Today we drove up to the little mountain village of Minerve. Minerve was another Cathar site that in 1210 was beseiged by Simon De Montfort and 7000 Albigensian crusaders. The village held out for days until Montfort succeeded in destroying their only well. Faced with either renouncing their faith or execution, 180 villagers chose death by burning. There is a monument to their sacrifice near the 13th century church still standing there.
Originally, the village was fortified but only a single crumbling tower remaiins. The main gateway to the city is a beautiful stone bridge with high arches. There is a small vineyard on the valley floor below the bridge but I think most of the village inhabitants now make their living from visitors. The narrow cobblestoned streets look very much like they did in the 13th century. Now days, though, there is a wine tasting room with various local wines available for sale, a book store, a couple of gift shops featuring locally crafted items and other quality gifts, the shop of a local sculptor and a small but very well organized museum.
The village sits beside a deep river gorge carved through the local mountain that is punctuated with caves that have yielded a variety of prehistoric fossils. Although not all the specimens displayed in the museum are labeled, I recognized the skull of a giant cave bear, several skulls of prehistoric ibex, a lot of fossilized trilobytes and even a Neanderthal skull. There were hand axes and other neolithic tools and an extensive collection of geologic specimens, particularly various types and colors of quartz and crystals.
There were a few items from the Roman era and skulls of victims from the Cathar period that suffered obvious head wounds from medieval weapons. The museum also had a miniature diorama of the 13th century seige that really demonstrated the hopeless situation of the Cathar villagers.
I also enjoyed looking at their 16th and 17th century pottery examples, too. As part of our museum admission the caretaker unlocked the 13th century church and let us look around. The construction is fairly simple stone block but it does have a few stained glass windows although they are not original to the church. The caretaker pointed to one and said it was from the 17th century. The marble altar is considered one of the oldest in Europe and dates back to the 5th century CE. How it ended up in this church 800 years later, though, I'm not sure.