This device was the coat of arms of the family of St-Gilles, Counts of Toulouse in the Middle Ages.
Wherever you go in the Languedoc, you will notice the Cross of Toulouse. You will find it incorporated into official arms of local government bodies, embroidered on flags, carved in stone, wrought in iron, printed on postcards, displayed in stained glass. You will find it worn as jewellery, sold as souvenirs to tourists, scrawled on walls as graffiti. You will even find it set in brass in the ground in public squares and visible in patterns of red and gold flowers.
Heraldry of the Cross of Toulouse
The "Occitan Cross"
The "Cathar Cross"
The significance of the Cross of Toulouse.
Examples of the cross of Toulouse.
Heraldry of the Cross of Toulouse
In (English) heraldic terms the cross of Toulouse is described as "gules a cross clechy pommety and voided or". In French Heraldic terms as "de gueules, a la croix vidée, clechée, pommettée et alaisée d'or". Both translate into lay language as "on a red background, a yellow cross with pointy ends and its centre cut out, and a bobble (pomette) on each of its 12 points. The twelve pomettes may well have evolved from 12 rivets used to fix a cross clechy onto a real military shield, reflected in the version above right.
One medieval roll blazons the arms as "de goules a un croyz d'or pate et perse a une bordere d'or", which sounds like an inadequate attempt to describe the same arms.
The arms are so well known that even in English heraldry, the term "Cross of Toulouse" is used as a shorthand term that any herald will understand. Why heralds might need as shorthand for this type of cross will become apparent if you look at some of the arms that incorporate examples of the Cross of Toulouse. Under heraldic convention the length of the arms of the cross may be varied according to artistic convenience, for example to fill a long shield.
According to tradition Raymond IV (~1093-1095) adopted the cross during the First Crusade, but it is known to have been used before the First Crusade. In 990 Guillame Taillefer, Count of Toulouse, married Emma, daughter and heir of Roubaud, Count of Provence, bringing Provençal counties as her dowry. In these lands the Counts vassals appear to have been the first to adopt the cross. It was mentioned in 1080 at Marseille, in connection with the Counts of Venasque. Their county, the Venaissin, would soon after pass into the hands of the Count of Toulouse as Marquis of Provence.
The cross appeared soon after on the banner of Raymond de Saint Gilles, Count of Toulouse, and when the family of St Gilles became Counts of Tripoli it flew over their possessions there too. It was arguably the only honourable flag ever flown on the Christian side. The most ancient cross in existence today is one decorating the keystone of a vault in the nave of the cathedral of St. Etienne in Toulouse, dated 1211.
Some believe the origin of the cross of Toulouse to be pre-Christian. Its origin may have been a twelve-ray solar wheel, such as one found in Saint-Michel-de-Lanes not far from Toulouse. The twelve discs may have symbolised the twelve houses of the zodiac - as they do in the large modern cross set into the square outside to Capitole in Toulouse (shown left). The cross is studded with metal bosses (shown right) each decorated with examples of the cross of Toulouse as it developed over the centuries.
The arms of the town of Lloupia (shown right), preserve an ancient form with the colours reversed. A remote origin of the cross is possible. For example the Turfan cross, in Eastern Turkestan, closely resembles the arms of Loupia. This form consists of a single continuous looped line as shown on the left. It is possible that the design travelled into Europe from the East following the same route that Cathar teachings did. Similar crosses have been found in northern Italy (Pisa and Venice), Provence (Forcalquier as well as Venasque) and Spanish Catalonia (Santa Maria de l'Estany).
The cross is sometimes referred to as an Occitan Cross and sometimes as a Cathar Cross. It is still a potent symbol throughout most of Occitania. Click on the following link for more on the significance of the Cross of Toulouse.
The Occitan Cross
The first known written reference to the cross is in a 1173 document written by a Provenšal notary. When the Counts of Toulouse acquired the Provence they added the cross to his arms. It eventually became the symbol of Languedoc resistance to the French invaders following the crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc in the time of Raymond VI. In the contemporary Song of the Cathar Wars, laisse 109, written in Occitan, it is called la crotz ramondenca (The Raymondine Cross).
The Cross, or variants of it, is used as a badge of a small independence movement, those who would like to Occitania become an independent state, just as Catalans in the Roussillon and in Spain would like to re-establish an independent Catalonia.
Similarly it is used by those who would like to see the Occitan language revived.
The Cathar Cross
There is no justification for this. The Cathars detested all representations of the Christian Cross. They regarded it as no more than an instrument of torture - and found worship of an instrument of torture as offensive as modern rationalists do.
The idea that Cathars might have adopted any form of cross is unsupported by evidence, and is untenable given their beliefs. You can be certain that anyone who talks to you about Cathar Crosses, or tries to sell you one, knows nothing about the Cross of Toulouse, the Cathars, or the history of the Languedoc.
Although it is mistake to refer to the Toulouse Cross as a "Cathar Cross", by a coincidence it is in heraldic terms literally an "empty cross" - an idea that matches Cathar theology rather well, since the Cathars believed that Jesus was not crucified.
RenÚ Nelli, an expert in Catharism, has referred to a different cross - a human-shaped cross schematically represented by a Greek cross topped by an inverted V. You will find this on some monuments to Cathar victims of Catholic Crusaders and Catholic Inquisitors.
There is another meaning to the term Cathar Cross. Repentant first offenders who admitted to having been Cathar heretics, and abjured their faith when released on licence by the inquisition were required to:
"...carry from now on and forever two yellow crosses on all their clothes, except their shirts, and one arm shall be two palms long while the other transversal arm shall be a palm and a half long and each shall be three digits wide with one to be worn in front on the chest and the other between the shoulders."
Victims were required to renew the crosses if they became torn or destroyed by age. These yellow crosses, like the yellow badges of a different shape that the Catholic Church required Jews to wear, were badges of infamy - warnings to good Catholics to shun the wearers. These crosses were known in Occitan as "las debanadoras" - reels or winding machines. The idea seems to be that offenders could be "reeled in" by the Inquisition at any time. This was a serious concern since a second accusation meant a second conviction, and a second conviction meant death.
Most people who use the Cross of Toulouse probably never think about why they use it. But it must be significant that it is so widely used. In contrast, the official logo of the Languedoc-Roussillon is used by virtually no-one other than those sponsored by the regional council.
Somewhere, mixed in with the commercial exploitation at one extreme and frustrated nationalism at the other is an abiding respect for and identification with the Counts of Toulouse, so widely loved by their people and so egregiously treated by their worldly enemies.
You will find hints of this respect and identification everywhere in the ancient territories of the counts of Toulouse, from the flags flown by pretty much everyone with a flagpole, to the most subtle acknowledgements. The cross of Toulouse features in the middle of the city's arms (shown right), while the mairie of Toulouse and the Midi-Pyrenees region both use the arms undifferenced. The Capitouls of Toulouse surmount the city arms not with a conventional civic mural crown, but with the coronet of their ancient suzerains.
Examples of the Cross of Toulouse