From the website of Jérôme Choloux, an enquiry into the connection between the activities of Bérenger Saunière and the French region of La Vendée.
A world-famous mystery: a view from the sidelines
Rennes-le-Château! The Tour Magdala! The Villa Béthanie! Just mentioning the name of Rennes-le-Château village and its more famous buildings is enough to lay open the most incredible hunting-grounds, ones that attract mystery-hunters of all kinds, all of them fascinated by the enigma of the village's most famous inhabitant: Abbé François-Bérenger Saunière.
It has become a truly world-famous mystery because this humble curé and his village are now well-known on every continent thanks to the gigantic literary machine devoted to it. After a first brief mention by Robert Charroux in his Trésors du Monde (1962), it was Gérard de Sède who would bring fame to this little village in the Aude in his L'Or de Rennes (1967), subsequently republished under the title Le trésor maudit de Rennes-le-Château. Finally, a trio of English authors Henry Lincoln (who provided the underlying inspiration for this website), Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent would publish a book that would finally make the story of Bérenger Saunière world-famous: The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1983). Since then, the subject has never ceased to fascinate, and from the 1980s onwards in particular a number of authors have grafted various esoteric or religious fantasies onto it, something that included the most amazing commercial success in the form of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. The topic of Rennes-le-Château seems to act as a sort of mould from which emerges the widest possible range of works, some more or less serious, others exhibiting greater or lesser degrees of methodological rigour.
One must not however lose sight of the fact that the basis of the whole enigma revolves around Abbé Bérenger Saunière, curé of the village from 1885 until February 1909, when he resigned, and who died in 1917 leaving an estate and a collection of buildings whose financing one would be hard pushed to explain. Some have surmised that he might have discovered a sizeable perhaps even fabulous treasure, while later theories suggest that he may have discovered a disturbing secret. But what sort of a secret? Political? Dynastic? Ecclesiastical? Or perhaps not... And so already we see the mould starting to turn out theories of many different shapes and sizes.
But we should never lose sight of the fact that the fundamental question is where the curé actually got his fortune from.
This website is devoted to the part of France known as La Vendée, so some would say that the curé of this little village in the Aude is somewhat out of place here. But that is simply not the case as, following the publication of Saunière's correspondence and accounts as made available to us by the researcher Octanovo, it was found that they contained references to a number of areas of La Vendée. This article discusses these contacts and sources which, along with a multitude of others from right across France, helped contribute to Saunière's great wealth and therefore to the birth of a great enigma.
Bérenger Saunière a meticulous bookkeeper
It helps enormously with our understanding of this part of the puzzle that the principal character kept meticulous correspondence records and accounts for a period of 20 years (1895-1915). The last two years of Saunière's life (1915-1917) have already formed the subject of a publication by Pierre Jarnac. While the twenty years from 1895 to 1915 are a fantastic source of basic information about Saunière, and while the authenticity of the relevant written sources has not been questioned, the material with which Jarnac deals relates to a tragic episode in our chosen subject: the use of forged documents or, at least, documents that no one has ever seen and whose definite existence has never been proved, as well as personal interpretations of the pieces of evidence known to us, in particular the decorations in the church of Rennes-le-Château.
What is certain is that some of the communes of the Vendée appear in Saunière's account books they are some of the places where his money came from. This money was sent to Saunière by religious congregations or charitable hospitals to pay for him to celebrate masses on their behalf. This was a relatively common practice at the time in question. In Saunière's letters we therefore find references to mailings and exchanges of correspondence with the Soeurs des Sacrée Coeurs de Jésus et Marie in Mormaison, the Ursulines in Chavagnes-en-Paillers, and the charitable hospitals of La Chaize-le-Vicomte or La Roche-sur-Yon, among others. Later, as the years went by, we also find references to simple parishioners who, in their turn, regularly sent money to Saunière for him to celebrate masses for them. We should say right at the outset that amateur sleuths of the Da Vinci code persuasion will find nothing to interest them in this correspondence and in the histories of these various congregations. These nuns and parishioners knew nothing about Rennes-le-Château. They sent their requests in response to demands that Saunière himself had formulated, as the correspondence reveals.
The system of mass requests operated by the curé of Rennes-le-Château would eventually lead to him being hauled in front of an ecclesiastical court for mass trafficking. At his trial Saunière did not produce the correspondence files that we are discussing here, and it is not difficult to see why: hundreds of pages filled with demands for and confirmations of masses from and to just about the whole of France, especially from 1899 onwards.
How therefore did the abbé of a diocese as remote as that of Carcassonne succeed in obtaining mass requests (and, therefore, payments for same) from places like Mormaison or La-Chaize-le-Vicomte in 1900 and from another diocese, that of Luçon, where at the time in question it would not have been exactly difficult to find priests to celebrate mass! This is the key that will enable us to understand how, subsequently, further correspondence would reach Saunière from Luçon, or even from Bouin where he had a correspondent who would actually become a supplier for Saunière, and why he targeted an area larger than the administrative division of La Vendée, since we know that Les Mauges in the so-called Vendée Militaire sent him numerous donations between 1901 and 1915. Cholet, Yzernay, Maulévrier, Les Cerqueux they all made donations that were certainly far from negligible!
And so we enter the Vendée chapter of the story of Rennes-le-Château.
How was it possible for Saunière, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, when the means of communication we enjoy today were simply not available, to make contact from the Aude with potential donors scattered throughout France, and even in La Vendée? We might suppose that Saunière used the newspapers of that period to obtain mass requests, or at least, that he browsed through the classifieds. We also know that he bought and sold postcards and postage stamps. But would a repeat advertisement in a newspaper have been enough to, for example, secure donations from the Sisters in Mormaison? Or was there something else at work, something like a religious fraternity or society to which Saunière belonged and which existed for the purpose of mutual aid, and which passed donations from the whole of France on to Saunière? Actually, examining Saunière's correspondence suggests a rather less romantic explanation: he seems to have used directories, the ordering and receipt of which he recorded, and which he used to traverse the whole of religious France at that time department by department. This was an operation that began on a large scale in August 1899. Saunière went through the departments scrupulously in alphabetical order, as his correspondence record reveals. So La Vendée did not appear immediately with Ain (01), Aisne (02) or Allier (03), but only one year later, in August 1900. We might also suppose that the ardently monarchist and fervently Catholic Saunière would have made a beeline for La Vendée (85) to which he would have already been sympathetic, but he did not do anything of the sort: he followed the alphabetical routine, mailing La Vendée (85) at the same time as Vienne (86), Vosges (88) and Yonne (89).
This is therefore how the various congregations and religious establishments got to know Saunière and how some among them came to respond positively to his requests. Subsequently, isolated parishioners, such as the author Maria Thomazeau of Bouin, contacted Saunière, probably as a result of advertisements placed in the Catholic press, since we know that Saunière made use of this medium, especially in connection with his postcard trade.
The following Table shows all the sources relating to the Vendée to be found in Saunière's notebooks:
NB: This table does not include the years 1904-5, which I have not been able to consult. It is also possible that some sources are missing given the poor state of the copy for several years.
We will note that undoubtedly the two most prolific sources of income that Saunière found in La Vendée were the Sisters in Mormaison and, even more so, Maria Thomazeau of Bouin.
I would like to thank Laurent Octanovo and Johan Netchacovitch for their assistance with my researches on this subject.
Rennes-le-Château the 'Vendée chapter'
II. The sources
The Sisters of Mormaison
The publication of a collection of documents drawn up by Saunière himself has enabled us to rediscover the astonishing correspondence that he maintained with a multitude of religious congregations right across France which, regularly and (generally speaking) on demand, sent him mass requests, in other words money, the average value of a mass at this period being 1 Gold Franc.
These documents, which Saunière scrupulously compiled each week, show the appeals that Saunière made to the various congregations or individual parishioners, most of whom would subsequently respond favourably and so send him requests for masses. It goes without saying that these are the documents that have enabled some Saunière researchers to conclude that Saunière was conducting a traffic in masses and that that was the source of his fortune. We should also recall that, at the time of his trial, Saunière did not make his account books or correspondence available to the court, as they would obviously have prejudiced his case. I wonder how his Bishop would have reacted to these documents?
I therefore reproduce here some of these documents, which show the contacts that Saunière maintained in La Vendée, especially at La-Chaize-le-Vicomte and Mormaison. These pages are taken from the correspondence records for 1901, at a time when Saunière was receiving correspondence from both these sources in La Vendée (as well as, of course, the rest of France).
In La-Chaize-le-Vicomte it was the local civilian hospital that contacted him. How did Saunière get their address? Probably from a directory. In any case this was the first letter Saunière received from La Vendée: in December 1900 according to Saunière's records.
In fact it was in 1900 that Saunière first began to take a wider view of his mass requests. The pages of his notebooks show that, during this year, he methodically targeted the French departments one after the other. It was the turn of La Vendée in August 1900 with, successively, three inquiries sent to Challans, Fontenay-le-Comte and Chavagnes-en-Paillers to, respectively, the civilian hospital, the Soeurs de l'Union Chrétienne and the Ursulines.
I did think, looking just at the account books that contain only monetary receipts, that La Vendée had been relatively underexploited by Saunière, but the correspondence record shows that the opposite was in fact the case. Saunière did thoroughly canvass the department, but the various hospitals and congregations he contacted were not very favourably disposed towards his demands this first salvo in August 1900 produced no response at all.
That did not however discourage him. Saunière tried again to find sources in La Vendée, this time in October 1900. This time the requests went to the hospital in Bouin, the hospital in La-Chaize-le-Vicomte, and the civilian and military hospitals in La Roche sur Yon and Les Sables d'Olonne. Then it was the turn of Mormaison and the Sisters of the Sacrés-Coeurs to be approached during the same period.
October 1900 new attempts at La Chaize, La Roche sur Yon and Les Sables d'Olonne. And La- Chaize-le-Vicomte will reply...
From Mormaison the Sisters replied favourably for the first time in December 1900.
1899-1900 seemed to be a key period in the mass request system put in place by Saunière.
July 1901 Saunière sends an inquiry to Mormaison
August 1901 the first response
The Sisters of the Sacrés-Coeurs de Jésus et Marie appear in the account books a total of 7 times. In August and September 1901 two mass requests were sent in response to a single enquiry sent by Saunière on 30 July 1901. The Sisters in Mormaison replied for the first time in a letter received at Rennes-le-Château on 7 August containing 50 francs, presumably payment for 50 masses, as Saunière noted that the sum related to masses to be said. He acknowledged receipt of the Sisters letter on 8 August.
Saunière received a new request from Mormaison dated 18 August 1901 (the accounts show a sum of 35 francs). Saunière acknowledged receipt on the same date.
In Saunière's notebooks, an indication that his contact at Mormaison was the Superior-General, Sister St. Bernardin.
We would need to know the precise contents of the letters sent by Saunière to understand how he was able to persuade these distant congregations to send him requests for masses, as Saunière's requests were obviously not restricted to La Vendée but covered the whole of France, several departments of which were targeted in exactly the same fashion. Maine and its neighbour the Loire, for example, figured prominently among Saunière's most lucrative departments. Sometimes Saunière even received such correspondence from abroad.
Maria Thomazeau is undoubtedly one of the names that occurs most frequently in Saunière's notebooks. This parishioner of Bouin exchanged almost 250 letters with Saunière. As the first was a postcard, it is probable that Saunière first made contact with her when he was seeking new postcards for his collection.
Maria Thomazeau makes her first appearance in Saunière's notebooks on 5 May 1907.
A very special relationship would spring up between Saunière and Maria Thomazeau: of course, they exchanged postcards and correspondence about masses, but she also sent him embroidery and lace, etc. for which Saunière paid Maria either in cash or in kind by saying masses.
Saunière sent Maria Thomazeau money here 40 francs for goods received.
It seems that, in 1910, Saunière and Maria Thomazeau arranged to meet at Lourdes during a pilgrimage. The meeting did not go ahead and Maria expressed her regrets for this to Saunière.
Maria Thomazeau also wrote three books. Her activities as a writer do not make any appearance in her correspondence with Saunière, at least in the correspondence that Saunière recorded. The first of these books was a collection of poems, while the two subsequent ones were children's books (Source: BN, Paris).
Works by Maria Thomazeau:
Fleurs de rêve, poems, with a preface by Théodore Botrel, 1901.
Les Mémoires d'un chat, histoire enfantine ('The memoirs of a cat - a children's story'). Illustrations by Magne de La Croix, 1909 then republished in 1926.
Petit Jacques, histoire dediée aux écoliers (Petit Jacques a history book for schools), 1911, republished in 1912.
1. Where you can leave La Vendée and still be in it...
If one goes beyond the departmental boundaries of La Vendée as it is today then you can still remain in La Vendée proper. This area is the so-called Vendée Militaire, a vast region that in March 1793 rose against the new-born Republic and subsequently suffered the most terrible repression. Les Mauges, a region of Maine-et-Loire extending around Cholet, was one of the principal settings (if not the principal one) of this insurrection, and paid a high price, something one can still see traces of today in the many commemorative monuments.
This region, with a strong Catholic basis and, at the start of the 20th century, still the home of a fervent cult of the Sacred Heart, would make its appearance in Saunière's notebooks via the villages of Yzernay, Maulévrier and Les Cerqueux, and the town of Cholet. Yzernay, Maulévrier and Les Cerqueux (presumably the village of Les Cerqueux de Maulévrier) are three villages which, so to speak, could be wrapped up in a pocket handkerchief a pocket handkerchief belonging to the town of Cholet! This interesting situation suggest that someone was acting on Saunière's behalf in this area and was making Saunière's requests known.
Location of Yzernay, Maulévrier and Les Cerqueux
The first letter from this region came from Maulévrier in November 1904. Yzernay seems to appear for the first time in March 1905, and then continues to appear until the notebooks end, i.e. Saunière established contacts there that lasted for 10 years, and probably longer, until 1917, the year in which he died on 22 January. Subsequently Cholet and Les Cerqueux make their appearance. I have focused my researches on this group of villages, but in this department of Maine-et-Loire we also find regular and important donors further north, at Saint Aubin de Luigné and Saumur, as well as at the mother-house of the Teaching Sisters of La Providence in La Pommeraye.
Yzernay appears some 60 times in Saunière's accounts. It was therefore a major source of funds.
It would seem that the person who was active on Saunière's behalf in this area was Mademoiselle Philipine Chastanet, his contact in Maulévrier, whom we meet again in letters sent from Yzernay as well as in some from the Chateau de Bellozanne in Seine-Maritime.
Philipine Castanet, here linked with Yzernay (17 November 1906)
Philipine Castanet, here linked with the Chateau de Bellozanne (department 76), 2 August 1906, at the same time as letters were being received from Les Cerqueux and Cholet.
II. A little-known correspondence of Saunières: the Abbé Auguste Poirier of Yzernay.
Auguste Poirier, curé of Yzernay, also celebrated Masses in Rennes-le-Château on 13-14 July 1907.
The information relating to the Abbé Poirier is drawn from the book by Georges Michel entitled Yzernay au coeur de l'histoire (Editions Pic de la Mirandole, 2002).
August Poirier was born in Le Longeron (department 49) on 3 December 1839. His ecclesiastical career took him to Yzernay for the first time in March 1868. After being ordained priest in 1863 he was vicar of, first of all, Saint-Georges-des-Gardes from 1864 before returning to Yzernay as vicar again in 1868. The curé Fresneau was priest in charge of the parish at that time, and Poirier succeeded him in July 1876.
His career has some points in common with that of his counterpart in Rennes-le-Château, with whom he was in contact by letter from 1905 until 1907 when he left Yzerlay.
Like Saunière, Poirier restored and decorated his church.
Like Saunière also, Poirier's improvements were considered worthy of a visit by the Bishop, as we can read in the gable of the church in Yzernay.
And like Saunière also, Poirier had several problems with authority and, again like Saunière, these problems related to money...
There the resemblances end, as the two chronologies run counter to one another. It was in 1893 that Poirier was forced to come to terms with his various problems and in 1901 that his church was visited by his Bishop (in 1902 the Bishop returned to consecrate the altar), which shows that, unlike Saunière, the church hierarchy had not lost confidence in him.
But what exactly were Poirier's problems?
In 1893 a number of complaints against Poirier were lodged by people who had placed money with Poirier for him to invest, only to discover that all the money had been lost. One can well understand how they felt. The authorities stepped into the breach and tried to get rid of Poirier. The letter from the Sous-Préfet of Cholet quoted below indicates that Poirier was already causing annoyance with his ideas, which provides us with another point in common with Saunière one which would, no doubt, facilitate future contacts between them:
'Some months ago I had the honour of alerting you to the hostile political atmosphere surrounding Monsieur Poirier, the priest in charge of Yzernay. Since that time I have frequently received serious complaints about him. Today his position in the commune has become untenable. I would have thought that the episcopal authorities would have been informed of the conduct of this ecclesiastic and would have taken the appropriate measures. I have reason to believe that the diocese is simply unaware of Monsieur Poirier's conduct. The acts imputed to the priest of Yzernay would seem to be covered more by judicial authority, which is already involved in the matter, but you would perhaps agree with me that it would be appropriate to take the matter up with the diocesan authority since I have received complaints from a number of the affected parties' (Letter from the Sous-Préfet of Cholet dated 18 July 1893).
No documents are known that would lead us to suppose that the abbé Poirier would have suffered any further annoyance. In the majority of cases he arranged a settlement with the complainants and at least tried to reimburse them. There is however the mystery of how the money originally came to be lost in catastrophic investments was the money perhaps diverted to an alternative purpose? In a letter dated 24 November 1892 on the eve as it were of his legal problems Poirier wrote to his Bishop in the following terms:
'We are building a primary school and an infants school here, but I fear that we will not be able to bring things to a happy conclusion as we are so short of money. I have currently raised 7000 francs, but we need another 3000, and I really don't know to whom to turn for it.'
I would like to make it clear that, as with Saunière, it would be unjust to try to sum up the life of August Poirier solely by reference to these problems. Both he and Saunière were good priests, both close to and loved by their parishioners. Both would have received plenty of support from their respective flocks.
In 1904 Poirier brought out the first parish almanac, which appeared until 1914.
1904, as we saw above, was also the year in which the correspondence from the Yzernay-Maulévrier-Cerqueux area began. Could this parish almanac perhaps have been used to relay Saunière's requests? Something to find out certainly!
Auguste Poirier served as curé of Yzernay until December 1907, when he returned to his native village of Le Longeron, where he died on 20 August 1908 at the age of 69. Requests for masses from Yzernay would continue until Saunière's notebooks come to an end.
III. Some amusing minor details
A large number of Rennes-le-Château enthusiasts are fond of spotting symbols, coincidences and clever plays on words. During my researches on location I obviously took a great interest in the church in Yzernay of which Poirier was priest from 1887 to 1907, and which was therefore heavily involved in all the contacts that Saunière had with Yzernay. I reproduce some photographs, without any pretence that they are especially important and certainly without implying that they have any specific signification. Even so, there would seem to be some elements in common between the churches of Rennes-le-Château and Yzernay.
I would like to thank Johan Netchacovitch of the Gazette Rennes-le-Château for the photos of the church interior.
A. The flagstones
In Yzernay, as in Rennes-le-Château, we find a type of flagstone made up of small squares which give the impression of being in relief or made of cubes. In Rennes-le-Château this paving is used in front of and at the sides of the altar, whereas in Yzernay we find it on each side of a baptismal font, at the entrance. In the church of Sainte Marie-Madeleine in Rennes-le-Château a trick of the light is visible, which can be observed at the annual meeting organised there on 17 January each year, as well as the well-known phenomenon of the blue apples.
It is of course probable that this type of tiling is very widely used in churches. In this case the motifs are the same, but the tiling is different. For a Rennes-le-Château enthusiast these kinds of details really do catch the eye. You can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
B. All you who are suffering...
One feature of the church in Rennes-le-Château that has consumed an awful a lot of printer's ink is the fresco above the confessional which illustrates the Sermon on the Mount. The fresco features the words: Come unto me, all you who are suffering and who are overburdened, and I will give you rest.
This feature, which was commissioned by Saunière himself, has a hidden, some would say coded, meaning. In the fresco can be seen, at the foot of the mountain, a sack. A great deal of attention has been paid to this feature. Paul Rouelle even mentions the clever pun: vous qui êtes sacs à blés/vous qui êtes accablés you who are sacks of wheat, you who are heavily laden). The phrase could have been inspired by St. Matthew's Gospel 11.28: Come unto me, you who are hurting and falling beneath the burden, and I shall raise thee however, this passage does not coincide with the Beatitudes.
Whatever the truth may be, curé Poirier of Yzernay also placed this phrase in his own church, in the section devoted to the Sacred Heart. It would seem that Saunière himself also maintained a cult of the Sacred Heart. At Yzernay however the phrase et qui êtes accablés and who are overburdened) has been omitted.
C. The blue apples
The feature known as the blue apples is a trick of the light visible in the church in Rennes-le-Château which is caused by the Sun shining through a stained-glass window. It has been linked to the decipherment of a passage in one of the parchments of the Rennes-le-Château mystery.
Even if the parchment itself is of questionable authenticity, the trick of the light certainly exists and a meeting is organised every year on 17 January to observe it (but, please note, you can see it just as well on 16 January). At Yzernay the stained-glass windows also cast coloured reflections.
So there we have some points that any Rennes-le-Château enthusiast would immediately note. No one is saying they are significant, but they are certainly there.
One final note: Auguste Poirier was born and died in the commune of Le Longeron, west of Cholet, on the borders of the departments of Maine-et-Loire and La Vendée. This commune is today twinned with a Canadian village (Ville-Dégelis), whose name would certainly strike anyone who had come to Vezelay seeking a link with Rennes-le-Château but judge for yourself...
The Saunière system
But how did Saunière's system actually work?
Rennes, Saunière... the various twists and turns of this particular affair are so complex that it would be foolhardy for anyone to claim to be a specialist in them or to have all the answers. For my part I am confining myself to a study of the correspondence record and the account books (modest and exhausting as well! as they might be), so as to offer a personal and, it seems to me, previously unpublished account of the mystery.
I would like to make it clear that the following summary could not have been written unless these notebooks had been published, and I am deeply grateful to the researcher Octonovo both for this particular gesture and for his constant willingness to provide general assistance.
I. The account books
These show Saunière's income and expenditure for the period 1897-1915. Some earlier sheets from the Corbu-Captier collection have been added to enable the whole period 1895-1915 to be covered. I have not yet had a chance to look at the income columns, but the expenditure columns certainly have an interesting story to tell.
These account books certainly raise some eyebrows, because they show money arriving from a multitude of different places throughout France, and even some abroad. A mere glance at these accounts is not in itself enough to be able to explain the underlying mechanism. From 1899 Saunière's income gradually increases to then reach an initial peak in 1900. For Saunière this was truly the Golden Age of what some have referred to as his mass trafficking period (trafficking in the strict sense means clandestine or even illegal trading in masses, whereas in everyday use it simply means something shrouded in mystery). Rather than go into the question of whether the allegation of mass trafficking is well-founded, I have sought instead to try and discover whether, among this mass of receipts, there was one particular region that stood out from the others, in other words some geographical area which Saunière found especially sympathetic and especially worthy of celebrating masses for, even though at that time there were few dioceses that were short of priests...
My study focuses on 4,000 receipts. There are admittedly other sources of funds that remain unclear, but the results furnished by these 4,000 receipts are broadly significant in terms of the geographical distribution of the sources of the funds that kept Saunière going during this period. These 4,000 receipts are all from outside the Aude, in other words Saunière obtained them by the mysterious mechanism revealed in his correspondence record. The present study does not therefore deal with any receipts from the Aude itself.
Classified by department, these sources of income do not enable us to identify any zones that are especially favoured, except perhaps for a south-easterly region quite close to the Aude, but they do reveal some individual departments, sometimes on opposite sides of the country (e.g. 49-54), which display a greater than average inclination to send mass requests and money to Saunière. But the prize must go astonishingly to my mind to Paris, and by some considerable margin, as this town appears in the accounts more than 300 times. Its leading position is partly due to the fact that it first appears in the accounts long before the mass trafficking begins (August 1899).
Nine departments are mentioned in the accounts 150-200 times, making them, after Paris, the most profitable for Saunière. Some are surprising (e.g. 49-54-59), as they are a long way from Rennes-le-Château but appear very regularly in the twenty years covered by the account books.
In some cases, as with the Soeurs de la Doctrine Chretiénne in Nancy or the various donors in Yzernay in the Maine-et-Loire, some of these departments are represented by only a few sources of funds, but these sources occur so regularly that they actually appear a greater number of times than the multiple sources found in other departments. In general these payments were made by congregations that were very favourable towards Saunière.
Some departments were responsible for 50-150 payments, from which it is possible to infer that they were relatively unfavourable to Saunière. From these departments we can infer three favourable zones: a south-eastern one running from Hérault to the Alpes-Maritimes, another in the north extending from Pas-de-Calais to Aisne, and a third, located in the east, running from Meurthe-et-Moselle to the Côte d'Or. Besides these we should also draw attention to the isolated examples of Maine-et-Loire and the Gironde, both of which, however, also formed lucrative sources of funds for Saunière.
There is one last category of departments to consider: those that responded very poorly, if at all, to Saunière's requests.
We note, perhaps with some surprise, that some departments in the immediate neighbourhood of the Aude (66-09-31) are found among the least generous in this category, whereas a study of the correspondence shows that Saunière gave them priority treatment (the reader should not however be surprised that the Aude itself is blank, as receipts from that department do not form part of the present study).
An examination of the animated map will enable the reader to detect a pattern.
II. The correspondence records
In my opinion these records are most helpful for the period 1897-1915. They enable us to understand certain aspects of Saunière's life and are, in particular, an indispensable complement to understanding the account books, as they show how and why the mass requests arrived.
In some aspects they are astonishing. They show that mass requests constituted Saunière's principal activity: he probably spent most of his time dealing with the various aspects writing the letters and receiving the sums of money, all the while avoiding the temptation to stop what he was doing and tally them all up. I doubt that Saunière conducted anything less than a substantial correspondence with those who were financing him, and he must therefore have spent several hours a day on this activity alone.
It is also obvious that the diocesan hierarchy were familiar with what was going on as early as 1901 (in other words, during the episcopate of Monsignor Billard), since in March and May of that year Saunière mentions in his correspondence record two warnings about fees and also refers to a limitation on the number of masses advised by the Bishop of Carcassonne. He seems to have ignored the first warning, but took notice of the second one which he received on 16 May but he only observed it for 15 days! On 1 June he again felt the urge to send out a fresh batch of mass inquiries. This is an example of the sort of telling detail one can find in the correspondence record.
I spoke above of the mechanism that Saunière used to send mass inquiries throughout France. The concept of a request for masses is omnipresent, but one very clearly notes a new departure from 1899 onwards, when Saunière starts viewing things on a much larger scale. So we start to see mass inquiries being sent to congregations located in far-distant towns that he had not previously approached. It was the reference to these towns in the correspondence record that enabled me to discover that most inquiries to certain departments were sent out according to an alphabetical system. Someone who was using a directory would, of course, have been unlikely to have acted otherwise.
The idea that Saunière used directories has already been discussed, and the table on this website proves it. Saunière's correspondence records even refer to him ordering and receiving directories. These purchases and receipts date from a period before the large-scale trafficking, as they date from January, February and March 1899. They were therefore purchased precisely for this purpose and were put to that selfsame use. If Saunière did traffic in masses then the correspondence records show us exactly how he did it.
8 February 1899 (we note in passing that Saunière seemed to be fond of rum...)
If, at the beginning of 1899, Saunière was seeking to get hold of directories, then we can begin to understand to what use they would have been put from August of the same year, since it was in August 1899 that Saunière started writing to distant congregations and establishments with enquiries about mass requests, dealing with these various congregations department by department and in alphabetical order.
Extract from the correspondence for August 1899: Ain (01), Aisne (02), Allier (03). In one year the departments are tackled in numerical order...
Some departments were approached before August 1899. See map below:
The sequence in which the other departments make their appearance in Saunière's mass request campaign will be clear from the following table:
There cannot be any mistake about what we are dealing with here: these are inquiries about mass requests sent out by Saunière, some of which remained unanswered or which received a negative response. It is interesting to note that most of the departments that were more financially favourable towards Saunière date from his 'alphabetical' period, in other words Saunière seems to have come across them quite by accident.
In the same way that I animated the map of the receipts I have also animated this table to highlight the alphabetical manner in which the departments make their appearance.
I hope I have succeeded in showing you how much light Saunière's correspondence records and account books can shed on the life of the famous curé of Rennes-le-Château. People talk about documents to be deciphered, parchments to be decoded and notebooks to be decrypted, but now that some of them really have been decoded they reveal a much less romantic story than some would have hoped for. They are, however, simply unanswerable.