THE “ENIGMA” OF RENNES-LE-CHÂTEAU
René Descadeillas – Mythologie du trésor de Rennes. Histoire véritable de l'abbé Saunière, curé de Rennes-le-Château (“Mémoires of the society of arts and sciences of Carcassonne”, 1971-72, 4th series, volume VII, Part 2). Carcassonne, 1974. Quarto, 163 pages, plates.
The name of Rennes-le-Château, a village buried in the mountains of the Aude, became known to the whole wide world quite some time ago. In fact it forms the object, all the year round, of a strange pilgrimage.
The story began in 1885, when Abbé Bérenger Saunière was appointed priest-in-charge of the little village, where he was to die in 1917. He immediately made himself conspicuous by carrying out a complete restoration of the village church and by undertaking important public works elsewhere in the commune. He came into conflict with the diocesan authorities through his will, in which he appointed as his heir his maid, Marie Desnarnaud [sic]. In her turn the latter, who died in 1953, appointed as her sole heir a certain Noël Courbu [sic]. This gentleman, convinced of the existence of a huge treasure in the locality, set up a business specifically to attract tourists and researchers to Rennes-le-Château.
In time the visiting treasure-hunters made the village quite rich. The whole affair was really quite comical, but in essence it still amounted to nothing. However, from 1962 onwards there began a flurry of large-circulation publications detailing the history of the treasure and dating its origins to the times of the Merovingians. From that time onwards the legend has taken the most diverse forms, of which Monsieur Descadeillas skilfully follows all the twists and turns. However, the truth of the matter was actually quite simple: Saunière was a crook. He set up a huge international mass-trafficking operation which enabled him to accumulate a considerable fortune.
We are faced here with the creation of a myth. To begin with there was nothing: Saunière was just a schemer. Today however we find ourselves confronted with a genuine esoteric construction: Rennes-le-Château has been promoted to the rank of ‘mystical capital’ of the Languedoc and now finds itself at the centre of a huge amount of controversy. The manner in which the myth of Rennes-le-Château has grown to its present status is certainly worthy of reflection and could perhaps provide someone with material for a dissertation on precisely how stories of this kind come into existence.
Notes bibliographiques de la Revue de l’Histoire de l’Église de France, page 439, 1976