estampie Real • Anonyme / Instrumental

The denunciatory text of the "sirventes against occupation" (Falsedatz et desmezura) constitutes the Cathars' response to the invasion. In vain. The Crusaders launch their final attack. Montségur is taken.

13. Falsedatz et desmezura • Sylvain Bergeron (d'après Peire Vidal; Texte de Peire Cardenal)


This scene strikes to the core of the Cathar thinking, its spirituality, its rites, its secrets. The Perfects of Montségur have had their truce. For them, all that remains is to pray. On this last night at the fortress, some request the last rites. The "Benedicite Parcite Nobis" is at once solemn, hypnotic, mesmerizing. The music of this scene has a sole purpose: to strengthen faith and lead forward to martyrdom.

14. Benedicite Parcite Nobis • Sylvain Bergeron (From the Lyons Ritual/Texte tiré du Rituel Cathare)
15. Virgen, madre gloriósa (Cantiga 340) • Alfonso X el Sabio
16. Jhesu Crist • Guirault Riquier

Dawn is nigh. Here the "Reis Gloriós" is offered a final time in a spare but extremely dramatic version. The text of this "song of daybreak" first evokes the growing anxiety for the companion's absence, following a night of love, awaiting reunion which grows later as dawn arrives. Here a wholly different meaning is expressed.

17. Reis Gloriós (Alba) • Guiraut de Borneil


The Perfects walk voluntarily to death. A serene walk, but at once horrible and terrifying. In assuming their martyrdom, the Perfects knew how to summon all their energies: the gesture is collective, unanimous, advances in unison of step and voice. Each person draws strength from the common flow of movement that carries them on. But these are not robots walking to unspeakable torture. Doubt, fear, sheer love of life may still haunt them scarcely a few feet from the stake. The walk itself is a vast procession to the beyond, suggested by the constant rise of sonorities to higher registers. It is the passage from the crass material world to the absolute kingdom of the Spirit. The Perfects are the chosen ones whom God has called. The Consolamentum which leads to martyrdom represents the gates they will enter to the promised Paradise. One by one the sonorities "burn," disappear in the fire, vanish. This is the end.

18. Veni Sancte Spiritus • S. Bergeron (d'après Guillaume d'Amiens)