The Secret of Rennes-le-Château
Rennes the Village
Rennes-le-Château lies near the foot of the Pyrenean mountains in Southern France.
It is a small village with a sparse population. At the heart of this community stands a church, dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. A church that stands on the site today, built round about the eleventh century. Here is where a mystery lies.
In 1885, the catholic church appointed Father Bérenger Saunière, the Parish Priest of Rennes. The church of Mary Magdalene was in a rundown condition and Saunière was a simple poor priest. But what followed soon after was astonishing. He spent a vast amount of money renovating the church to a magnificent standard. Far above such extravagance that befits a village church. Sauniere refurbished the inside with gained statues, fine paintings and elaborate decorations. He also built several orangeries, had a tower built attached to the church, and named it Tour Magdala. The name refers to an ancient village in Israel north of the country on the shore of Galilee. In Hebrew, Magdalene means Tower Magdala, the birthplace of Mary Magdalene. Her name suggests this: Mary of Magdalene. A villa built some distance away that the tower by a walkway. Saunière added a sacristy (also known as a vestry) for keeping church equipment. Such as sacred vessels, church parish records and specific furnishings. Saunière also renovated the run-down cemetery. He built a wall encompassing it and a set of wrought-iron gates set in pillars on each side. These had a lintel stone above, running across the gate head. It had a stone pediment on top with a skull and crossbones carved into it.
The Mysterious Inheritance
A mystery surrounds where Saunire got his wealth to carry out all this work. These renovations took ten years to complete. This also included the cemetery and Saunière’s living quarters. All this work required carpenters, stonemasons, labourers and many other tradespeople. These people needed paying for their labours. Materials and fittings needed payment as the work progressed. The accounts and invoices relating to the works have survived. They confirm the amount to be over 11,500 Frank’s, which inflates to around £4,000,000 in today’s money, in 2020.
Asmodeus the Master Demon
There is a Latin inscription over the entrance to the church, terribilis est locus iste. This translates to “this place is terrible.” There are other inscriptions. One reads: “this is God’s house, the gate of heaven, and it shall be called the royal court of God.”
A figure inside the church, installed by Saunière, is of the demon Asmodeus perched holding up the font. Above are four angels. Asmodeus is in many ancient writings as a master demon, sometimes referred to as the king of demons. It’s possible that the statue is portraying a message of good. Represented by God’s angels, subduing evil represented by Asmodeus underfoot? Ancient writings denote demons, bound as slaves, and powerless. Working on God’s temple under the command of Soloman. God gave Solomon power over the demons through the archangel Michael and possession of a ring.
Saunière embedded many symbolic references in the church for reasons unknown.
Many theories abound about Saunière and Rennes-le-Château. too many to put into such a brief blog, but what follows are some more popular ones.
Buried treasure has been one theory of Saunière’s wealth. One such theory is that Saunière found a hoard of buried treasure somewhere within the church or grounds, hidden in a hidden vault underground.
King Dagobert II
There are several tombs below the church. One tomb refers to the last resting place of King Dagobert II. (Although other evidence suggests the burial of Dagobert at the St. Dennis Basilica). The crypt could have been found by Saunière. Then finding the king’s treasure buried along with him. Dagobert II was from the Merovingian dynasty. They ruled Austrasia (the Franks, Gaul, Germany and Northern Italy) during the 7th and 8th century AD. Dagobert II had the royal title of King of Franks. He was born in 652 and died in 679 and ruled for 3 years before his death by assassination. Dagobert reintroduced the minting of gold coins. After an earlier ruler suspended the act. He was the last king to have coins minted in his name in Marseille.
The Goths and Solomon’s Treasure
Another theory is that it was King Solomon’s treasure that he came upon. About 37 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, in AD 70, Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem, and raised Solomon’s temple, and the treasures carried off to Rome. The Visigoths later looted this in AD 410 after they sacked Rome. Rennes was once a stronghold of the Visigoths. It’s possible their spoils were buried on the site for safekeeping, when the Romans and the Goths were at war with each other.
The Goths were a Germanic race. Comprised the Visigoths from the West and The Ostrogoths from the East. They drove the Romans out of much of Europe, took over a large area from Germany, and across the Eastern part of the continent. They settled in Southern Gaul, now France, to the Pyrenees and into Northern Spain. After the Goths had plundered Rome, they took the treasures of Solomon’s Temple back to Rennes, and hidden them away for safekeeping. The Goths later converted from German paganism to Christianity. They would have considered the treasures of Solomon as sacred.
Cathars also had a stronghold in the region. They were a branch of Christianity but had differing views from the Catholic church. This later led to their demise when persecuted and overrun by the Catholics somewhat violently. The Cathars occupied the regions of Northern Italy and Southern France. From the 12th to the 14th century AD. Maybe they hid their treasures during their time of persecution. This was to protect them from the invading Catholics. It is said that they were the keepers and guardians of the Holy Grail. And that they gained many other religious artefacts. Centuries later, Saunière may have discovered their vast number of hidden treasures.
The Knights Templar
Another guardian of the treasures of Christ and Solomon was The Knights Templar. A Christian charitable order that had great input during the crusades. They were a military organisation and a powerful fighting force. They received authority from the pope and grew to a large order. First founded in 1119, they were active until 1312. The pope of that time, Clement V, set out to destroy them. The Templars accrued massive amounts of wealth and religious artefacts.. They considered it their duty to guard the sacred treasures of Solomon. There is speculation that The Templars had Solomon’s treasures in their possession. This also includes the Arc of the Covenant. They set up a headquarters in a wing of the royal palace in the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. They build the Temple Mount on the old site of Solomon’s Temple. This is how they gained their name, the Templar Knights. They also had a stronghold near Rennes-le-Château. There is a chance of a great wealth buried there.
The Jesus and Mary Myth
Another theory, one that has had much debate and at least one best seller written about it. It is the theory that Jesus bypassed the cross and emigrated to France with Mary Magdalene. Later, Bérenger Saunière came across some documents hidden away in his church in relation to the bloodline of Jesus’ family and the Merovingian Dynasty. As the story goes, the Vatican paid Saunière a vast amount of money for his silence on this matter.
Was this the case? The Vatican would have carried out a less costly way of keeping this poverty-stricken priest quiet. What was the risk to the church for a massive secret left in the hands of a lowly priest? This theory is one of the most implausible. But remember, the book in question is a fiction novel, so we assume poetic licence.
Saunière was at Rennes as Parish Priest for 32 years until his death in 1917. During that time, Saunière appointed a housekeeper. Marie Denarnaud, who was about 20 years younger than himself. She became his trusted confidant and, on his deathbed, he passed the secret of Rennes-le-Château to her. Denarnaud herself had instructions to convey the secret before her passing. In 1953, she suffered a brain haemorrhage. This left her paralysed and speechless. So the secret remains that for future interested parties to ponder.
Many experts in various fields have studied this strange story. Journalists and authors have indulged their passion and much ink spread across the white paper canvas. Film crews have contributed their part. But no-one has ever come up with a cast iron explanation, only theories.
The mystery carries on with the same old questions. Where did this peasant priest get such vast wealth? How did he become rich beyond his wildest dreams? What form of wealth or currency did he stumble upon? How did he get such wealth so quickly? He spent the equal of four million pounds in today’s value on renovating a village church and grounds? What are those symbolic gestures that he placed in and around the church? What happened? We’ll never know the truth.
D. Marsden © 2020