'Rennes-le-Château - Autopsie d'un mythe' (1990)
But theres a second theory about Bérenger Saunières sudden access of wealth. Much debated, it has destroyed forever the illusions created by the mystification faction. It has even led to some very serious rows between Gérard de Sède and René Descadeillas.
In his Mythologie du trésor de Rennes, René Descadeillas states that Bérenger Saunière trafficked in masses. Before going any further it obviously makes sense to define this term.
In days gone by, many priests saw their stipends diminishing as the years went by and so were obliged, simply in order to survive, to ask the Secretariat of their local Diocese to assign to them a certain number of masses to say. These masses were requested either by religious congregations or by private individuals, who sent money in return. As Bérenger Saunière considered that the Secretariat of the Diocese of Carcassonne did a pretty poor job of running this system - in particular by showing favouritism to certain priests - he decided to go it alone. As we shall see, he had certainly chosen a boom industry, and one in which he proved himself to be a real master. Trafficking involved soliciting mass requests and receiving money for them, but without actually ever honouring the requests. René Descadeillas was a fierce devotee of this theory:
Moreover, at certain periods, the curé of Rennes received a large number of postal orders each day - as many as 100 or 150 - for small amounts of cash ranging from 5 to 40 francs. Some of these were postal orders paid to him in Rennes; many others were addressed poste restante to Couiza, where he went to convert them into cash. Others were in the name of Marie Dénarnaud. In fact, one of the postmistresses who cashed them was still alive in 1958. These postal orders were very diverse in origin. Many of them came from France, but there were also many from Belgium, the Rhineland, Switzerland and Northern Italy. A large number were from religious communities. These postal orders were intended to pay for mass intentions. Abbé Saunière was trafficking in masses. (René Descadeillas, Mythologie du trésor de Rennes, page 31)
René Descadeillas has also shown that Saunière placed advertisements in newspapers that were published the world over. Relevant correspondence still exists. We have seen it. Theres a list, written in his own hand, in which he notes down the names of the towns covered by the advertisements. When René Descadeillas published his book, Gérard de Sède emerged as a fierce opponent of this thesis, which, admittedly, is a lot less attractive than that of a buried treasure:
As one mass at that time was worth just 50 centimes, the curé would only have been able to meet the sum total of his various expenses by celebrating 1,390,302 masses in 10 years. Since it takes two to three hours to celebrate Mass, Saunière, if he was an honest man, would have had to say mass 24 hours a day for 300 years. A liturgical marathon without precedent indeed. Who could honestly believe that the obscure priest of a hamlet buried in the upper valley of the Aude could, simply by means of advertisements and letters, find enough mugs to pay for 1,390,302 masses or to send him gifts amounting to 695,151 gold francs?
Assuming that he did manage to recruit all these mugs by correspondence, even under the highly improbable circumstances that one out of every two of his correspondents ended up ordering a Mass from him, he would have to have written 278,604 letters, i.e. 794 letters a day, or one letter every two minutes without stopping to eat, drink and sleep for ten years; Descadeillas fairytale of trafficking in masses, as we can see, is nothing more than the most fantastic nonsense.(Gérard de Sède, Le Vrai Dossier de lEnigme de Rennes, p18)
This is, to say the least, a curious response on Gérard de Sèdes part. In fact one would really have to be quite simple-minded to follow him in this rather surprising line of thought. We think that he must have written these lines in anger that René Descadeillas had apparently discovered something quite interesting that tended to destroy his theories. But de Sèdes reasoning only holds water if we assume that Bérenger Saunière was an honest man. The only problem is that its going to be very easy for us to prove that he wasnt honest at all!
Before substantiating our thesis we will return to the argument of René Descadeillas, who publishes in his book a brief extract from Saunières account book. We shall see that Gérard de Sède was largely inspired, in searching for support for his theories, by the following table: (René Descadeillas, Mythologie du trésor de Rennes, p47)
From 1899 onwards therefore Abbé Saunières income almost doubled and his trafficking starting to return the maximum profit. René Descadeillas concludes:
Here is the source of a large part of his income
To this aspect of Descadeillas examinations we are going to raise an objection. He has in fact made a very serious mistake.
We have found extracts from the account books of Bérenger Saunière dating from January to April 1897. If we look at these documents we can see that they are laid out in the form of a balance sheet, with the balance from the previous month being carried forward. Adding the accrued receipts to the previous balance gives us the following:
These are gross figures, and do not reflect the reality at all, as they dont take into account the huge amounts carried forward in the form of balances from the preceding months. A breakdown of the accounts of Bérenger Saunière for the 4 months in our possession gives us the following:
We need to compare this amount with that quoted by René Descadeillas, which was: 2232.75 + 2592.60 + 1429.30 + 1572.25, or 7826.90 francs!
The comparison is quite instructive and enables us to prove that the document published by Descadeillas is devoid of all significance. It should not therefore be taken into consideration under any circumstances. It is highly regrettable that we do not have any other documents - such as those from May 1897 to December 1899 - as it would then be a very easy matter to show that the amount stated by René Descadeillas was based on quicksand.
Let us recall what Gérard de Sède had to say about the mode of life of Abbé Saunière:
For example, between 1897 and 1899, and without taking into account his expenditure on/investments in property, Bérenger Saunière spent an average of 46,850 F per year. (Gérard de Sède, Rennes-le-Château, le dossier p47)
Above, we enquired into Gérard de Sèdes sources and the origin of the amounts he had stated. All we have to do now therefore is to take the table quoted by René Descadeillas and perform a simple calculation:
If we divide this amount by 3 (i.e. to arrive at a simple average) we get 46,588.12, or a figure just a few francs different from the amount stated by Gérard de Sède. What a strange and worrying coincidence! If this was indeed the approach adopted by de Sède then it is only fair to point out that what René Descadeillas showed us was the receipts and not the expenditure. We have also shown that the document was grossly misleading. We are therefore led to believe that Gérard de Sède simply took his sources of information from the book by René Descadeillas, whom he nonetheless criticised with quite extraordinary vehemence, even going as far as to say:
Lets not waste any more time with Mr. Archivist of Hypotheses. Since, according to him, its so easy to earn 1 or 2 million francs in 10 years at Rennes-le-Château, then let him go there and write some small ads. With the money thus obtained he could always build a Rest Home for Clapped-out Historians, of which he will be the greatest ornament. In the summer well show him off to the tourists, along with all the other curiosities. (Gérard de Sède, Le Vrai Dossier de lEnigme de Rennes p41)
Obviously we can only condemn such a statement. We can fairly ask ourselves why he so vigorously rejected the small ads and postal orders theory at this juncture when in 1967 he wrote:
The postal orders flowed in, in Maries name - from Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Italy, from religious communities, in amounts up to 100-150 francs a day. (Gérard de Sède, Lor de Rennes)
It should be noted that, in 1988, de Sède was still fiercely denying the hypothesis of trafficking in masses, which is really quite astonishing when one considers his previous writings. We know that Bérenger Saunière received a large number of postal orders and letters each and every day. Here are quotations from some of them:
Im enclosing the sum of two hundred and fifty francs, amounting to two hundred and fifty separate fees for masses at 1 franc each, 124 of them to be said for our deceased sisters. (Clair Corbu and Antoine Captier, Lhéritage de labbé Saunière, p182)
And another letter:
Im enclosing a postal order for 45 francs for 30 masses which I would like you to say subsequent to those that I requested from you on 1 August: I commend especially to your prayers my dear little soldier and my poor husband. (Clair Corbu and Antoine Captier, Lhéritage de labbé Saunière, p184)
From Sister Thault:
Having once again some masses to distribute for our Reverend Mother, I have the honour of enclosing a new postal order for 16 francs for masses to be said on behalf of this dear departed. She was always happy to send on to you those that Sister Eulalie entrusted to her for you. (Pierre Jarnac, Histoire du trésor p340)
Throughout this book our attitude has been to defend Saunière. He has been accused of a multitude of evils, as the origin of his fortune appears to be strange and peculiar and, above all, secret. But we would like to state clearly:
WE ARE GOING TO LIFT THE VEIL ON THE MYSTERY AND ENIGMA OF RENNES-LE-CHÂTEAU.
How, during all these years, was Bérenger Saunière able to amass so much money, which enabled him to build up his estate, maintain it, and lead the sort of life that we know he led? The answer is simple, at the same time disconcerting, but above all quite surprising.
BÉRENGER SAUNIÈRE WAS ENGAGED IN TRAFFICKING IN MASSES ON A VERY LARGE SCALE.
René Descadeillas, when he wrote Mythologie du trésor de Rennes in 1974, certainly did not have all the evidence in his hands. To the great delight of Gérard de Sède he was unable to provide proof to support his theories. Today were going to unveil, with the assistance of some revealing examples, the true and immeasurable source of Bérenger Saunières fortune.
We nevertheless wish to make it clear to the reader that the arguments were putting forward are in no way just theories, but are genuine facts. We have personally held in our hands and now publish all the documents that will enable us to support our statements.
But first we need to make rather a large leap backwards - one of almost 93 years. We are in January 1896 and Bérenger Saunière is writing up his diary in his usual way - i.e. meticulously. Every day he made a record of every letter he had sent and received.
He drew vertical lines to make 5 columns.
During these months we find several types of correspondence:
The technique is a very simple one: each month Bérenger Saunière writes to a certain number of carefully selected people in order to fish for masses. These people then reply more or less in the affirmative within a given time, generally quite a short time.
As soon as the reply is received he sends a receipt and a letter of thanks. In this way, during January 1896, he requested masses from the following people:
This amounted to 19 people, the vast majority of them priests. He generally wrote these letters in the first half of the month, keeping the second half free for the replies.
During this same month of January he received requests for masses from the following people:
If we now refer to the notebook containing the lists of masses for January 1896 and check if Bérenger Saunière has indeed noted the source of all the mass requests sent to him, we again find 5 columns:
Heres a breakdown:
We can also draw an initial conclusion: in the mass book we dont find all the names mentioned in the diary. This seems rather surprising when we think of how conscientious a man he was. But this is only the start of the surprises!
Lets look at his receipts, where logically we should find all the names mentioned above.
Receipts for January 1896
We therefore find all the names mentioned in the notebook; the four names that do not appear in the mass book are this time to be found in the receipts. We know that these relate to masses passed on to him, and yet he has not listed them:
Missing from the notebook therefore are 9+50+30+54 masses, or 143 masses. For the month of January alone he was sent 261, which were duly noted and receipted. He would therefore have received 261+143 masses, or 404. This was in a relatively lean month, which we have deliberately chosen to make it easier to illustrate our argument.
If we transfer this demonstration to the other months that weve been able to study then we see that, every month, Bérenger Saunière caused a certain number of masses to disappear, which significantly inflated the figures quoted.
Example: in February 1896 he left a further 63 masses out of the notebook.
There are, however, other remarkable facts to be discovered when we look closely at the other months: certain masses were listed in his notebook but were not receipted. In all likelihood Bérenger Saunière assigned some of them to colleagues (unless he entered them on secret account books or put them in secret funds) of which we can see an example in 1891:
Furthermore, there are various sums in the account books that we cannot find either in his diary or in the mass book. Without exception these are donations, sometimes large sums as in February 1896: 100 F and 80 F.
Sometimes he notes down the source of the donations:
Not only did Saunière receive a significant number of mass requests, he also received donations, such as one in January 1897 (from François Labatut for 200 F), or one from the convent of Notre-Dame de Castelnaudary for 100 F, again in January 1897.
If it is clear that Bérenger Saunière was trafficking in masses, can we now also say that he was trafficking in donations too? Not at all, as soliciting for donations was a very common practice at the end of the 19th century.
Bérenger Saunière solicited donations for the repairs to his church and for the construction of a future retirement home. These actions were perfectly normal and legitimate, as neither the diocese not the municipality (and, even less so, the committee of works) were capable of meeting the most urgent needs of the priest and his parish. The state of mind prevailing in those days was very different to our own. In spite of the decline of religion, moral values were still solidly adhered to and it was considered a sacred duty to make donations to the Church. As weve said, considered at this level the approach adopted by Bérenger Saunière was a perfectly legal one. He had the right to receive donations and to decide how to spend them, something that could easily pass for acts of piety.
Weve been able to find a few letters from some of these generous benefactors. In every case we learn that Bérenger Saunières aim was to construct a residence for the aged and infirm priests of the diocese - that was his work, and he formulated his goals with this end in mind.
Dear reader, the explanation of the fortune of Bérenger Saunière has no other origin.
We have, in fact, been able to consult a number of mass books and loose sheets dating from 1892 to 1915. The breakdown is as follows:
The following are missing:
When we study the mass books from July 1892 to September 1896 we note that the number of masses increases every year, to reach a peak in 1896 and 1897. If we perform a calculation for the period from 10 October 1896 to 30 November 1897 (or 3 months and 20 days, i.e. 385 days) we can deduce that he received, on the average:
5820 x 30 / 385 = 450 masses per month
Given that the monthly number gradually rises, to greatly exceed the 500 mark in 1909, we can estimate that between 1896 and 1906 he received between 5500 and 6000 mass requests per year, or, over 10 years, 60,000 masses at 1.50F on the average (the price was quoted at 2F in 1909), which gives us a total of at least 90,000 francs.
It should be noted that this calculation does not take into account masses that he was making disappear on a regular basis. We have shown that in January 1896 the figure for this was 150.
We do not dare in the light of the above to repeat the calculation.
And we havent even said anything about the donations!
Bérenger Saunière engaged in what we can fairly call a mass trafficking industry. Here in 1990 this strikes us as totally inconceivable, as this is a practice that is no longer current.
Here is the priests method dissected:
To recruit requests for masses he did two things:
In fact we know that, apart from the Semaine Religieuse, Bérenger Saunière also placed ads in La Croix, LEclair, LExpress du Midi, LUnivers and Le Télégramme.
We should also note that his little notebook contains a double page entitled: addresses for ads. We were thus able to discover the addresses of some of the publications to which he sent small ads asking for masses or donations.
Here are two examples:
- LEcho de la Semaine, an illustrated weekly published by Victor Tissot, rue Laffite 34, Paris.
- Le Musée des enfants, a monthly magazine, published at rue de Metz 41, Lille.
Through these small ads he solicited masses from private individuals. These people, for various reasons (deaths, prayers for a particular event or a loved one) sent him a large number of mass requests.
On the other hand he also wrote to colleagues, who also sent him a very large number.
Heres a short list of selected names:
At - Reynes - Cazanove - Lignon - Carrière - Pech-Caurres - Estruc - Greffier - Pech (namesake) - Prax-Sabaties - Bonnata - Lauze - Cazaux - Larroque - Hugonnet - Lafon May - Henry-Babou - Jalabert - Partau - Roudière - Frances - Rovière - Bourgignon - Goutharet - Lapeyre - Delmas - Valentin - Cavaye-Gayda - Gasdtillon - Babat - Boue - Alquier - Sarda - Cassignol-Vidal - Pons - Laborde - Marty - Guilhem (Diocesan Secretary) - Gazel - Boudel (Curé of Rennes-les-Bains) - Boutel-Mario - Gasc - Cathala - Daviez - Cavailhe - Caratge - Taillan - Escarguel - Lasserre - Cazal - Sarda - Carrie - Salomon - Cantier - Bonnaure - Cantegril - Sige - Puzenac - Michet - Arryles - Marthe - Maury - Boscat - Sabran - Bellinans - Alfred Saunière - Alquie - Boussioux - Vignoles - Dantras - Bernard-Corves - Ribes - Laval.....
Were not going to list the private individuals because that list is even longer. But there too the technique was the same. Each month he would write to some of them to ask them for mass requests. His address book was so well filled that he used a sort of rotation system so that he wasnt always pestering the same people. We should, however, point out that this was just a short list of names of people in the Diocese of Carcassonne and environs. We know that he actually wrote to people all over France; theres a list of the towns (written in his own hand) in which he maintained a correspondence with the local priests, congregations or private individuals.
This obviously means that he had rather a large amount of mail to write. Perhaps he had a standard letter that he asked Marie to recopy. All he had to do then was date and sign it, which obviously made the task easy for him.
We will never cease to reiterate that Bérenger Saunière had set up a genuine industry, the results of which, in our opinion, he was eventually unable to control.
Once the mechanism was in place, he had no need to keep pestering people - everything was done automatically: when someone wanted to send mass requests it was always to Bérenger Saunière, the curé of Rennes-le-Château.
All this is very clear, but did Saunière actually have the means to say all these masses? The answer is obviously No, and heres the proof:
Priests, when they received masses, had the right to say an absolute maximum of three a day (this figure is contested by some people, who reduce it to 1 for weekdays and 2 for Sundays or feast days). Starting from this assumption its a simple matter to calculate that, even if he had spent his whole life saying masses, it would have been impossible for him to meet the conditions referred to above. On this point we are in agreement with Gérard de Sède; he would certainly have to have performed a real liturgical marathon. In the absence of such a liturgical marathon we are obviously dealing with trafficking in masses on an unprecedented scale.
The proof is to be found in his notebooks for the month of January 1894, the 9th January to be precise. He notes Stopped there and draws a line that will prove to be final. Never again will he fill in the fifth column, where he regrouped the masses in threes, showing that they had been said. It should be noted that, at this date, he was in the process of saying masses that dated back to September 1893, or five months in arrears. At the beginning of the same notebook we find him up to ten months in arrears. That means that in July 1893 he was saying masses requested in May 1892!
Starting on 9 January 1894 he draws a line through his notebook - but also through his honesty and integrity as a priest. He chose the easy way out - that of trafficking in masses.
While still saying a few masses here and there, he dedicated himself to writing a huge quantity of letters that enabled him to amass the money he needed to build up his estate. Once the industry was set up and the machine switched on, it would be difficult for him to stop, and we shall see later that it would all eventually turn against him.
But lets leave Bérenger Saunière to conclude things in his own words:
To sum up, ever since I gave the Monseigneur my promise I have never again asked for masses under any circumstances. I do not recollect precisely, but I have continued to receive them. That is, instead of asking the Monseigneur for them, because if I had received the masses in this way it would have been at a rate below 2F, whereas I often had the advantage of receiving them at a fee of 3F, 4F and even 5F, whereas the Monseigneur would of course only have been able to give me 1.50 F or 2 F for them. (Clair Corbu and Antoine Captier, Lhéritage de labbé Saunière)
We are a long way from the 50-centime masses of Gérard de Sède!
On the subject of the collecting of masses:
For I always said those masses that I was able to, and distributed the rest to other people If by trafficking in masses we understand giving to other people those masses that one cannot say oneself, I confess that I am guilty, but if trafficking in masses is understood to mean giving to other people at a fee of, for example 1F or 1.50F, masses for which the fee was 2F or more, I reply that I have no recollection of having done that. And yet other people have done that and have kept the difference for their public works and their churches. As for the question of enriching myself by the fees as the charges allege, I reply that, far from enriching myself, I have actually got myself into debt... (Clair Corbu and Antoine Captier, Lhéritage de labbé Saunière)
What can we add by way of conclusion if not to say that, in spite of Saunières lies, the key to Saunières fortune is there for all to see. Even so, we expect a polemic in response. In fact it would have been so much more attractive to have floated the hypothesis of Saunière discovering the mysterious treasure.
To tell the truth we believe that Saunière did find a small amount of money, but nothing more than that. It was exactly this that was his starting point for the repairs to the church - a small treasure that was rapidly exhausted.
His behaviour during the years 1887-1892 certainly did not resemble that of a priest who had just discovered a precious hoard of treasure. In fact he notes down absolutely everything - among his secret funds we can find even very small sums of money. In his notebooks he mentions, for example:
On 14 March 1891: bought from Jacques, a quintal of cheese: 4 F
On 21 Nov 1890: Sum due for payment by me to Alexandrine Marre: 10.14 F for food and bread.
Even after 1891 the priest was still borrowing money from Alexandrine Dénarnaud (Marre was her maiden name).
We repeat: is this really the behaviour of a man who had just discovered a fabulous treasure?
We can, however, locate the turnaround in his fortunes in 1893, when his trafficking in masses increases, to eventually reach great heights in the years 1900-1907.
Our initial estimates enable us to state that between 1893 and 1915 he received almost 100,000 mass intentions; this is a minimum, as we havent included those that he made disappear (at least a few each month). If we add to this the donations that he received then we arrive at really very large sums - we could even say astronomical ones for a simple country curé.
We therefore state quite plainly that, thanks to the masses, Bérenger Saunière had plenty of money with which to pay off the entire debt on his estate and meet the expense of the furnishings (he paid for everything with bills of exchange, some of which remained unpaid at the time of his death). It appears, however, that thanks to the discovery of a small amount of money Bérenger Saunière had been able to start repairs inside the church. From this point of view he didnt really need to continue his searches to any great extent - the industry that he had set up was starting to ensure him an easy life and he could certainly contemplate his future with a certain serenity. If Bérenger Saunière had really found a great treasure, then why would he have gone to such lengths to put a scheme like this together?
There was, however, one person who was capable of putting a firm and final end to his enterprise: and that was Monseigneur de Beauséjour, the new bishop of the diocese