Rennes the Village
Rennes-Le-Château lies near the foot of the Piranean mountains in Southern France.
It is a small village with a sparse population. At the heart of this community is a church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. This is the church that stands on the site today and was built round about the eleventh century. Here is where a mystery lies.
In 1885 Father Bèrenger Saunière, was appointed the position of Parish Priest of Rennes. At that time the church of Mary Magdalene was in a run down condition and Saunière was just 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. He refurbished the inside with acquired statues, fine paintings and elaborate decorations. He also built several orangeries. He had a tower built that was attached to the church. He named it Tour Magdala. The name refers to an ancient village in Israel in the North of the country on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. In Hebrew Magdalene means Tower Magdala. It was said to be the birthplace of Mary Magdalene. Her name suggests this: Mary of Magdalene. A villa was built some distance away that was connected to the tower by a walkway. Saunière added a sacristy (a room for keeping church equipment such as sacred vessels, church parish records and specific furnishings, also known as a vestry). Saunière also renovated the run-down cemetery and built a wall encompassing it and a set of wrought iron gates set in pillars each side. A lintel stone above, running across the gate head, had a stone pediment on top with a scull and cross bones carved into it.
The Mysterious Inheritance
The mystery remains to this day as to where Saunière acquired such wealth to carry out all this work. The renovations took ten years to complete which also included the cemetery and Saunière’s living quarters. All this time carpenters, stone masons, labourers and many other tradesmen required paying for their labours. Materials and fittings needed payment as the work progressed. The accounts and invoices relating to the works have survived and 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, which translates to “this place is terrible.” There are other inscriptions that read: “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 represented in many ancient writings as a master demon, sometimes referred to as the king of demons. Could it be that the whole statue is portraying a message of good, represented by God’s angels, subduing evil represented by Asmodeus underfoot? Some ancient writings denote that demons were under Solomon’s power to help in the construction of the temple in Jerusalem, working as bound slaves. Power was given to Solomon over the demons by God through the archangel Michael by the possession of a ring.
It seems that Saunière embedded many symbolic references in the church for reasons unknown and yet to be figured out.
Many theories have been produced regarding Saunière and the mystery surrounding Rennes-Le-Château, too many to put into such a brief blogg, but what follows are some of the more popular ones.
Buried treasure has been one of the theories for Saunière’s wealth. It has been speculated upon that Saunière found a hoard of buried treasure somewhere within the church or grounds. Possibly in a hidden vault underground.
King Dagobert II
There are several tombs below the church and one of the tombs is said to be the final resting place of King Dagobert II. (Although other evidence suggests that Dagobert was buried at the St Dennis Basilica). It could have been that Saunière sort out the passage to this crypt in search of the king’s treasure that was supposedly buried along with him. Dagobert II was from the Merovingian dynasty that 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 prior to his death by assassination. Dagobert reintroduced the minting of gold coins again 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 crusifiction of Jesus, in AD 70, Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus of Rome. The temple of Solomon was destroyed and the treasures carried off to Rome. This was later looted by the Visigoths in AD 410 after they sacked Rome. There is evidence that Rennes was once a stronghold of the Visigoths.This points to the fact that their spoils could well have been hidden on the site for safe keeping during the times when the Romans and the Goths were constantly at war with each other.
The Goths were a Germanic race of people that consisted of the Visigoths from the West and the Ostrogoths from the East. They drove the Romans out of much of Europe and 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 the treasures of Solomon’s Temple would have possibly been carried back to their stronghold in Rennes and hidden away for safe keeping. The Goths eventually converted from German paganism to Christianity and would have considered the treasures of Solomon as sacred.
It is said that the Cathars also had a stronghold in the region. The Cathars were a branch of Christianity that had differing views from the Catholic church and was eventually persecuted and overrun by the Catholics, in a somewhat violent way. The Cathars occupied the region’s of Northern Italy and Southern France from the 12th to the 14th century AD. The treasures acquired by the Cathars (and it has been speculated that they were the keepers and guardians of the Holy Grail among other religious artefacts) could have been stashed during their time of persecution to protect their sacred treasures from the invading Catholics. Several centuries later Saunière may have discovered their vast amount of hidden treasures.
The Knights Templars
Another guardian of the treasures of Christ and Solomon was The Knights Templars. A Christian charitable order that had great input during the crusades. They were a military organisation and a strong fighting force, given authority by the pope and grew to a large order. First founded in 1119, they were active until 1312 when the pope of that time, Clement V, set out successfully to destroy them. During their time the Templars accrued massive amounts of wealth and religious artefacts.They considered it their duty to guard the sacred treasures of Solomon and it is said that much of the treasure from the Temple of Solomon, including the Ark of the Covenant, was in their possession. They set up a headquarters in a wing of the royal palace in the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Temple Mount is built on the old site of Solomon’s Temple. This is how They acquired their name, originally the Templar Knights. They also had a stronghold in the region of Rennes-Le-Château. Another reason why the possibility of a great wealth could be buried at the site.
The Jesus and Mary Myth
Another theory, one that has had much debate and at least one best seller written about it, is the theory that Jesus bypassed the cross and emigrated to France with Mary Magdalene. Later, Berenger Saunière came across some documents, hidden away in his church, that gave indication that the bloodline of Jesus’ family and the Merovingian Dynasty were related. As the story goes, the Vatican paid Saunière a vast amount of money for his silence on this matter.
If this really was the case, I’m quite sure that the Vatican would have carried out a less costly way of keeping this poverty stricken priest quiet. What would have been the risk to the Catholic Church to let a massive secret such as this be left in the hands of a lowly priest. This theory seams to be one of the most far fetched of them all. But we must remember that the book in question was a fiction novel, so poetic licence can be assumed.
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. Unfortunately, in 1953 she suffered a brain haemorrhage that left her paralysed and speechless. So the secret remained just 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 has been spread. Film crews have contributed their part. But no-one has ever come up with a cast iron explanation, only theory after theory.
So the mystery carries on and the same old questions keep coming up. Where did this peasant of a priest acquire such vast wealth? How did he suddenly become rich beyond his wildest dreams? What form of wealth or currency did he stumble upon? How did he manage to acquire such wealth, almost overnight, to spend the equivalent of four million pounds in today’s value, on renovating a village church and grounds? What are all those symbolic gestures about that he placed in and around the church? What really happened? Maybe we’ll never know the truth.