Son Ferriol is celebrating its traditional fair this weekend. | T. AYUGA

The Albigensian Crusade was one of the Middle Ages’ most infamous persecutions of heretics. The Albigensian tag came from Albi in southern France and nowadays in the Occitanie region. It was here that Catharism had taken hold early in the eleventh century. This was a Christian dualist movement. The Cathars believed that there were two Gods - one good, one bad - and as such they were always destined to come into conflict with orthodox Christianity.

There had been almost two centuries of repression before Pope Innocent III decided that it was time for a crusade. In exchange for undertaking the crusade, French knights and nobles could expect to gain Cathar land, and these men of arms came to be greatly aided by what in effect was a product of the crusade - the founding of the Dominican Order by Domingo de Guzmán, a mystic from Castile.
Following for the order of Sant Domingo (Saint Dominic) spread like wildfire after its formation in 1206, and Domingo himself sought to persuade the Albigensians to see the error of their ways. When they didn’t, the Dominicans were embraced by the Episcopal Inquisition. The Albigensians never really stood a chance. Orthodox Christianity, the mass following of Domingo, the lust for land and power; they all combined to eventually massacre Catharism.

The crusade came to an end twenty years after it had begun in 1209. A treaty was signed in 1229, but there was still to be persecution, which was where this early Inquisition really came into play. Cathars who refused to repent were driven underground, unless they were exposed, in which case the usual outcome was the stake. Fleeing was a possibility. But where to?

By coincidence, the crusade ended in the same year that Jaume I led his forces in the conquest of Madina Mayurqa (Palma) and Mallorca. Orthodox Christians all, Jaume was to favour the Dominicans in particular. In 1231, the Convent of Sant Domingo in Palma was created. This initial building was to expand into what became a huge complex that was to remain until the confiscations ordered by Spain’s prime minister, Juan Álvarez Mendizábal, in 1835. Nothing was left of this one-time Dominican centre; it was demolished.

At the time of the conquest, though, the Dominicans clearly formed a religious powerhouse in Mallorca. Orthodoxy prevailed and had sailed with Jaume, and yet there was something from Jaume’s past that hinted at less than orthodoxy. His father, Pere el Catòlic, had in fact given his support to the Cathars. He died at the Battle of Muret during the crusade, his Aragonese forces having clashed with the French of Simon de Montfort.

It wasn’t that Pere was a Cathar sympathiser, but he had his vassals to concern him, most notably those of Toulouse, which was conquered by De Montfort in 1212. The crusade became an exercise in warfare for expansion purposes as much as it had anything to do with religious fanaticism. Jaume was only five when his father died. He was to come under the influence of the Knights Templar, so he was brought up with the orthodoxy of the Benedictines, who had preached against Catharism.

Given all this, how was it to be that there was a Cathar community in Palma? This community was specific to Son Ferriol, a district of Palma about which there is some mystery. The name would appear to have come from an Aragonese knight by the name of Francesc (or Francisco) Ferriol, yet there is vagueness as to the existence of a Son Ferriol estate (possession), while the name Ferriol is in fact absent from the inventory of what became the Mallorcan nobility after the conquest.

A key reason for knowing that there was a Son Ferriol back in those days and for also knowing that there was someone called Ferriol is directly linked to the Cathars and in particular to a Cathar priest called Pere Maurí. In 1321, he was documented as having been in Mallorca, in Son Ferriol. He encountered a Ferriol, who wasn’t necessarily a Cathar but who most certainly was in a community where Cathars had seemingly found some sort of haven. Separated from the main city, it would seem that descendants of Cathars had been allowed to live there in relative peace.

But this doesn’t explain how they came to be there in the first place, unless of course the forces of conquest hadn’t all been orthodox Christians after all. Unless, maybe, there had been Cathars who had sensed an opportunity to flee to a new territory under the son of a king who had fought on their behalf and having been driven out of their homelands in southern France. It is known that Albigensian troubadours moved to Aragon, so perhaps it wasn’t totally surprising that some Cathars made their way to Mallorca.

For all this, though, there were the Dominicans, an order from which Gregory IX enlisted itinerant Papal Inquisitors in 1231. Maybe they weren't active in Mallorca, allowing the Cathars of Son Ferriol to indeed live in relative peace. How long this community survived is unknown. As to Pere Maurí, he left by ship from Soller, having spent a month or so on the island. He was later imprisoned, his fate not having been recorded. His mentor, Guillaume Bélibaste, was burnt at the stake in the same year that he came to Mallorca.