Original Article
French Transcript

29 November 1967

The Gold of Rennes once more...

From Visigoths to Bérenger Saunière, coded documents, lost wills, strange stones – the mystery continues to grow


A book whose publication has been mooted for quite some time has recently appeared from the house of Julliard: “L'or de Rennes ou la vie insolite de Bérenger Saunière, curé de Rennes-le-Château”.

Monsieur de Sède, the author of this volume, has decided to devote to the ‘treasure’ of Rennes a work similar to those which he was inspired to write about the Templars in Gisors (1962) followed by the Cathars, about whom, last spring, he produced a sort of pseudo-mystical history which, according to an eminent specialist in the field, is only of marginal interest.

On the other hand – at least in our part of the world – any account of the famous ‘Rennes-le-Château mystery’ awakens a curiosity that the passing years have done nothing to diminish. This book also has been impatiently awaited, all the more so as its author, during his various peregrinations, has already made public some of the documents contained and discussed within it. We were therefore given more than one glimpse of the book during its preparation – and no one will be disappointed for it has certainly borne the sort of fruit that its flowers would have led us to expect.

We have considered it our duty to question a number of experts on the region under discussion – in Limoux, Carcassonne, Narbonne and Perpignan. Below we shall express as accurately as possible the general consensus on the subject while confining ourselves to certain points of detail.

If we consider that the true goal of Monsieur de Sède is to prove that a treasure is hidden at Rennes-le-Château; that this treasure was subsequently discovered and to a certain extent put to use; and that it has to be rediscovered so that it can be put to use again, then it is remarkable that about 50 pages of the book deal with one subject only – the life of Bérenger Saunière.

Once again Monsieur de Sède has decided to encumber the story with all the clichés that have haunted the popular imagination for the past 20 years (e.g. the force-feeding of ducks with biscuits using a spoon) and we continue to be perplexed by the story of Saunière visiting Paris, a trip paid for by the Diocese apparently, carrying letters of recommendation to the Director of Saint-Sulpice, and charged with the task of getting translated or explained certain documents that he was alleged to have found when the main altar of his church was being demolished. Saunière would spend three weeks in the capital, the time required, it would seem, to seduce an opera singer. The alleged discussions between Saunière and Monsignor Billard in 1893 are not lacking in wit: Monsieur de Sède reproduces them, as he claims, in the form in which they were reported to him. We feel we have to ask what luckily encountered witness – possessed of such an astonishing longevity and accuracy of recall – would have been able, 75 years on, to give de Sède such a lucid account of what happened!

Monsieur de Sède admits to having seen only copies of the documents reproduced in this book, which is why he adds that ‘confronted with documents of this kind one can never be too sceptical.’ And with good reason! These copies were submitted to Monsieur Debant, chief archivist of the Aude, who compiled a report on them which we have read. In that report he wrote: “We can conclude that the ‘parchments’ of Rennes-le-Château are very crude attempts at imitating certain literary manuscripts of the early Middle Ages. The use of certain signs which we have just noted, particularly letters reminiscent of uncial and Carolingian writing, undoubtedly show that their author had some knowledge of palaeography or, at least, of mediaeval epigraphy, and the anachronisms which emerge are so striking that one gets the impression that he was trying to create a humorous pastiche much more than a counterfeit document.” Other archivists and palaeographers have issued a similar verdict: it was intended as joke.

But, de Sède tells us, it seems surprising that a person would go to all that trouble to perpetrate a simple hoax. Whoever fabricated these grimoires – not all that long ago perhaps – had to adapt or sometimes truncate texts and handwritings while maintaining the document's unity and integrity, and had to transcribe the entire document while also adding words with superfluous characters to give the impression that someone was simultaneously trying to conceal some sort of secret while also revealing that secret through particular signs. No, these grimoires could only have been fabricated with a view to deceiving someone. But when, and whom? That is another matter, and one about which one can only speculate. In any case, if the professional cryptographers of the French army to whom Monsieur de Sède claims to have submitted the documents have not been able to extract any meaning from them then that suggests that they never intended to convey any meaning in the first place and were fabricated only to take advantage of someone.

The author takes us, of course, into the cemetery of Rennes-le-Château and, like everyone else, stops short before the tombstone of Madame d'Hautpoul. This stone has certainly been in existence until 1906. The members of the Société d’Études Scientifiques de l'Aude saw it and reproduced an image of it in their journal. It disappeared in the following year, and Abbé Saunière was accused of having hidden it. But how can Monsieur de Sède say that the epitaph was composed by Antoine Bigou, the curé of the period?

How can he reproduce another tombstone bearing a mysterious inscription in Greek characters which no one has ever seen? It forms part of the marvels that surround Rennes-le-Château, like two other inscriptions which no one has ever seen or ever will see. He bases these statements on the authority of Eugène Stublein, a teacher in the Aude in the 19th century who was the grandfather of Maria Siré. Everyone knows that Stublein was interested in astronomy and acquired some fame in that field, but no one has ever found any evidence that he had any abilities in archaeology.

Anything that the venerable Abbé Courtauly extracted from his alleged archaeological work must be treated only with reserve.

And who has ever seen the statuette ‘in massive gold and partly melted’ which was found in 1928 in a ruined house bordering the stream known as Les Couleurs?

Not to mention the unexpected interpretation that Monsieur de Sède gives to the Latin inscriptions to be found in the cemetery and church of Rennes-les-Bains or his esoteric commentary on the work of poor Abbé Boudet. The intelligent reader can only raise an eyebrow.

All this is not that serious a matter – but there is more.

Why include in this hodgepodge the murder of the curé of Niort-de-Sault, which happened at Niort in 1732? Does it have even the slightest connection with the ‘mystery’ of Rennes-le-Château? Has Monsieur de Sède not read properly the article in the journal of the “Société des Arts et des Sciences de Carcassonne” where this matter is discussed?

There is no more reason to include the murder of the curé of Coustaussa in 1897, and one must deplore the fact the author has not taken the trouble to inform himself better.

As if we did not already have enough dead bodies there is the further mystery of the discovery, during excavations in 1956, of three corpses in the gardens of the Tour Magdala. If the author had taken the trouble to speak to the magistrates who conducted the inquest and who are still around and who are also very approachable then he would have learned if not the precise identity of the victims then at least their origin and under what circumstances they met their end. We note that, just twelve years after the War had ended, this matter did not arouse any particular interest at the time.

Finally you will readily understand our reservations about the recording of the alleged statements of Abbé Courtauly and the pseudo-historical comments which form the bulk of the book. We really cannot attach much importance to this.

What can one say about a book that, given a different foundation, could have provided a useful update on the Rennes mystery? It is a missed opportunity certainly. We shall stop there, and can only conclude with these two lines of Alfred de Musset:

‘La lune et le soleil se battaient dans mes vers,
‘Vénus avec le Christ y dansait aux enfers.’

‘In my poetry the moon and the sun quarrelled
‘And Venus danced with Christ in Hell.’

Rennes-le-Château Timeline