Pilgrimage: What Crusade?

Pilgrimage is set in the year 1209. We know Irish monks are on their way to deliver a relic to Rome. And we also know, as evidenced from a few other sources, that somehow, in this story, Crusaders are present. So, What Crusade? The Crusades most people know about are those three where battle was joined in The Holy Land the middle east, around Jerusalem and Constantinople. In 1209, there was no Crusade outside of Europe.

But, in 1209, the 20 year long Albigensian Crusade (AKA Cathar Crusade) was ordained by Pope Innocent III against the Cathars, a religious sect he considered heretical. Of the Cathars,  Wiki says,

The theology of the Cathars was dualistic, a belief in two equal and comparable transcendental principles; God, the force of good, and Satan, or the demiurge, the force of evil. They held that the physical world was evil and created by this demiurge, which they called Rex Mundi (Latin, “King of the World”). Rex Mundi encompassed all that was corporeal, chaotic and powerful. The Cathar understanding of God was entirely disincarnate: they viewed God as a being or principle of pure spirit and completely unsullied by the taint of matter. He was the God of love, order and peace. Jesus was an angel with only a phantom body, and the accounts of him in the New Testament were to be understood allegorically.

This explains at least two of the books Jamie Hannigan showed on his pile of research books for the film, Pilgrimage. posted in his first tweet:

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 10.09.38 PM

The Perfect Heresy by Stephen O’ Shea, is a history of the medieval Cathars, whose heresy is described  by a reviewer of The Perfect Heresy as

dualist: they solved the problem of theodicy – how to square a good God with a world full of evil – by denying the omnipotence of that God, instead teaching two principles, one of light, responsible for the divine spark in every person, the other of darkness, responsible for the corrupt material world and the evil in it.

The second relevant book on the pile is The Devil  by Peter Stanford ( full title The Devil: A Biography)  which is described by reviewers as an historical survey of the Satan in theology, and at least a portion of the book discusses the Cathars and other sects which believed the Devil lived among us.

Thousands of Europeans were Cathars, and many of those were monastic; some were lay people.

As it turns out, the Crusade against the Cathars took place in France, and French nobles were among those who both defended and persecuted the Cathars.

There were a series of military battles which took place in the Languedoc region of southern France. Modern Languedoc has coastlines along the Mediterranean Sea and abuts the Cote D’Azure

Beziers, which you can see on the map, was the site of a mass and violent slaughter of the entire town by the Crusaders.

At the time of the Cathar Crusade, it appears that the Languedoc region, or at least the area where Cathars were prevalent and where battles and sieges took place, was much larger than the region is today. In other words, it spread more westerly and northerly than today’s Languedoc. The map below shows which nobles on either side of the conflict held territory during the Cathar Crusade.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 10.50.26 PM

So what about our Irish monks? As they’re on their way to Rome,it would seem that these monks have nothing to do with the Cathars. I couldn’t find any references to Irish medieval Cathar orders. It makes more sense, since they’re on their way to Rome with an important relic, that they are aligned or obligated to the Pope, and not the Cathars.

So, how do they find themselves either in the middle of or at the fringe of the Crusade in Languedoc?

Easy. They were making their way from Ireland, (maybe through England), down to France and on to Italy.


So, I think, one mystery solved.

17 thoughts on “Pilgrimage: What Crusade?

  1. This is beautiful research and just the kind of background and history that I like to hear of in regards to a film. I see myself anticipating this particular film above all else. Gives me faith in the filmmaker(s). Not just Richard (even if especially), but the subject matter and the rest of the cast are included in my anticipation. Thank you for this.


    • Thanks. I’ve limited myself to sources on the net. I know a bit about western european history, but don’t recall reading about this crusade, or the Cathars, though it’s possible I came across their persecutions and just took very little note.


  2. I just noticed that, oddly, there is a person in history prominently featured in one of those books above that is a character is a well read (very well written) piece of Sir Guy fan fiction on a…um…certain fan fiction site. This would be a long running serial piece that just completed a few months ago, so it truly is a coincidence. (Or is it?) Funny that.


    • Have no idea what you mean, but i’m guessing Eleanor of Aquitaine. She appeared in the episode, “Treasure of the Nation” or some such title. As I will publish soon, the English King and Lord of Ireland, at the time of the Pilgrimage plot, was none other than former Prince John.


      • Sure. And yes. In my ignorance (of the show in general, as I only really watched Richard) I did not realize the actual direct connection to Robin Hood. The time period, I did of course. The fan fiction I speak of went goes into much detail of the time and actual history and was/is very well written. In the piece, Sir Guy never actually comes in contact directly with the Queen that I recall, only through relayed stories from her dying niece. I wouldn’t be surprised if it became published with some minor name changes.


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    • I can’t recall precisely, except for the image in RA’s tweet and the stack of books writer Jamie Hannigan put in his photos, but some reader with a better memory may offer another source.


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  6. Thanks for all the info, the more we find out about it the more interesting it becomes. I find the history of that particular crusade fascinating. Even if the monks are not cathars it creates a very interesting theme to explore. If they find themselves in the middle of the conflict as the reach the area on their journey, how would they react to it?


  7. Pingback: Pilgrimage: The French Connection in Ireland | Armitage Agonistes

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