Mythologie du Trésor de Rennes (1974)
The flagstone called the ‘knight’s tombstone’ (dalle du chevalier)
This tombstone has now returned to Rennes-le-Château, where the Abbé Saunière originally discovered it in the church in 1886. For publicity purposes the village has put it in a glass outdoor display-cabinet. There it is to be seen resting on a forged-iron support, lit by a red light, close to a hole dug to illustrate the legend of the Abbé's treasure. It is not the only item on display in the cabinet, but it is certainly the most important one.
In 1955 this flagstone was sent by Pierre Embry, the curator of classified objects for the Department of the Aude, to the county town's historic stonework depository (then in its infancy). When the museum was established in 1959 it was put on display in the main gallery, an honour it certainly deserved. It was there that Georges Fouet, head of research at the CNRS, photographed it in 1971. A short while ago, on 19 November 1973, the photos were studied jointly by Georges Fouet and Monsieur Mesplé, the honorary curator at the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse, who is one of the leading experts on the mediaeval sculpture of the Midi region of France.
Originally this flagstone was used to block up a funerary vault in the church of Rennes-le-Château. It could subsequently have been laid flat and used as, for example, flooring for the church. Finally Saunière incorporate it into the base of a mission-cross which he had erected in front of the church in Rennes-le-Château in 1905, where it suffered the vagaries of the local climate for half a century. That helps explain the wearing-away of the relief which had, until then, been perfectly preserved (when Saunière opened up the tomb that it was covering the sculpture was lying in the grave-ditch, and so had not had to endure any damage caused either by the weather or by human beings).
It measures 1.31 metres in length, 0.72 m in width and 0.08 m in depth.
Beneath two arches composed of cabochons [stones cut with a smooth, rounded surface] or billets [rectangles on an escutcheon] – it is difficult to say which because of the degree of wear on the surface – and held up by spiral columns are shown a man and a woman, both on horseback, ready to leave for the chase. Undoubtedly these are members of a lordly household in their customary regalia.
We note that the woman, on the left, is elegantly coiffured. She is clad in a dress the vertical folds of which can still be discerned as being held at the waist by a girdle. She is riding side-saddle. She is blowing upon a hunting-horn which she holds in her right hand. Her left arm has completely disappeared, but her left hand seems to be holding some sort of object, a damaged fragment of which can be seen just below her waist. The image of the horse has suffered very greatly from the effects of weathering. We see it at rest, turned to the left, perhaps ready to take a drink, its head inclined towards a sort of trough laid on the ground.
On the right-hand side we can see a knight, probably a lord, also preparing to leave for the hunt. In his right hand he is brandishing a spear. In his left hand he is lifting up an ornament to place on the horse's head; the outlines of the ornament are too difficult to make out to be able to tell precisely what it is. He is pushing upwards an indistinct object, square in shape; if we examine it closely through a magnifying glass we can see that it was originally finely decorated. A strap connects it to the horse's neck and a pompom surmounts it. From the horse's neck hangs a halter which is still clearly visible. The horse is turned to the right, ready to depart.
Above the arches we can see a hunting scene, a common motif during the Middle Ages. Outside this we see a vegetable decoration which is also found below; fragments of it can also be seen in the central part.
The design has been finely traced by the sculptor. The aesthetic qualities of the tombstone are undeniable.
It is very difficult to assign a date to this sculpture, which has suffered too much erosion to be studied in detail. We therefore content ourselves with an approximate dating of 12th-13th centuries, thus assigning it to the Southern Romano-Gothic period.
dalle du chevalier