This story starts about 1050 AD, not long after the Capetians took power in northern France. Some Christian people in the south of France began to think differently about God from the other Christians around them. These Christians called themselves “Good Christians.” Other people called them Cathars (from a Greek word for ‘pure’), or Albigensians (because some of them came from the town of Albi). The Albigensians seem to have gotten a lot of their ideas from the Abbasid empire. The ideas spread across Bulgaria to northern Italy and then to southern France.
The Albigensians had a lot in common with other religious reform movements – both Christian and non-Christian – throughout history. They were especially close to other reform movements of the Early Middle Ages. Like the Manichaeans, the Albigensians believed in two gods – a good God and an evil Devil. Albigensians thought the good god was the god of love and peace. They said the bad god was the god of matter – bodies, belongings – and of power, so both bodies and power were bad. And Albigensians said that Jesus could not have been really God, because God would never have come into an actual yucky human body. Albigensians tried to live pure lives. They denied their bodies and thought only of their souls, like Pythagoreans or Gnostics. Albigensians were vegans, and they treated men and women as equals.
But as the power of the French kings grew in the 1100s, the kings began to want to get more control of the south of France. The Albigensians got involved with the attempt to keep the south of France politically independent. So when the French kings Philip and his son Louis VIII finally conquered Carcassonne and the south of France in the early 1200s AD, that was the end of the Albigensians too. The French army killed tens of thousands of Albigensians. It was one of the biggest religious massacres of all time.