Conspiracy theorists have pointed out that similarities exist between Abbé Bérenger Saunière and Abbé Louis de Coma (1822-1911).
Of course, the activities of both priests were inspired by their respective anti-Republican sentiments. Both priests were traditionalist Roman Catholics opposing the secularism the Republic was waging against the Church, spreading and dismantling the social and cultural fabric the Catholic Church had previously represented; both of the priests’ activities fell within the context of the struggle between Church and State in France that was an extension of the French Revolution.
There are notable differences between the two priests. Louis de Coma did not lose an ecclesiastical trial where he was stripped of his priesthood, like Abbé Saunière.
Unlike Louis de Coma, Saunière did not receive any financial support from the Countess of Chambord as commonly claimed (Saunière only first made this claim in his bogus “List of Donors” during his 1910-1911 ecclesiastical trial, not found in his Account Books).
Following the death of his father in 1855, De Coma returned to his family estate in Carol, Baulou, near the Ariège region of France, where he decided to build a religious centre modelled on Gethsemane. It was a Roman Catholic paradise that included – among other things – a church, a monastery, gardens, grotto with a statue of Mary Magdalene and Stations of the Cross – following the building of an immense underground chapel grotto in 1856, inspired by Christ’s Passion, where an inscription beneath a figure of Christ read “Factus in agonia prolixius orabat” (Luke 22:44).
There is no mystery about Louis de Coma. His works were paid for partly by family inheritance, partly by his trafficking in masses activities between 1874-1878 in his capacity as a Jesuit priest. (His father, Jean Bonaventure de Coma, had originally bought the property for the sum of 1,7500 francs.)
Dying in 1911 without leaving behind a will, De Coma’s property was inherited by the local diocese.
De Coma’s original grave was desecrated and vandalised sometime after 1939 by those who did not respect religion (members of the Resistance and former Prisoners-of-War). When the estate was sold in 1956 to Henri Baurés, it was on condition it was demolished – the diocese did not want its former religious property to belong to a secular owner who may have used it for desecration and/or black magic rituals (a 1954 report by Vicar General Loubés outlined acts of desecration in the said property).
The similarity between De Coma and Saunière lies in the construction of religious buildings symbolising the defiance of the erosion of the Roman Catholic Church and the gradual development of a secular state. It wasn’t about money – but about what the money was used for.