Jean-Jacques Bedu

'Rennes-le-Château - Autopsie d'un mythe' (1990)
pp 115-148


But there’s a second theory about Bérenger Saunière’s 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. There’s 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 l’Enigme de Rennes’, p18)

This is, to say the least, a curious response on Gérard de Sède’s 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 Sède’s reasoning only holds water if we assume that Bérenger Saunière was an honest man. The only problem is that it’s going to be very easy for us to prove that he wasn’t 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 Saunière’s 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)  

  1897 1898 1899
January 2232.75 2777.45 4337.35
February 2592.60 3047.95 5053.95
March 1429.30 3064.00 5526.95
April 1572.25 2867.35 5828.60
May 2384.25 2966.30 6146.00
June 2138.25 2302.70 6477.00
July 2299.40 3439.50 6685.35
August 1838.90 4015.55 6721.00
September 1934.20 4015.55 7148.25
October 2003.50 3078.80 7178.00
November 2248.45 3981.20 7274.90
December 2299.75 4333.30 7192.20
TOTAL 24973.60 39221.23 75569.55

From 1899 onwards therefore Abbé Saunière’s 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:    

January 2,592.60
February 2,232.75
March 1,429.30
April 1,722.35

These are gross figures, and do not reflect the reality at all, as they don’t 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:  

  Receipts Expenditure Balance
January 1,129.95 198.65 +931.30
February 558.50 620.60 - 62.10
March 719.75 1,262.45 -542.70
April 582.75 439.30  +142.95
Credit balance after 4 months: + 469.40 

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 Sède’s 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:  

Year 1897 24,973.60 
Year 1898 39,221.23 
Year 1899 75,569.55
Total 139,764.38 

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:

‘Let’s not waste any more time with Mr. Archivist of Hypotheses. Since, according to him, it’s 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 we’ll show him off to the tourists, along with all the other curiosities.’ (Gérard de Sède, ‘Le Vrai Dossier de l’Enigme 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 Marie’s name - from Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Italy, from religious communities, in amounts up to 100-150 francs a day.’ (Gérard de Sède, ‘L’or 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:

‘I’m 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, ‘L’héritage de l’abbé Saunière’, p182)

And another letter:

‘I’m 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, ‘L’héritage de l’abbé 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:


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.


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 we’re going to unveil, with the assistance of some revealing examples, the true and immeasurable source of Bérenger Saunière’s fortune.

We nevertheless wish to make it clear to the reader that the arguments we’re 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.

  • In the first column he noted down the name of the person with whom he was corresponding.
  • In the second was an alternation of ‘E’ and ‘R’, standing for Envoyé (Sent) and Reçu (Received).
  • In the third, the subject of the letter.
  • In the fourth, the month.
  • And finally, in the fifth, the year.

During these months we find several types of correspondence:

  • Saunière’s solicitations of masses.
  • Mass requests.
  • Receipts.
  • General, everyday 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:

M. Babou
M. Borre
M. Caratge
M. Cantegril
M. Cabaniac
M. Calvet
M. Dantras
M. Franciscain       
M. Garc
M. Gayda               
M. Lasserre           
M. Lignon
M. Mario
M. Parain
M. Reynes
M. Sige
M. Salomon
M. Therose
M. Valez
He therefore placed an E (Envoyé)   in front of each letter as these were letters he was sending

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:

M. Cantegril
M. Cantie
M. Cathala
M. Cazel
M. Degua
M. Escargueil   
M. Lignon         
M. Mario          
M. Pons
M. Reynes
M. Raynaud
M. Sige
M. Valez
He therefore put an R in front of each name as these were letters received

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:

  • The first with the date.
  • The second with the name of the donor.
  • The third with the type of mass intention.
  • The fourth indicating the amount of the fee received.
  • The fifth indicating whether the masses have been said.

Here’s a breakdown:

10th Escargueil 8 masses at 1.50 F or 12.50 F
13th Valez 51 masses at 1.00 F or 51 F
14th Sige 41 masses at 1.50 F or 61.50 F
17th Cantie 12 masses at 1.50 F or 18 F
17th Cathala 24 masses at 1.50 F or 36 F
18th Reynes 55 masses at 1.00 F or 55 F
19th Raynaud 10 masses at 1.50 F or 15 F
22nd Lignon 27 masses at 1.50 F or 40.50 F
30th Mario 33 masses at 1.50 F or 49.50 F

We can also draw an initial conclusion: in the mass book we don’t 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!

Let’s look at his receipts, where logically we should find all the names mentioned above.

Receipts for January 1896

Carried forward from old account  219.60
Quarterly stipend 225.00 
From M. Degua  50.00
From M. Pons  9.70
From M. Escargueil  11.70
Collections  12.00
Masses  6.00
From M. Cantegril  30.00
From M. Valez  40.00
From M. Sige  60.00
From M. Cantie  18.00
From M. Cathala  33.65
From M. Reynes  55.00
From M. Raynaud  27.00
From collections and masses  5.50
From M. Lignon  40.50
From M. Cazal  54.00
Collection and 1 mass  6.50
Collections  6.00
From M. Mario  50.00

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:  

Pons 9.70 or 9 masses
Degua 50.00 or 50 masses
Cantegril 30.00 or 30 masses
Cazal 54.00 or 54 masses 

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 we’ve 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:

  • In February Pech, Lasserre and Escargueil sent him almost 100 masses that were not shown as receipted.
  • In March Boudet and Jarda sent him 90 masses, which did not appear in his correspondence record.
  • In April Laberie, Bonaure, Maury and Giraud sent him 70 masses, which also did not appear in the receipts - is this evidence of him passing masses on to his colleagues?
  • Still in March, Gazel sent him 66 masses at 1.50 F each, which did not appear among the receipts.

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:

  • March 1896 (from Cezac and an offering)
  • April 1896 (from Durand and an offering)

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 we’ve 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.

We’ve been able to find a few letters from some of these generous benefactors. In every case we learn that Bérenger Saunière’s 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:  

January 1892 to December 1892 747 masses 955 f 
9 July 92 to 30 Sept 1896 7,294 masses 9,188 f 
10 Oct 96 to 30 Nov 1897 5,820 masses 7,275 f
31 May 1907 to Sept 1907 104 masses 208 f 
3 June 1909 to 22 July 1909 1,091 masses 1,146 f 
26 July 09 to 13 Sept 1909 1,252 masses 1,387 f 
14 Sept 09 to 6 Nov 1909 1,142 masses 1,144 f 
6 Nov 09 to 31 Dec 1909 1,290 masses 1,327 f 
13 Jan 1910 to 25 April 1910 738 masses 1,566 f 
January 1911 729 masses 816 f 
4 Feb 1911 to 30 March 1911 843 masses 924 f 
1 Sept 1911 to March 1911 935 masses 966 f 
7 Nov 1911 to 27 Dec 1911 735 masses 794 f 
13 Jan 1912 to 7 March 1912 878 masses 977 f 
8 March 1912 to 7 May 1912 753 masses 959 f
8 May 1912 to 14 July 1912 958 masses 1,136 f 
19 July 1912 to 10 Sept 1912 729 masses 798 f
18 Sept 1912 to 12 Nov 1912 835 masses 918 f
13 Nov 1912 to 8 Jan 1913 1,065 masses 1,238 f
9 Jan 1913 to 13 March 1913 1,083 masses 1,321 f
13 March 1913 to 6 May 1913 837 masses 937 f
7 May 1913 to 30 June 1913  701 masses 778 f
7 July 1913 to 24 August 1913 752 masses 829 f
9 Dec 1913 to 28 Jan 1914 926 masses 1,046 f
1 Feb 1914 to 31 May 1914 838 masses 894 f
2 April 1914 to 31 May 1914 914 masses 1,037 f
2 June 1914 to 31 July 1914 1,046 masses 1,126 f
August 1914 to 31 Oct 1914 1,080 masses 1,277 f
1 Nov 1914 to Jan 1915 978 masses 1,195 f
13 Jan 1915 to 26 Feb 1915 800 masses 868 f 
1 March 1915 to 9 May 1915 1,066 masses 1,202 f 
8 Nov 1915 to 30 Dec 1915 783 masses 889 f 
In total: 40,813 masses of 48, 293 francs

The following are missing:

  • Before 1892
  • From December 1897 to May 1907
  • From October 1907 to end of May 1909
  • From April 1911 to September 1911
  • The year 1916

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.


Known periods 40,813 masses or 42,293 F
Estimate for Dec 97 to May 1907, i.e. 144 months 57,000 masses or 85,500 F
Estimate for Oct 1907 to May 1909, i.e. 20 months 10,000 masses or 15,000 F
Estimate for Apr 1911 to August 1911, i.e. 5 months 2,500 masses or 3,750 F
Year 1916 not estimated not estimated
TOTAL 110,313 masses or 146,543 F

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 haven’t 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 priest’s method dissected:

To recruit requests for masses he did two things:

  • Placed small ads.
  • Wrote letters to interested parties.

In fact we know that, apart from the ‘Semaine Religieuse’, Bérenger Saunière also placed ads in ‘La Croix’, ‘L’Eclair’, ‘L’Express du Midi’, ‘L’Univers’ 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:

- ‘L’Echo 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.

Here’s 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.....

We’re 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 wasn’t 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; there’s 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 here’s 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 it’s 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 let’s 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, ‘L’héritage de l’abbé 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, ‘L’héritage de l’abbé Saunière’)

What can we add by way of conclusion if not to say that, in spite of Saunière’s lies, the key to Saunière’s 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 haven’t 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 didn’t 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…