Freshman cultural anthropology major Curtis Worley bonded with the memory of the Count of Toulouse during Honors Passport: Pilgrimage. Here, he takes on the role of Raymond VII, son of the “heretical” count targeted by the French Crown in the Crusade against the Cathars in southern France. In this emotional blog post, Curtis imagines Raymond paying homage to his father in the Cathar stronghold of Najac, parts of which were constructed under the supervision of the count.
I am Raymond, seventh of my name. I come from a long line of nobility who have ruled the great county of Toulouse. My father, Raymond VI, fought for this land and its people’s sovereignty. Their freedom to choose is not one often found. For this Pope Innocent III declared him a “heretic,” excommunicating him from the Church and God. What man deserves this for the transgression of freedom? Having his soul damned and body denied a Christian burial is not what my father deserves.
So now I find myself on a journey of the soul, not of my own but for my beloved fathers. I walk the great pilgrimage, from Paris to Santiago, for the soul of my father, so that God will see the holiness in him and open His gates. I have just left my family’s great city Toulouse, taking a quick journey to the village of Najac to visit men wishing to pay homage to my father.
My legs already ache from the journey, my fine boots have been frayed and disfigured, as all signs of status fade from my being. This path makes us all equal in the eyes of God. My men trudge along behind me, the standard of my family hanging high in the air.
Along the journey we have gathered a host of non-traditional believers who wish to pay homage to my father. He was a man beloved by his people, for he fought for their freedom.
As we approach Najac we see a great castle upon the mountain to the east of the village. It is still under construction, a construction that was begun by my father. Now the Crown holds this castle and uses it to watch over the people who so wished to be apart from their rule.
The hill Najac sits upon was near unscalable, a dream defensive position for any castle. The cliffside is at a near 70% slope, with the only safe path winding for a near mile to reach the fortification capping the hill. Watching it as I approached I found myself in a trance, its stature luring me in. We reached the base of the hill and I stopped my company.
“Let us go see the work our beloved count began years ago,” I said.
And we began up the hill. Immediately our legs and rears began to ache because of the climb, the steep climb already taking its toll. Yet we went on. I couldn’t help but imagine assaulting this fortress. Rushing the position at such an angle, a hail of projectiles falling en masse upon you and your comrades. As we reached the top I gaze up and still see the walls climbing to the heavens above me.
The towers and walls were high, having 12-meter-high slits arranged around for arrows to be fired and projectiles launched. We hail the guard, being allowed entry almost out of pity it seems. From the inside it appears to be a luxurious prison. Claustrophobic spacing is uniform even in the courtyard, yet there are sleeping quarters, garrison quarters, and even a wine cellar. The tallest tower hangs the standard of the Crown, and the highest room in the newly refashioned keep is the royal quarters. I study the walls, noticing a change in stone used around a third of the way up to the top. Snapping out of my trance I’m filled with anger, the way the king so insolently takes my father’s work and pastes over it is disgraceful! Their hired architects from the North take all the culture from our land, everything that makes us different. Their “crusade” was not one of God but one of power. A crusade of control.
As I reach the gates the guards stop my men and me. A small grubby looking man approaches.
“Come Sir Raymond, if you have come to pay homage then you shall pay to the king as well,” the man says. I look at him in a flurry of anger, yet understand I should have expected this. I follow the man to the royal quarters, an over-extravagant room for a castle. The man points to the standard of the crown and says, “Bow.” I approach and bow to the standard, hands shaking with fury as I do so.
“Kiss it,” the man says.
My shaking hands roughly grab the standard, with a great temptation to tear it down. Yet I did not, and kissed it quickly.
“Now a donation,” the man says.
I gaze at him, with all the anger of my people and my father. This is what we fought. Our war was just. I hand him a small pouch of coins and storm out of the place, ready to relieve myself of this humiliation.
I wipe the disgust from my mind and march from the castle. After the meeting and prayer with the local landowners I retire to the governor’s quarters in the village. Gazing into the fireplace, I recall the events of the day. Walking through the lands which belonged to my family, seeing it defiled. Being wiped of any mark of individuality bred from our land, instead adorned with the same marks as most of France. As I think I become angry, viciously stoking the fire until the coals spit flames upon my legs, burning me and breaking my trance. I bow in prayer and ask what wrong my father did to deserve damnation. Or even if his accusers are not the sinners. Or even if the God that punishes us is the one we worship.
Tears slowly stream down my face at the thought and I quickly dismiss it. “Amen,” I say, and I lay in bed. I can’t help but think if greater France will ever strike back at the Parisians, if a revolt will ever take the king from his throne. This day, I hope I live to see, though I know I likely will not. With the seeds of revolt planted in my mind I began to fade to sleep. These seeds will need to be cultivated for the people, not in a lifetime but over the rest of time. The seeds of revolution. The thought is not satisfying but knowing what is coming for those who have wronged all eases me and my eyes slowly close. Sleep takes me.